The five Tibetan Rites are a daily practice to build prana and power up the chakras…or so I’ve heard. But are they really?
The inner scientist in me had to find out.
So I’m at it again…experimenting on myself to see what I can discover—not the first time I’ve done this, and surely won’t be the last.
The results from this experiment have me pleasantly surprised.
I came across the Five Tibetan Rites in the spring and was intrigued. As the experiment now continues into its fourth month, I’m drawn to continue, perhaps indefinitely. I’m finding the benefits are tangible and there are some great positive aspects to this simple daily practice that has its roots firmly set in yoga.
Why try this practice?
Here are a few reasons I’ve discovered during my exploration so far:
- Minimum time requirement daily (I try for at least five days/week)—between 5 and 20 minutes or so, depending on how slowly you breathe and how many repetitions of each Rite you do.
- The benefits are noticeable! I started to notice tangible changes in my energy and mood within a month. Also noticed benefits to my physical body—strength and flexibility.
- Minimum space required—just a body’s length or size of a mat.
- Great for traveling! No special equipment needed, so it’s an easy practice to take on the road.
Here’s a demo of the beginning level of these Rites (i.e., three repetitions of each Rite). There’s no narration…instead, enjoy the wave sounds from along the Florida coastline!
Helpful hints to get you started
Some of these suggestions I found out the hard way, so be sure you read this list!
- Perform these movements on an empty stomach.
- It’s best to do them first thing in the morning, as it will boost your metabolism and energy.
- Can be practiced daily, but listen to your body…if you need a day off occasionally, take it.
- Best to be clean (shower first) when you do your practice.
- If possible, don’t shower right after, as it will dissipate the prana you built during the practice.
- Perform in a well-ventilated area out of direct sun. Outdoors is great, if possible.
- Move at a slow pace, using strength, control and breath to set the pace, not momentum.
- Keep the five rites in the suggested order.
History of the Tibetan Rites
My research uncovered a lot of stories about an English colonel who hung out in Tibet with monks and was impressed with their youthful, vibrant health. They shared their secret: the Tibetan Rites—a practice the monks had created a few thousand years prior to the colonel’s visit. It seems the monks wanted a condensed form of yoga that powered up the chakras, healed and strengthened the body and balanced the body’s systems.
Benefits of the Tibetan Rites
I also discovered numerous benefits attributed to performing these Rites, including:
- sound sleep;
- waking up easily and feeling energized;
- improved spinal health;
- relief from body pain, especially joints;
- relief of arthritis symptoms;
- weight loss; reversal of aging symptoms or ‘youthing’;
- improved physical strength and endurance;
- better memory and emotional and mental health improvements;
- greater sense of well-being and balance; and better energy throughout your day.
That’s a pretty long list! But I have to say, in the four months I’ve been practicing the Rites I’ve noticed many of these benefits.
Effects on the chakra system
What gives these Rites their power is their positive effect on the ‘spin’ of the chakras. Get the chakras spinning well (i.e., activated or energized) and you feel better, more balanced mentally, emotionally and physically. (Download our free chakra guide for more info on the chakras.)
If our energy centers or chakras are healthy and in balance the corresponding endocrine glands are affected positively. The major endocrine glands include the pineal, pituitary, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid, parathyroid, hypothalamus and adrenals. The hormones secreted by these glands affect all the organs in the body and, therefore, many of the body’s systems (digestion, reproduction, growth, etc.).
So this simple practice can be the key to vibrant health.
Sound too easy?
Well, the best thing to do is give it a try! I love the benefits I’m seeing.
Where to begin and how to build to full practice
If you are relatively healthy without any injuries follow these guidelines:
- The first week: do three repetitions of each movement.
- After the first week: add two or three repetitions/week until you get to 21 repetitions of each Rite (considered to be the full practice).
- Be patient and don’t rush your body. Build up slower if needed.
- It’s more important to do each exercise correctly than to focus on speed.
- Follow the recommended breathing pattern for each movement, keeping the breathing full and continuous.
- Take two cleansing breaths (full breath in through the nose, complete breath out through the mouth, making an ‘o’ with your mouth) between each rite.
- If you’re short on time, do fewer repetitions. Better to do just a few than to skip a day because you don’t have time for the whole practice.
- Modify moves if needed. Don’t strain.
This can be added to your yoga practice or even replace it on some days. Use it as a warm up, if you plan on doing more yoga.
For my suggestions on how to modify each of these rites, check out this article.
Because your systems are being highly stimulated and balanced you may notice the effects of detoxification (e.g., headaches, achy body, yucky feeling in the gut). These can sometimes be unpleasant, but they will lessen as your body comes into balance.
Continue gradually increasing the repetitions paying attention to how your body, mind and emotions respond and increase more slowly if needed. Your body may need time to clear the stagnant prana and cleanse your body’s systems.
As with any physical practice (and this is a physical practice, as well as energetic, as is all yoga) you may want to check with your medical professional before beginning, especially if you have any ongoing conditions under a doctor’s care.
Spinning may cause dizziness. This will lessen over time, but it’s fine to take breaks between repetitions until your body gets comfortable with spinning.
My ‘aha’ realization
After practicing the Rites for a few weeks, I began to realize that there are lot of spinal movements (flexion and extension from sacrum to cranium) and changes in drishti (gaze) including third eye, nose and side). There’s an old saying in yoga that Rupali shared with me years ago…you’re as old as your spine. This may be one of the keys to the ‘youthing’ aspect of the Tibetan Rites—it keeps your spine young!
The movements are also dynamic and follow the breath. Coming from a Kripalu and Ashtanga background this feels really natural and right to me.
How to do each Rite
Here are the Rites and a few tips that are not included in the cheatsheet.
Rite #1: Spinning
With arms outstretched, palms facing down, stand tall and turn slowly around in a circle.
- Spin in the same direction as water drains out of your sink
- Breathe fully in and out through the nose as you spin
- Focus your gaze on the leading hand, if dizziness is too uncomfortable
- Take a break every few spins if needed to reduce dizziness
- Try to spin in the same spot (not as easy as it sounds)
As I dug into many resources on the Tibetan Rites I found differing information on the direction of the spin. A few said it’s always towards the right hand (clockwise). Others said to spin in the direction water drains out of your sink (which will change depending on which hemisphere you are in).
What’s a yogini to do??? Try both! I did.
For a couple of months, I spun towards the left (I’m in the northern hemisphere) and found it be comfortable (as comfy as spinning can be :o) ). I also noticed in these two months marked changes in my mood and overall sense of well-being. A pleasant surprise!
Then I started spinning right and did that for a couple of weeks. It never felt as comfortable as spinning left. I decided to go back to left spinning and it feels right to me.
Now the real experiment will be to go Down Under and see if the spin feels better going the other direction. I’ll update you when I get that chance—or maybe YOU can let me know how that feels if you live in the southern hemisphere.
- Stand with feet about hip width apart
- Hands rest on hips
- Inhale deeply through your nose
- Exhale fully through your mouth, making an ‘o’ with your lips
The purpose of this short interlude is to give your body a chance to absorb and integrate what it has just experienced. Do this after each Rite.
Rite #2: Leg lifts
- Lay on your back, tucking arms under body
Inhale through nose as you raise legs to 90°, keeping them straight if possible
- Flexing feet will deepen stretch in back of legs
- As legs raise, lift head and tuck chin to chest (drishti: nose)
- Keep shoulders on the floor as you raise your head
- Exhale through nose as you lower head and legs to floor
A couple notable points with this movement…
The breathing is opposite than what I did intuitively at first. I exhaled my legs up and inhaled them towards the floor. Switching that breathing pattern to the recommended way (i.e., inhale legs up, exhale them down) was a challenge, but after a week or so it started feeling more natural.
Keep the legs straight, if possible, and flex the feet as they rise. Come to 90° or a closer towards the body with the legs, focusing on keeping the sacrum and shoulder blades on the mat.
Tuck your hands and arms under your hips to add support for the low back. As you get stronger, place arms alongside the body.
Draw chin towards the chest (drishti: nose) and touch if you’re able to, as you inhale the legs up. When you lower your head (drishti: third eye) and legs, it’s okay to lower all the way to the floor if you want to.
Rite #3: Ustrasana or camel
- Begin in upright position on knees with feet tucked and chin on chest (drishti: nose)
- Hands rest under glutes on upper hamstrings. If your low back needs more support place hands on the sacrum, manually tucking your tailbone as you inhale into camel.
- Inhale as you arch into ustrasana, allowing head to extend back (drishti: third eye)
- Point elbows back (drawing them towards center line) to open the chest.
- Exhale and return to starting position
- TIP: activate mula and uddiyana bandhas and breath into chest to create extension in spine
Flexing the feet on this was another one of those moves that seemed to not make sense at first. I’m used to pointing my toes in ustrasana. Flexing the feet gave my toes and feet a nice stretch, which is an added benefit.
Finish by coming into child’s pose, if your body wants it. Take a few breaths here before coming up to standing for the two cleansing breaths.
Rite #4: Table top
- Sit on mat with legs outstretched, feet hip width and chin to chest (drishti: nose)
- Hands are shoulder width and fingers point towards feet
- Inhale as you lift into table top position, allowing head to relax back (drishti: third eye)
- Exhale as you lower back to mat, tucking chin to chest (drishti: nose)
This is a nice shoulder opener and strengthener, wrist strengthener and core strengthener, if you swing hips back and thru arms without sitting between repetitions.
The feet and knees remain hip-width apart throughout the movement and fingers point towards feet.
When you swing your hips back, try to bring them back past your hands like you were going to do a jumpback (save this tip until you get a little more comfortable with the movements).
Rite #5: Up dog/down dog (sometimes called ‘pendulum’)
- Begin in down dog, feet hip width, hands shoulder width, chin tucked to chest (drishti: nose)
- Exhale as you swing into up dog, keeping feet flexed
- Lift chin in up dog if comfortable for your neck (drishti: third eye)
- Inhale as you return to down dog (remember to tuck chin to chest)
- TIP: using mula and uddiyana bandhas as you move between poses will create strength and lightness, and will protect your low back
One of my sources named this move pendulum. That makes sense! You get into a rhythm with the breath and movements that feels like the swinging of a pendulum.
A couple of aspects of this move were foreign to me at first. With a strong background in Ashtanga I’m used to pointing my toes and inhaling into urdva mukha svanasana so to switch to flexed feet and an exhale into this asana brought up my hackles a bit (ok, I’m exaggerating). I didn’t understand it at first and just did it my way (I’m laughing at my Pitta parts as I write this). Then a few weeks into this self-experimentation, I let go and just went for it—flexed feet, exhale and all! And you know what…I like it.
Moving into up dog on an exhale gives me a different awareness of my body and breath in the pose. I feel more of the back body curve as I open the front. Different, and the world is still orbiting the sun!
The flexed feet vs. pointed toes gives a great stretch to soles of feet and strength to lower legs. Good stuff. Different is good.
I sometimes drop into child’s pose before coming up to standing for the two cleansing breaths.
This is a daily practice worth exploring. After all, the ancient yogis were all about self-knowledge. They explored constantly to find the practices that brought them closer to an understanding of what made them tick.
This might not end up being a practice that you continue forever, but then it might. You’ll only know by being open-minded and adventurous. Be smart about building up slowly and give it enough time to see if it’s something of value for you.
Be sure to download the cheatsheet to follow along until you memorize the sequence. Just click the button below.
If you have questions about any part of it, leave them in the comments below. I’ll answer every one!
New to teaching? Check out Rupali’s Transform Your Yoga Teaching: The 5 Essential Elements of Teaching an Awesome Yoga Class for an easy-to-follow system of constructing your classes that will deliver a rich experience for both you and your students EVERY SINGLE TIME.
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