Tonglen Meditation as Self-Healing

Via Lasara Allen
on Jul 30, 2010
get elephant's newsletter



Tonglen meditation is a simple practice of transmutation. It’s the process of breathing in “dirty” energy, thoughts, or feelings, and releasing them with compassionate non-attachment as pure light.

As opposed to the idea of breathing peace and calm into the body and mind, in tonglen we breathe in pain and suffering (dukkha) and transform it into peacefulness through non-attachment.

Tonglen is a world-healing practice. But when applied to the self, tonglen can have nothing short of miraculous healing effects.

When in pain, this form of meditation may seem like a counter-intuitive process. To breathe in your pain may feel like the last thing you want to do. Instead of breathing in that pain or suffering, it may feel more natural to push it away, stifle it, ignore it, or resist it.

But resistance is attachment, and the more resistance grows, the more the suffering you’re trying to avoid does too.

As a method of self-healing, over time the practice of tonglen can become an – if not the – automatic response to stress, anger, a bad mood, or general funk.

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) there’s a tool called anchoring. An anchor is a link that is created either causally (naturally, or out of habit) or intentionally between an object and a state of emotion or consciousness, or between one state and another state.

Conscious, intentional anchoring can create the induction of a more positive state from a negative one, or it can be used as a way to remind you of tools that can help to transform that negative state.

In the context of application of tonglen as a self-healing practice, any negative emotion can be an anchor that will remind you to use breath to transform difficult emotions into pure compassionate release.

How To:
1. Notice your suffering. Allow this to be a reminder that you can release that suffering through practice.
2. Still or center yourself for a moment. With a breath or two, find a calm place in your experience of the moment.
3. Notice the negative energy (dukkha) as a cloud around your physical body.
4. With your breath, draw that cloud of suffering into your body.
5. Holding your breath in your chest for a moment, center yourself in non-attachment, and allow the suffering to transform into peace.
6. Release your breath as an exhalation of peace and clarity.
7. Repeat for as long as needed to clear your suffering.
Any practice of tonglen meditation is healing the whole. In the healing of the suffering of self is the healing of the world.

There is no self, and there is no other. As one of the innumerable sentient beings pervading time and space, the work you do to free yourself form your own attachment is work toward the liberation of all.

As you clear the skandas, aggregates, becloudings, the veils of illusion in your own life, the healing you create in your heart is truly the transmutation of the suffering of all beings.


About Lasara Allen

Lasara is wife to her true love, and mother to two amazing young women. She’s also a best-selling author, an educator, and an activist. Lasara’s first book, the bestselling Sexy Witch (nonfiction, Llewellyn Worldwide), was published in 2005 under the name LaSara FireFox. As of 3/6/2012, after a coaching sabbatical, Lasara has openings for three three-week, individual, personally tailored coaching and mentoring programs. She also has slots in a cohort-model group coaching program available for a limited amount of time. Lasara is available for one-session commitments as well. Make whatever commitment feels best for you. Lasara offers individual coaching on topics such as; * Mental and Physical Health and Wellness - accepting your diagnosis (or that of a loved one) - learning to live with awareness of strengths and vulnerabilities - Learning to live gracefully within your spectrum of the possible * Mindful Relationships - self as primary partner - loving partnerships, friendships and connections - marriages - parenting - family * Spiritual Contemplation and Alignment - Entering into and committing to your spiritual inquiry - Learning to listen to listen for and hear the divine in your life - Inquiring into the role that faith may play in informing your path - The role of meditation, contemplation, and prayer in your practice For more information and endorsements, visit:


12 Responses to “Tonglen Meditation as Self-Healing”

  1. LasaraAllen says:

    from fb:
    Shelly Lyon I am going to try this.

  2. LasaraAllen says:

    Let me know how it goes for you. It works well for me.

    Don't be afraid to cry!

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Tonglen is a very simple yet profound practice as taught by Indian and Tibetan masters. It is a selfless meditation relying on Bodhicitta as the source of blessings. I would suggest Sogyal Rinpoche's description in the "Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" for an accurate portrayal of the How's and Why's. This practice has always been very accessible to practitioners as it requires no "preliminary" practices before introduction. Having said that…it does have an important place in many "higher" sadhanas. I urge anyone to practice this beautiful and profound practice. Receiving instruction from a lineage teacher is recommended but Sogyal Rinpoche's explanation in the aforementioned book is also clear and unsurpassed.

  4. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you for the book recommendation, and for reading.

  5. aaron clouden says:

    Tonglen is probably one of my alltime favorite practices. But I tend to use it in a different way by breathing in the pain and suffering of others and breathing out happiness, good health, joy, contentment, etc. to others. I do this throughout my day as I move about the world and interact with other beings. I find it especially useful in situations where say at a grocery store or something and two or more people are in what may be perceived as a negative interaction. I then try to breath in their miscommunication, anger, or whatever and breath out understanding,joy, and peace.
    I also take any situation in which I'm feeling pain or discomfort, in any form, and feel it so that the discomfort that i am experiencing may then help alleviate the karmic discomfort of all sentient beings. I also do the opposite of this in that when ever I am feeling joy and contentment I send that out to all beings, so they can share my joy and contentment but that is more of a Metta meditation.
    Thanks for the great article.

  6. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you, Aaron! I agree with everything that you said above. In Buddhist teaching, this:

    "I also take any situation in which I'm feeling pain or discomfort, in any form, and feel it so that the discomfort that i am experiencing may then help alleviate the karmic discomfort of all sentient beings. I also do the opposite of this in that when ever I am feeling joy and contentment I send that out to all beings, so they can share my joy and contentment"

    …would fall into the category of Arousing, or Generating, Bodhicitta. (… )

    This article is, admittedly, a different take on tonglen meditation. But it's one way that I use it, and many of us, I believe, have a tendency to forget the "I am one of the beings pervading time and space," and therefore, our own suffering is part of the suffering of beings that we are responsible for releasing.

    Thanks again for your comments. 🙂

  7. aaron clouden says:

    Yeah I guess it is more of a boddhicitta thing isn't it. It is certainly one of the harder feelings for me to awaken and experience but over time I am moving from intellectualizing it into experiencing it.

  8. LasaraAllen says:

    That's what it's all about, right?

  9. […] Each time you sit down to feed your child, take a moment to practice Tonglen for each and every child who may not have been born into the lap of a loving, providing community, […]

  10. […] more on this really-hard-to-do-tonglen-for woman, click over to Huffington […]

  11. happydog1960 says:

    This is a tough one for me, but it's worth doing.

  12. Manasi says:

    I really value this article — I have been looking for readings on Tonglen, and have thus far failed to find any… so this was really helpful. And the comments too 🙂 Keep writing!