What Really Happens At Tony Robbins' Dangerous Firewalk Events

Tony Robbins, the self-help specialist with millions of followers worldwide, has touted firewalking as a beneficial activity in his "Turn Fear Into Power" sessions. He has worked with thousands of people to guide them through the fire. So is firewalking actually safe? Is there any real benefit to the practice?

Robbins is of the belief that fear can help focus the mind. With the feeling of fear constricting blood flow, Robbins says less blood rushes to the feet, helping with pain management during the firewalk. The meaning of the practice is supposed to be symbolic of committing to new life improvements. His website states, "If you are committed to succeeding no matter what, the sacrifice of walking on hot coals won't be a question — it will be the incremental step toward unlocking an extraordinary life."

According to Robbins' website, there isn't much risk of getting hurt, since participants walk across the coals so quickly. Participants will usually walk a 10-foot stretch of burning coals, going one after another.  According to the guru's website, the practice is a "mind over matter" type of experience. It is actually deceptively complex: If you walk too slowly, you can get burned by the coals, or they might stick to the skin. But if you race through the course, you can actually sink deeper into the hot rocks, which can also cause burns.  No matter which technique you use, walking across flaming coals isn't exactly harmless — as some folks found out during a 2016 event. 

Facing all kinds of fears

As Inc. reports, Robbins got his start after high school when he took a job selling seminars for motivational speaker Jim Rohn. He then trained with another speaker, John Grinder (via Brittanica).

Robbins began his own journey into motivational speaking in the 1980s. He incorporated firewalking into his events, and even got TV star Oprah Winfrey to do a firewalk in 2011 (on YouTube). She at first refused to do it, but after her firewalk, she exclaimed, "This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life," as HuffPost reports.

Robbins enjoys pushing boundaries. As HuffPost reports, Robbins said in an interview that he originally wanted to replace firewalking sessions with skydiving, another metaphorical activity to represent facing one's fears. But, he said, scale became an issue, and he realized it was impractical to take thousands of people skydiving at one time.

He is constantly pushing himself and those around him to face their fears. As entrepreneur Marc Benioff told Inc., when he was vacationing with Robbins in 2012, the self-help guru got an odd idea in the middle of the night. He and Benioff drove to a nearby bridge and jumped off it — into snake-infested waters, as Robbins only mentioned after the jump. Benioff found the exercise useful, noting that Robbins didn't seem to mind the snakes. Experiences like that are reserved for Robbins' friends. For those who attend his seminars, firewalking is the best way to face their fears. 

Hot topic of debate

As Slate reports, hot coals are heated to 1000-2000℉, which certainly seems scorching hot. Coals aren't a good conductor of heat, so a brisk walk across the coals isn't usually enough to cause bad burns. But, the website notes, sometimes other ingredients are mixed in the coal, like wood, sap, or stray pieces of metal, and those are much better at conducting heat. This can also cause painful cuts or burns if stepped on. Even at its safest, walking on hot coals is never completely harmless, and can sometimes result in blisters and mild burns (via Slate).

However, at one event in Dallas, Texas, in 2016, a whopping 7,000 people completed Tony Robbins' firewalk program in one day. Of the thousands of fire walkers, there were dozens of people who needed medical treatment, reports CNN. Five people were taken to local hospitals, and at least 30 participants had minor burns. 

Event staff offered aloe to other people who experienced discomfort after the firewalk. Although Robbins' events are currently being held virtually to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, he is sure to resume his firewalks soon, due to their popular demand.