Wednesday, October 7, 2009



Have you ever filled the kitchen sink with hot water to wash some dishes and when you stick your hands in the water it feels as if the flesh is being seared from your bones?  If you purposely wait a good while after the dishwasher has finished its cycle before emptying it you, like millions of other normal people, are susceptible to being burned.  All of us have learned to not touch the stove while it’s on, but apparently some people never learn.  For even as you read this article, someone out there is walking over a raging bed of coals.

The art of firewalking has been practiced for thousands of years dating back to 1200 B.C.  Countries such as Greece and China used firewalking as representations for healing, initiation, and faith.  However, firewalking did not become popular in America until 1977 when author Tolly Burkan, initiator and owner of the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education, sought to explain how people could safely carry out the phenomenon.  Firewalking has also been sought as a personal development tool, which fellow firewalker since 1976, Peggy Dylan, has provided to the public through her organization Sundoor.

So…what makes firewalking possible?  There are many theories still surfacing to an explanation, but let me explain some of the known facts that make this at least theoretically possible:

•    Are bodies are 90% water.  So the main aid is the difference between water’s and the coals’ specific heat capacity. Specific heat is the measure of the heat energy required to increase the temperature of a unit quantity of a substance by a unit degree.  While water has a high specific heat, the coals have a much lower one.  Therefore, your foot temperature changes less than that of the coals.

•    Your blood circulation carries heat to and away from your feet.

•    When the coals cool down, they dip below the flash point where they are no longer burning and no new heat is produced.

•    Firwalkers are walking, so their skin is only exposed to the extreme temperatures for a brief moment.

The main theory that continues to hold validity is the Conductivity Theory.  It can be illustrated by the scenario of reaching into the oven to grab a baked dish.  You can stick your bare hand into the oven and not get burned.  But if you touch any of the metal inside you would be instantly burned.  This is because air is a poor conductor of heat. 

Yet, Mr. Burkan recently completed an experiment where he and some of his students walked across a red-hot grill.  None of them received any injuries and they actually caused the grill cover to warp!

Tolly Burkan, I believe, has the most convincing argument of all.  To explain his idea, Burkan recalls an experiment he saw in school as a child:

The teacher fills a paper cup with water and places it over a flame. The water boils and the cup does not burn. The reason for this is that the water can only reach a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit before it turns to steam. Since the water is in constant contact with the paper cup, the paper cannot get any hotter than 212 degrees. However, in order for the cup itself to burn, it must reach a kindling point… which happens to be higher than 212 degrees. The water maintains the temperature of the paper at a constant 212.

Burkan claims that what makes our feet the exception is the fact that they are connected to a living being.  We can create physical experiences simply by thinking of something that triggers similar sensations.  As Tolly puts it, “It’s not ‘mind over matter’ but rather: ‘mind in matter’”.

 While the ideal temperature for coals during a firewalk is 1,000⁰ Fahrenheit (F), people have
traversed coals ranging up to 2,200⁰ F for distances over 120 feet!

By the way…Engine blocks for cars are poured from molten metal at 1,100⁰ F! 

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