#17: An ancient practice for feeling in control

Bob Ewing
May 21, 2021

Talking Big Ideas.

“You are not the passenger. You are the pilot!”
~ Chuck McGee, Tummo instructor

We packed all our possessions into a bus and headed west.

COVID was shutting down cities along the eastern seaboard, and Maryrose and I were worried. We didn’t know if state borders would close, and we wanted to make it from DC to Maryrose’s family ranch in Montana.

One of our closest friends, Roger, joined us. We took shifts driving from 6am to 1am. After arriving at the ranch, we quarantined outside. One night was so cold and windy that Roger’s dog, always loyal, refused to sleep with him in his tent.

Would our loved ones get sick? Would our careers survive? It was a uniquely uncertain and stressful time.

In the mornings as the sun rose, Roger and I began running to the top of a hill. Surrounded by mountains, we’d sit together and practice an ancient breathing technique. Despite everything going on, it melted our anxieties away.


A thousand years ago, a man named Naropa also left home and headed for a new life in the mountains.

He moved to the Himalayas along the sacred Bagmati River. With monks as guides, he developed a breathing technique that made practitioners feel strong, focused, and in control. Researchers later showed it improves the immune system and can even prevent disease. Because it heats up the body, it came to be known as Tibetan Inner Fire, or Tummo.

It remained hidden in the Himalayas for the next 900 years.

In the early 1900s, an opera-singing anarchist from Europe learned the ancient practice. She brought it west. By the 1980s, Harvard Medical School was doing research on the Himalyan monks.

A Scandanavian named Wim Hof achieved global fame by combining this breathing technique with cold immersion. In 2007, he summited Mount Everest without oxygen while wearing nothing but sandals and shorts. He kept himself warm with his breathing.

Outside magazine explains how Wim is inspiring a growing number of elite athletes to regularly practice Tummo to feel strong and calm their nerves.

Just as professional athletes get anxious before performing, so do public speakers.

A few weeks ago we discussed how natural it is to be nervous about speaking. Anxiety can reach a point where we feel like we lose all control. In these moments, we can prime our minds to destress and regain our focus and confidence.

RELAX: Sit comfortable, spine straight, shoulders back.
INHALE: Fully in. Fill up your lungs completely. Breath in through your nose if possible.
EXHALE: Through mouth or nose. Let your breath fall out, don’t force it.
REPEAT: For 30 breaths: fully in, fall out.
RETENTION: On the 30th breath, exhale and hold as long as possible.
FOCUS: When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale fully one last time and hold for 15-30 seconds. Notice how you feel.
ROUNDS: Standard practice is to do 3 rounds of the above. I do a few circles of resonant breathing between rounds. And I like to alternate my retention breaths. So for 1 or 2 of them I hold on a full inhale rather than the exhale.

Expert presenters, like elite athletes, put effort into training their minds. Steve Jobs famously sat behind the stage and meditated before his presentations. I encourage everyone to build a habit of getting mentally prepared for stressful events.

For your next big presentation, stop practicing a few hours beforehand. Relax instead. Make time to do something that reduces your anxiety and builds your confidence. Consider a few rounds of Tummo.

Set yourself up to be focused and in control as you walk on stage.



We can use our breath to replace anxiety with confidence.

Try one round of the Wim Hof Method today.


Last week Roger returned to Montana. It’s been a year since our epic departure from DC. This time the weather was warm and sunny. And we feel happy and in control of our lives.

With a few close friends, we drove out to a gorgeous lake tucked in the national forest where A River Runs Through It was filmed. The lake was still mostly covered in ice.

Roger and I did some Tummo breathing together and then got into the freezing water.

It felt amazing.

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