Hot-foot it to a state of blissful confidence

UK OUTDOORS: You don't have to be in a state of religious ecstasy to walk on hot coals. You can learn in an afternoon, says Rupert Isaacson

It Seems impossible, but a growing number of people are doing it. Walking on fire has long been practised by yogis and other transcendentalists, usually in a state of religious ecstasy. But in fact, with the right guidance and a bit of positive thinking, just about anyone can do it. Fire-walking is generally done as part of a group, working up to it over a day by performing certain exercises to build confidence.

Skidazzle's courses start with ice-breaking games like the Zombie game: you stand in a circle and say your names. Then one person walks towards another, arms outstretched like a zombie. Before they reach you, you have to shout someone else's name, and the "zombie"turns and approaches them. This way everybody learns everyone else's names.

Over the morning confidence is built up by teaching people to juggle; "Everyone learns to juggle," asserts Skidazzle's Alan Bliss confidently. They also learn other circus skills: spinning plates and balancing objects on their chins; "People are amazed to find they can do these things so easily." Just before lunch, Alan introduces fire-eating. "Once they've had the fire on their tongue and not been burned, their confidence soars." Alan firmly believes in the power of circus skills for building confidence. In fact he makes his living predominantly from a travelling circus.

Some courses use exercises in force - for example splitting an inch-thick plank of wood with a single karate-chop. A friend who took a fire-walking course saw a 70-year-old woman chop clean through the wood at the first attempt without any apparent effort. You visualise a second plank below the one you are actually going to hit and, amazingly, your hand passes though the real plank towards the imaginary one. This is if you visualise correctly of course. If your concentration wanders at the last moment your hand will bounce off the wood - painful if you really hit hard. For this reason, Alan says he tends to use the wood-breaking technique only if he feels it to be right for the group. "I prefer to shy away from the macho aspect - it can put people off," says Alan. "You can build the necessary confidence as easily through fun and relaxation as through force."

After lunch, the group contemplate their feet and begin the first exercises in walking on apparently lethal surfaces, usually broken bottles. Alan describes how some people, at the end of a course, can confidently lie on broken glass, even with somebody standing on them. Finally the fire is introduced. The burning wood is laid in a straight line about four paces long and, after sufficient chanting and positive thinking, you find that you can walk across it without sustaining burns. Alan is on hand with a hose just in case your transcendent state slips while you are on the coals, but injuries are extremely rare. The line of charcoal ends at a patch of grass, so that any cinders or burning pieces that have stuck to your feet are extinguished as soon as you step out of the fire.

Although most people tend to go across the charcoal pretty briskly the first time, they soon find that they can take it at a more leisurely pace. Nobody who chickens out at the last minute is pressurised to try again.

Quite what the secrets are for not getting burned or hurt, Alan keeps to himself. "Only those on the course are allowed to find that out." Alan's workshops are set up to order, generally in a venue that is convenient to you, though the business is based in Dorchester. Courses can be tailored for individuals, private or corporate groups, or special-needs groups, using a slightly different approach each time, determined by the energy of the people involved.

Skidazzle, 2 Church View Cottages, Toller Fratrum, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 OEN. (tel: 01300 321071).

FACT FILE

Accommodation

Not specifically provided, though a local hotel or B&B can be arranged for those wishing to make a weekend of it in Dorset.

Food

Not provided.

Children

Over 18s only.

Safety

All staff are First Aid trained.

Insurance

Clients should have their own personal accident policies.

Tariffs

Depending on the type of course, prices begin at around pounds 18 per hour per group. Individuals should reckon on paying about pounds 200 for the full day.

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