Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Five Tibetans: Five Dynamic Exercises for Health, Energy, and Personal Power

Book Review: The Five Tibetans: Five Dynamic Exercises for Health, Energy, and Personal Power by Christopher S. Kilham (Healing Arts Pr/Inner Traditions 1994)

This is a nice little book describing five yogic exercises (among other things) first noted by a traveler in Tibet in the 1930’s. An author named peter Kelder first described them in a book called, “The Five Rites of Rejuvination” first published in 1939. Therein he said that he learned the exercises from a retired British Army Officer that learned them from some Tibetan lamas in a Himalayan monastery. According to that book the exercises were reputed energize, strengthen, and regenerate the body and slow down aging.

The author tells the story of his own yogic journey and gives off lots of interesting information along the way. His lists his main textual influences as coming from the following traditional yogic texts: Siva Samhita, Goraksa Sataka, Hatha Yoga Pradpika, and those given in Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. He does seem to put his own slant on things but the book does have some useful verbage for practicing yogins.

Intoductory discussions are on typical topics like the energy body, chakras, kundalini, and breathing. Regarding kundalini I found the following words potentially useful:

“The idea that kundalini arousal will stir up mental muck is true. You may find as you get involved with kundalini meditation that things come up in your mind that are decidedly not pleasant. When this occurs, try to keep from being attached to the phenomena that arises. Instead, let the energy within you steadily increase, and let unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations pass away as if blown by the wind. This is what the Hindus refer to as burning up old karma, accumulated psychic dross that you may have dragged around with you for lifetimes. There is no way to go through a true awakening of kundalini without going through a mental quagmire. This is because we all have fears, distortions, perversions, and deeply buried mental convolutions that we must work through. Kundalini stirs these things up because it is an expression of pure consciousness and energy. It is like a strong light illuminating a dark cave. If there are bat droppings and old bones in the cave, they will come to light. Everybody has some mental muck to get rid of, and when kundalini activity increases, you will be confronted by yours.”

Now we come to the exercises. I first learned these exercises from a yoga class I used to take in the 90’s when the instructor would throw them in every so often. At the time I found them somewhat strenuous (mainly due to the amount of recommended repetitions) but useful. I encountered them again about 6 or 7 years ago in a book called Tibetan Ayurveda by Robert Svoboda and practiced them several times a week for a while until they were again forgotten. Just today after finishing the book I became yet again reacquainted with them.

The exercises are basic and very simple but do have recognizable effects. The first exercise is simply spinning while standing with the arms out, clockwise, and with the palms pointing down, similar to a whirling dervish dance. Info from another book states that this whirling can have the effect of re-setting ones chakric energy configuration to that of a younger age. The second exercise is a callisthenic-type motion that works the abs. Ab-work always seems to get a perceived pranic response. The third exercise is very similar to camel-pose in hatha yoga except that here one comes in and out of the pose while holding the hands on the uppermost part of the thighs. The fourth exercise is much like moving from staff pose (dandasana) to reverse table and back. I should note that each exercise is recommended to do 21 times with the breath, although it does not say how fast. I tend to do them slow which is likely a little more strenuous. The fifth exercise is basically moving from up-dog to down-dog while keeping the toes in the down-dog configuration. That is all there is to it. 21 reps of these exercises can be done in 10 minutes or even less. That is one reason why it is a good set for daily practice, or even 2 or 3 times a day. There is another exercise given which he calls the –sixth Tibetan- which is basically engaging the mula bandha (root lock) and the uddiyana bandha (abdominal pull up and lock) while exhaling and bending over holding the the hands on the knees. Then one rises slowly while holding the breath and locks, exhaling after a time. This one is only don ethree times. Basically that is it for the exercises for which the book was named.

There is an informative chapter on Yoga Nidra, sometimes known as conscious yogic sleep. After developing the ability to let the body relax into sleep, or asleep-like state, while keeping the mind conscious, one can then be in a better position to mentally effect self-healing by directing pranic energy to various ailing parts of the body.

The last chapter gives four meditations meant to be done in succession. They are basic but potentially very useful. The first is a simple chakra meditation. One is not visualizing here just noticing the area where the chakra is said to reside. One is instructed to do this for about 3 minutes for each chakra position, simply to place the mind in that area. Basically one here is using the chakric area as a dharani, or object of meditation focus. After one does this for a while, (he suggests one month) then the next meditatioj should be done which is a visualization of the central channel (shushumna) as a silver cord with a red interior. This meditation is said to come from the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra attributed to Siva. (I have this text and hope to read and review it in the future as well as practice some of the techniques. It is said to be about methods of dharana, or placement meditation). The next meditation is simple (but not easy to perfect). It is called nad yoga or nada yoga meditation. Hear one meditates on the inner sound first focusing around the ears and letting the sound build up and transform into myriad sonic appearances until it becomes a supreme and joyful focus. Here he gives a quote from the Siva Samhita:

“The first sound is like the hum of the honey-intoxicated bee. Next that of a flute, then a harp; after this, by the gradual practice of yoga, the destroyer of the darkness of the world, he hears the sounds of ringing bells; then sounds like the roar of thunder. When one fixes full his attention on this sound, being free from fear, he gets absorption, O my beloved!
     When the mind of the yogi is exceedingly engaged in this sound, he forgets all external things, and is absorbed by this sound.
     By this practice of yoga he conquers all the three qualities (ie. good, bad, and indifferent); and being free from all states, he is absorbed in chidakas (the ether of intelligence).”
First one meditates on the sound then on the source of the sound which is said to be the Infinite Universe itself. Then there is said to be mergence of self and sound, or Samadhi.

After this meditation one is instructed to combine the silver cord meditation with the nad yoga meditation as one whole and this becomes the main practice.

Anyway, a practical little book in terms of exercises that are do-able, simple in method, but potentially vast in scope. I hope to incorporate some of these into various routines and perhaps working in small groups.

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