Learning about the 5 Tibetans
When I first heard of the 5 Tibetans, I was thinking I’d hear about 5 people from Tibet on some profound lesson of life. Then I found out that it’s really an ancient ritual practice that preceded yoga and the body movements we now associate with yoga. This practice is more than 2500 years old! Something that persists through the ages like that has to have some merit, right?
At my meditation teacher training, we would arrive at 7:30 to do about two hours of yoga. It wasn’t yoga like we think of in western culture. It was yoga where we’d listen to a yogi, hear different lessons while sitting on our yoga mats, and then eventually use pranayma (breathing exercises) to center ourselves and move in rhythm with the breath. Then we might practice different body movements that complimented the ideas and lessons our yogi had shared.
We practiced different types: kundalini yoga (if you don’t know what that is, check the link), chanting, and more. (I will have to write about that experience, too. It was pretty eye-opening as I’d never practiced that type of yoga before.) But there was a practice we did that was completely different than all the yoga I’d ever practiced: The 5 Tibetans. Before my training, I’d never heard of it.
Since first learning about the 5 Tibetans, I have heard them called the “fountain of youth” exercises because of their ability to increase vitality. This practice is said to have great health benefits that are quite restorative for the body. They balance you out, give you lots of energy and help your body and mind to stay young and flexible!The 5 Tibetans increase vitality, open up the energy centers of the body and boost well-being. Good stuff! #yoga #meditation Click To Tweet
Since I’ve been practicing them, I love the way I feel incredibly energized in the mornings. I’m not much of a morning person, but after 10 minutes of this practice, I feel like I can go out and run a marathon! (Not really…I’ve never done that, but you get the idea.)
A Brief History…
From what I learned about the 5 Tibetans, is that no one really knows exactly when or exactly where it came from (though it is a Far Eastern tradition, attributed to the Tibetans), nor does anyone know who transmitted its knowledge from one generation to the next when it first came to be.
What we do know is that monks of past millennia have practiced these movements to aid in their spiritual journey. The movements are designed to open the heart, mind and body by opening all its energy centers.
These energy centers are called chakras. We all have seven of these energy centers and when they are all opened and vibrating freely, we can reach our own form of enlightenment. Whether we “believe” in them or not is irrelevant: they are a part of us that align with certain meridians of our bodies.
Doing the 5 Tibetans is considered a spiritual practice because of the nature of how you’re working with body/mind/spirit energy. In fact, as I do these movements, I like to light a candle, and occasionally put on a meditative-type of chant music. Otherwise, I do them in meditative silence.
The 5 Tibetans movements
The 5 Tibetans are comprised of five total movements. You perform each movement 21 times. Beginners should start at 5-7 repetitions of each movement, and add two repetitions per week until reaching 21. It can take a few months to work up to 21 repetitions. Do not do more than 21 repetitions of each exercise in one day as it can cause imbalance.
You want to increase these exercises very slowly. You’re working with real energy here and the movements can be difficult at first. Still, you can feel how invigorating they are, even after the first time!
It’s best to do these on some type of yoga mat or rug. You’ll be on your hands and knees for many of the exercises and having a comfortable place in which to do them makes everything a little easier.
Don’t forget about your breathing! Breathing in sync with the movements is really important. Not only do they help you to do the exercises correctly, but breathing in at the right time helps the particular muscle group you’re working on. Furthermore, it makes you aware of your breathing. As soon as you do that, it becomes a meditation.
When to do the 5 Tibetans
The yogi at my training said that these are best done in the morning, before you start your day. Ideally, these are done before going into meditation. I have yet to do these before meditation in the mornings. My habit of “RPM” (rise, pee, meditate) is so ingrained that I am reluctant to change that – at least for now.
You can play around and experiment with what works best for you and your needs.
I have to share the obligatory legalities about this practice: I’m not on “official” yoga instructor. Do these at your own risk. Educate yourself about them and/or seek out a qualified person to help you. I just wanted to share something that I’ve incorporated into my own spiritual practice that I find quite grounding and powerful. I’ve included some resources to help you at the bottom of this post.
Also, if you have been inactive or consider yourself to be “out of shape,” start out with the first three Tibetans, and then build in the next two when you get more comfortable with the exercises.
The First Tibetan – Spinning
The way the yogi taught me (and there are different variations) was to do the following:
Spread out your arms into a T. Your left hand is facing up, and the right hand palm is down. Move clockwise and spin around (think whirling dervish) until you have reached the predetermined number of repetitions. For example, when I first started out, I just did seven repetitions. As you spin, inhale and exhale mindfully.
When you’re finished, focus on one point, put your hands on your hips and spread your feet hip-width apart. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, pursing your lips into a tight O as you breathe out to create resistance (it’s almost like you’re going to whistle). Do this for two breaths. You’ll end each Tibetan movement with this breathing position.
Notes about this particular movement:
If you are not used to spinning around, you will likely be quite dizzy. This is completely normal. Just make sure you’re in a place where you will be able to catch yourself to prevent falling. Over time, the equilibrium (the “vestibular apparatus”) parts of your ears will learn to adjust and you won’t feel dizzy. By the time I was on 11 repetitions, I found it much easier to do this Tibetan exercise and not feel dizzy.
The Second Tibetan – Prone and Upward Staff
Lay down on your mat or rug. Put your hands at your sides with palms down, or underneath the buttocks to help stabilize the body as you move. Extend your legs and flex the feet. Take a deep breath in through the nose, and lift the head and legs at the same time. Bring the legs up just past 90 degrees, with the toes pointed. Exhale and release.
As soon as your head and feet touch the floor, begin again, inhaling as you move the head and legs up, and then exhaling as you release. Do this for the predetermined number of repetitions.
Stand up, move your feet hip width apart and put your hands on your hips. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, like you’re going to whistle. Do this for two breaths.
The Third Tibetan – Camel and Rabbit Pose
For the starting position, kneel on the floor with your knees hip width apart. Curl your toes under your feet and place your hands just under the buttocks to support your body. The head is down toward the chest.
Inhale deeply, gently bending back (while keeping the lower body still) as far as you can, with the head rolling back. Use the hands to support your upper body by pressing on the upper thighs. Exhale and return to the starting position.
Do this for the predetermined number of repetitions. End by standing up, and breathing in and out for two breaths as before (see second photo).
The Fourth Tibetan – Staff to Upward Plank
For the starting position, sit on your mat or rug with your back straight. Extend your legs out in front of you with the feet hip width apart. Place the hands on the ground beside each hip with palms down. The head is down toward the chest. (This is staff pose.) For this exercise, the heels of your feet will not move, nor will your hands.
Take a deep breath in and as you do, lift the trunk of the body until it is parallel with the floor. The legs and arms will be perpendicular. Gently led the head fall back.
Exhale and bring the body back to the starting position, trying not to completely “sit” back on the mat, but letting the body hover ever so slightly. That is one repetition. Inhale and lift the body again to begin another repetition.
When finished, stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips and do two breaths (see the second photo).
The Fifth Tibetan – Upward Dog to Downward Dog
Place hands out in front of you on your rug or mat, extend the feet behind you and curl the toes. Lift your body so that just the hands and toes are touching the mat. Your back and head are arched – the upward dog pose.
Inhale and lift the trunk of the body up, keeping hands and feet in the same spot. You will now be in what looks like a “triangle,” also known as downward dog.
Exhale and return to the starting position. This is one repetition. Do this for the predetermined number of repetitions. With the exception of your hands and feet, your body does not touch the rug or mat for the duration of this exercise movement.
When finished, stand and breathe in and out for two breaths. Remember to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, with lips pursed together like you’re going to whistle. (See the second photo.)
Ending the Exercises
When you have finished each movement with the number of repetitions you need to do, lay down on your rug or mat in “corpse” pose: you’re laying down while facing up toward the sky. Your legs are relaxed and the feet fall out naturally. Hands are palm up, but curled naturally. Close your eyes and try not to move any part of your body for a few minutes afterwards. Just let yourself breathe.
It looks similar to photo 3 above, except with palms facing up.
If you try these, I’d love to know how it goes for you!
Resources and More Information:
Fountain of Youth: 5 Tibetan Exercises You Should Be Doing Everyday
The Ancient Tibetan Practice for Health and Vitality
What I Noticed After Doing the 5 Tibetan Rites for 30 Days Straight
The 5 Tibetan Rites – Yoga Like a Tibetan Monk