Spiritual Health

The 5 Tibetan Rites Distill Thousands of Yoga Poses Down to a Single Handful

Kells McPhillips

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Yoga’s not a trendy new workout. It has 5,000 years of history as a practice that’s both mental and physical, both difficult and relaxing. Nearly every culture across the globe practices in some way or another. And about 2,500 years ago, a group of monks in Tibet, China introduced an energetic riff on yoga known as the “Five Tibetan Rites”: A handful of movements repeated 21 times in a row to increase the body’s energy and restore balance from head to toe.

Often described as “tuning” the body, the Tibetan Rites ask you to work through yoga poses (aka: asanas) that you already know and recognize in a specific, purposeful way. The result, says Joi Wheatley, a yoga instructor at New York City’s Stretch Relief studio, is a sequence you can turn to again and again to give yourself a boost from the inside out. “Like yoga that originated in India, these rites increase energy, create a sense of calm, relieve stress and anxiety, and can enhance strength and flexibility,” she says.

“Like yoga that originated in India, these rites increase energy, create a sense of calm, relieve stress and anxiety, and can enhance strength and flexibility.” —Joi Wheatley, yoga instructor

Katie Hagel, 1,000-hour certified yoga instructor at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, adds that the spiritual components of the Rites are also something to consider as you move through the poses. “Many of the benefits of the Five Tibetans are due in part to the effect that they have on the human energy system, or the chakras system,” she says. “The chakras are energy centers in the body that are located along the spinal column in places where there is a lot of nerve activity. They affect how we take in, assimilate and express energy.”

In fact, Tibetan monks actually believed that the Five Rites could actually redistribute your body’s life force where you needed it most, leaving you balanced in body, mind, and spirit. “Although practicing the Five Tibetans probably won’t cause you to start aging backwards like Benjamin Button, they can help you stay healthy, energized and vibrant as you do age,” she says.

Best of all, unlike complicated yoga sequences that you may experience in an IRL class (“Wait, we’re going from downward dog, to triangle, to what again?”),  the Rites ask you to commit five poses to memory and practice them to the point of mastery. “The more you practice, the more you can increase experiencing the physical and emotional benefits,” says Wheatley. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to that 21-time prescription (that’s 105 total reps!), but start with five or so and work your way up.

Here’s how to do the 5 Tibetan Rites for better physical and mental health

Rite 1: Twirling

  1. Stand tall with your arms stretched out in alignment with the shoulders, your legs together, and your palms facing down. Make sure to stand up tall (no slouching!) and relax your shoulders.
  2. Spin your full body in a clockwise direction three times with the gaze trained gently on the ground. After three complete spins, come back to the center and stand still with your hands on your hips to release any dizziness.

Rite 2: Leg raises

  1. From standing, come to the floor and lay on your back.
  2. Place your arms by your side, hands past the hips and palms facing down.
  3. On an inhale, raise your head, shoulders, and legs off of the ground with your feet flexed toward your face. Imagine that you’re creating the letter “J” with your body.
  4. On the exhale, slowly lower the head, shoulders, and legs to the ground and relax the muscles.
  5. Breathe and complete two more rounds.

Rite 3: Dynamic camel pose

  1. Come to the floor and kneel.
  2. On your knees, spread the thighs hip-distance apart, keeping the arms and hands by your side. Your hands should brush your glutes.
  3. Take an inhale. On the exhale, open chest and drop your head back.
  4. On the next inhale, round the spine, folding the shoulders inward. Bring the head forward, tuck the chin to your chest, and scoop in the abdomen like you’re coming into cat pose.
  5. Return to neutral and repeat twice more.

Rite 4: Moving tabletop

  1. Come to sit in Dandasana, or staff pose: Sit with your legs extended out, arms and hands by the side, palms facing down, and fingertips pointing towards the feet (which should be flexed).
  2. On the inhale, gently raise the hips upward, allowing the head to fall back. Imagine yourself in a reverse tabletop position.
  3. On the exhale, gently bring hips down to the floor, tucking the chin coming to the chest. Remember to keep the spine in neutral and breathe. Complete with two more rounds of the same movement.

Rite 5: Downward dog to upward dog

  1. Sit in Sukhasana or easy pose: a comfortable seated meditation position with your legs criss-crossed.
  2. From Sukhasana, roll forward, place knees on the ground to be in alignment with the hips. Arms are shoulder length apart with palms facing the ground. Curl the toes under and slowly extend the legs behind you into downward facing dog.
  3. Drop pelvis to the floor, opening the chest and head upward into Urdhva Muka Svanasana or upward facing dog.
  4. On the exhale, keep toes curled and bring the pelvis back up into downward dog. Your gaze should land on the thighs. Imagine yourself in an upside-down letter “V”. Breathe and continue flowing movement for two more rounds.
  5. Rest in child’s pose and repeat twice more.

As with every yoga practice, make sure you end with a nice savasana.

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