Firewalking: Mind Over Matter or a Tool for Personal Growth, or Both?

If someone told you that walking barefoot over a hot bed of glowing embers could change your life in dramatic, positive ways, instead of making you the main course in a bizarre barbecue, would you do it?

Or could you muster the courage to stroll barefoot across sharp broken glass without needing so much as a Band-Aid at the other end?

A lot of people are walking the walk and, as a result, overcoming personal fears and limitations in their lives.

Firewalking has a long history in many cultures, where it was originally used as a test of faith and a rite of passage for young boys coming of age into manhood.

At the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education in Dallas, Charles Horton teaches people that they have the power to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their daily lives.

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"The message that we teach in all of our seminars is really about things that you build up in your head as being really difficult; getting the job or the mate of your dreams, or starting your own business. Whatever it is that's holding you back from accomplishing what you want, and the firewalk is just a wonderful example of that."

What may appear frightening at first glance is a stunning event to witness (and to experience firsthand, as I recently discovered) as people walk over fire or broken glass or attempt other exercises that produce a stronger, fresh attitude.

I went to a firewalking event at the New Jersey home of Michael Agugliaro, an entrepreneur and martial arts instructor for the past 25 years. He cautions about the potential danger.

"There's inherent risks in everything," he says. "With firewalking, you can end up with a little blister, or you can end up being burned. It's all in your belief of what's going to happen when you go across it."

I must admit that standing there, facing the 8-foot-long fire pit -- composed of several layers of wooden logs that are doused with kerosene and set ablaze -- and staring at the hot, glowing embers, one of those little voices in my head urged me to just get into the car and quickly drive home.

Instead, I took that tentative step and, moments later, at the other end of the pit, with embers trailing from my naked feet, I felt exhilarated and, if you will, empowered. And that's the whole point.

Martial arts instructor and co-owner of Amazing Business Amazing Life, LLC, Michael Agugliaro walks over intense fire path while his wife, Jennifer Agugliaro, calmly strolls across hot coals at their home in Middlesex, N.J., August 2009. (Courtesy Michael/Jennifer Agugliaro)

"The only reason you believe, at first, that something like this is not possible, is because you had this belief programmed as a child," Agugliaro says. "Somewhere along the way, you were told, 'Don't touch that, it's hot.' The belief is something you've been programmed with -- just step outside that belief and then everything's possible."

Firewalking Is Introduced to the Public

Agugliaro's wife, Jennifer, has done a dozen firewalks and notices something about people who come at it with a skeptical point of view.

"I find it very common that those who come and really think it's a lot of baloney, get burned pretty bad -- their mind is not where it really needs to be, and I believe that just comes from a place of fear," she says.

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