Buddhism & Breath Summit

The Buddhism and Breath Summit is an online event that explores Buddhist practices of working with the breath and/or bodily “winds”. Presenters will address how Buddhist presentations of breath, “wind” or “life force” (prāṇa in Sanskrit, qi in Chinese, or rlung in Tibetan, for example) have influenced contemplative, philosophical, and medical theories and practices in Buddhist traditions.

Featuring pre-recorded video and audio conversations  or presentations by scholars and practitioners, plus supplementary educational resources, the Buddhism and Breath Summit will be publicly and freely available online in Fall 2021. We have asked participants to share already published work as the basis of their talk, and moreover to think of their presentation as addressing an undergraduate or even public audience; we hope to offer these collected talks and written references as teaching resources.

Co-hosted by Frances Garrett and Pierce Salguero, this event is co-sponsored by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto and Jivaka.net.


Saskia Abrams-Kavunenko, Kin Cheung, David Collins, Susannah Deane, Nalika Gajaweera, Anne Carolyn Klein, Susanne Kerekes, Napakadol Kittisenee, Nathaniel Michon, Tom Patton, Geoffrey Samuel, Michael Sheehy, David Wells, Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim

Presentation Abstracts

Troubled Breath: Windhorse, Smog and the Stagnation of Vital Energies

This presentation will describe how urban Mongolians navigate the capital city Ulaanbaatar’s chronic air pollution in relation to breath, clarity, bodily winds and purification. It will describe how blockages in breath relate to other kinds of obscuration and stagnation in the postsocialist period. In Ulaanbaatar the murky and obscuring nature of air pollution has become an active part of Mongolian religious and ritual life. This talk will illustrate how air pollution and related phenomena exist in dynamic tension with Buddhist purification practices, along with ideas about the renewing energies of breath, wind and movement.

Blurry Boundaries Between Breath/Qi/Ki and Buddhism: Agency for a Contemporary Chinese American Religious Healer

This conversation will consider Seng Kan Cheung, a contemporary Chinese American religious healer who uses qigong, reiki, and Buddhist spells. He shares these practices and exchanges healing with a community of relatives, friends, students, and patients in the New York City area. Breathing is involuntary, yet can also be voluntarily controlled. Agency in his healing is difficult to determine because he experiences involuntary movements that trigger during the practice of qigong, application of acupressure on patients, and encounters with Buddhist temples in New York and Japan.

David Collins and Bradley
Experiencing the Theravādin Buddhist Jhāna Absorptions through the Breath

In this presentation, the place of the Old School Buddhist form jhāna absorptions within Theravādin meditation practice is outlined, with a note on the modern history of their practice. The heart of the presentation is a first-hand account of what the experience of jhāna through the breath entails. Brief reflections are offered on implications of such experience for our constructions of “religion,” and “philosophy,” and “psychology.”

Mind, Wind, and Heart: Tibetan Notions of Wind in Mental Health and Illness

This presentation will explore how Buddhist and medical notions of the relationship between heart, rlung and mind come together to explain the (dys)functioning of the mind, and how this is understood to lead to ‘madness’ and other mental illnesses through incorrect Tantric practice and suchlike? With examples from  interview material with lay people and Buddhist and Sowa Rigpa specialists.

Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Mindfulness of Breath: Non-White Western Practitioners’ Experiences of Race, Racism and Whiteness in American Mindfulness

In Vipassana meditation practice, the first common object is the breath. By allowing the breath to be the focus of your awareness, one lets the social world full of discursive thought, self-reflexivity and judgement move into the background. Yet, we know that as intimate and solitary as this breath practice is, many individuals turn to communities of solitary practice such as sitting groups and retreat spaces, as safe grounds or anchors to turn their gaze inward and attend to the tacit, embodied dimension of their being. This presentation critically evaluates how for non-white people of color in North America who practice in institutional spaces that are predominantly white, such silence and safety is interrupted by race. By drawing on fieldwork conducted in California among mindfulness communities, I explore key assumptions about mindfulness that North American black and non-black people of color expose and problematize through their engagement with mindfulness. The presentation asks, how in the context of racialized history of the United States and institutional whiteness, how we might more fully appreciate the “noble” breath of meditation, not as simply empty and neutral, but rather as supersaturated with history and power.

Of the Last and Lasting Breath: Two Accounts of Mindfulness in the Face of Death Sentence

This presentation offers two insightful accounts of the (former) prisoners on the brink of their death sentence. This illuminates how both of them went through self-transformation process in the context of Buddhist meditation. The sharing is based on the reflection of a memoir by a Thai man on his last moment at San Quentin in 1999 along with an ethnographic account I conduct over the last ten years with a Cambodian woman who witnessed the atrocities under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.

Anne Carolyn Klein
Breath: In the Body and Beyond

A few phenomenological reflections on how easeful attention to breath resolves structures that constrict our experience of being. What does breath feel like, and what does it bring us? What changes when we direct breath to different parts of the body, or different parts of the environment? Breath, a dynamic part of being alive, connects also with Tibetan notions of the dynamism bLa, of wind currents (rlung), of descriptions of wisdom as unborn and unceasing, as well as with contemporary notions of vitality as core to human experience. I briefly explore these connections. 

Breath Energy and Healing in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism

This presentation briefly introduces the Japanese Vajrayana tradition of Shingon Buddhism and a few of its fundamental breathing techniques. It then summarizes some of the ways such meditative practices in the tradition have been used historically and in contemporary times.

Buddhist Wizards, Breath Meditation, and Superpowers

Preached by the Buddha, prescribed by psychologists, and practiced by people from all faiths and walks of life, breath meditation is one of the most popular meditation practices to have emerged from Buddhism. In this video we will look at how people in the country of Myanmar practice breath meditation and how some, known as “wizards,” use the breath to gain supernatural powers.

Wind and Breath in Tibetan Thought: the Confluence of Tantra and Ayurveda

Breath and wind concepts are widespread in Asia, and the Tibetans inherited both Yogic and Tantric prāṇa and Ayurvedic vāta, both translated into Tibetan as rlung. This proved a constructive confluence for Tibetan Tantra and Tibetan medicine, and may be suggestive too for modern Western understandings of consciousness and its physiological correlates.

Tummo: Fierce Lady of Yogic Heat

The breathwork technique of tummo (gtum mocaṇḍālī) – literally, the “fierce lady” – is a consummate practice of Tibetan Buddhist tantric yoga. To understand this practice in context, this presentation discusses the theory and dynamics of tummo as described within classical Tibetan yoga manuals, popular depictions that introduced tummo to the modern Buddhist imagination, and scientific research on the physiological effects of bodily heat and arousal induced by tummo. 

Winds in Traditional Thai Yoga, Reusi Dat Ton

Introducing Thai Yoga, “Reusi Dat Ton,” and its place within the traditions of Buddhist Yoga and Mahasiddhas. Tracing its development from India into Nepal, Tibet and the Ancient Lanna Kingdom of Southeast Asia. Discussing the ways wind is managed in “Reusi Dat Ton” from breathing techniques and visualization to self-massage, joint mobilization and full body exercises. Featuring images of techniques as depicted in traditional artwork including: statues, murals, and illustrations from manuscripts.

Winds in Transit: Experiencing Breath in Translation

Heinrich Jäschke, a nineteenth-century Moravian missionary to Ladakh, is mostly known amongst scholars of Tibet for his pioneering 1881 Tibetan–English Dictionary. In his entry on ‘rlung’—a fundamental concept of Tibetan medicine and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, commonly translated into English as ‘wind’, ‘breath’ or ‘vital energy’—following his definition of the term, he added: ‘These notions concerning rlung are one of the weakest points of Tibetan physiology and pathology’. While Jäschke perceived these ideas as highly problematic, fast-forward a century and a half to 2015 central London, and we can observe that much has changed. It is hard to think of what might better demonstrate the extent to which western perception of the term rlung has evolved since Jäschke gave his damning opinion on the term in his 1881 dictionary, than the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition “Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism” which ran in London in the winter of 2015-16, and was one of the most attended exhibitions of this popular central London venue. How can we make sense of this transformation? What might be some of the concrete implications for health care that these imply?