Do you want to feel unstoppable? How about walking on fire (or breaking an arrow in your bare throat?) – MAXINE GORDON signs up for some empowerment training

"FRIGHTENED." That was the word I chose when asked to share my feelings about the imminent task ahead – walking on fire.

Well, who in their right mind wouldn't be? Especially when we'd just lit the wooden pyre with candles and watched it turn from a pile of harmless-looking giant Jenga pieces into a terrifying inferno with flames leaping up greedily into the pitch black of the night.

I was one of a dozen women taking part in a fire-walking experience run by York empowerment coach Lisa Clifford at Middlethorpe Hall in York.

They were all guinea pigs on Lisa's new online training regime – The Ultimate Empowerment Programme, in which participants go through daily worksheets to identify the thoughts that are holding them back in life.

I hadn't done the course, which explains perhaps why I was the only one attending the workshop who expressed fear at the prospect of fire-walking. "Alive"; "Revved"; "Inquisitive" and "Excited" – these were some of the words used by other members of the all-female group ahead of the deed.

Lisa reassured me that no-one actually had to do the firewalk – it was completely an individual choice and one that you could decide on at the very last minute.

This was a relief to me, my very own Get Out Of Jail Free Card, because walking on fire was at the extreme of my comfort zone. I am a fully paid-up member of Cowards Anonymous – with an inbuilt reverse gear for anything remotely dangerous. Whether it be on a ski slope, quad bike, or harnessed up for a tree tops high-rope experience, time and again, I back out quicker than you can say: "I'm a scaredy cat, get me out of here".

So walking on fire? It just wasn't going to happen. In my mind, I was merely going to report on the experience, rather than do it.

But that was before Lisa's workshop.

For the first exercise we had to find a partner and go through a visualisation experiment – keeping our eyes shut throughout. You had to think of an experience or achievement you would love to have in your life. People's dreams and goals were all different. One woman wanted to reach Kilimanjaro basecamp, another just wanted to get fit so she could go hillwalking. Another wanted to succeed in her own business, while one participant wanted to write a book.

York Press:

ALIGHT: Setting the wooden pyre on fire ahead of the fire walk

Put on the spot, I hurriedly scanned my mind for deep desire I was struggling with. Work and personal life were good, so I looked elsewhere and bingo – I found it. I play league doubles tennis for my club in York, but have been struggling with injury for the past two seasons, which has robbed me of match play, training and fitness. With the new season and a competition approaching, I had feelings of uncertainty. Could I still play? Would my team still want me? Maybe I would let my partner down?

In the exercise, I imagined the final game of a key match. At the outset, I scored my chances of winning as four or five out of ten. Next, I had to visualise the exact success I wanted to achieve: of winning the last point and securing victory for the team. To help with this, I had to imagine myself in the moment of that success: what I am wearing, what I am feeling, what the weather is like, what I am saying, what my partner is saying to me, the date, the time and how I feel.

Next, I had to take a step forward and imagine myself one month on from the success, looking back at it, again imagining a date, time, place, and what I am wearing, who I am with, what I am saying.

Finally, we had to give a score out of ten, saying how possible our goal felt now.

I have to admit, the transformation in my self-belief surprised me. I was now bursting with confidence, scoring myself a ten. In my mind, I had already won that crucial match.

"The mind doesn't distinguish between visualisation and reality," explains Lisa, who has been coaching for 15 years and is a qualified firewalk instructor and trainer. She is also a master practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming and hypnosis (and was trained by Paul McKenna none the less). Many athletes use visualisation techniques to help them believe they can win, says Lisa. "They imagine how their muscles will feel, what the weather will be like, the sounds from the audience. In their mind, winning seems inevitable – in their minds, they have just seen themselves do it."

The visualisation exercise had a profound effect on me: suddenly the fear of walking on fire had vanished, like the smoke from the wooden pyre burning outside in the car park.

York Press:

DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: A participant uses her visualisation and concentration in the arrow break challenge

And then Lisa threw a curveball – in the shape of a 60cm-long wooden hunting arrow. She asked us to write down our negative thoughts on the arrow. Next, we were invited to step up in turn, place the end of the arrow (which was covered in a smooth metal cap) into the soft base of our throat and the other end against a hard surface. This exercise is called the "arrow break" (warning, do not try this at home, ditto for the fire walk) and involves literally breaking the arrow with your throat – you thrust yourself forward, snapping the arrow with the force of your momentum, all the while visualising your own personal success goal.

Panic flooded my entire body. It was a pure fight or flight moment. I decided to fight. I watched six women do the challenge – none came to any harm. My rational brain told me: you will be fine. And I was. But it was absolutely terrifying. The base of your throat feels so vulnerable. I felt my body tense as the cold of the arrow head nestled into the soft tissue. I closed my eyes, imagined myself on that tennis court and took a giant step forward. The arrow snapped, everyone cheered, and waves of relief almost buckled my knees. I was shaking all over as I returned to my seat. Tears were in my eyes. I had done it. I had overcome an enormous fear. I felt brave.

So was I going to walk on fire? You bet I was.

As we headed out into the freezing cold night, there was no doubt in my mind that I would walk over the burning embers. I removed my boots and socks, rolled up my trousers and took my place in line. It was all over in seconds... just one, two, three steps and I was clear. I hadn't felt a thing and hadn't come to any harm.

What was more remarkable, was that in the course of one evening, I had faced up to negative thoughts and deep fears that were stopping me from achieving some of the things I wanted to.

Driving home, I felt alive, full of positive energy, and yes – unstoppable.

Do you want to feel unstoppable?

Lisa has put together this quick quiz to see if you could benefit from empowerment coaching. Score yourself out of ten for each question...

How focused and sharp do you feel? /10

How excited about your life do you feel? /10

How engaged and connected do you feel in and about your life? /10

Speed of moving towards and into your dreams? /10

How fulfilled do you feel in your life? /10

How unstoppable do you feel in your life? /10


49 and above: you are currently feeling empowered

35-48: you are feeling a sense of connection

Under 34: you could be feeling ready for a “you time” MOT

Find out more about Lisa's coaching and workshops at: