Right now I’m missing my favourite forms of exercise. Classes close over Christmas; so does the gym. No Zumba, no kettlebells, no supersets. I love exercising with other people – it makes me work that bit harder; it pushes me; it gets my competitive edge going. But, hey ho, needs must and if I’m thrown back on my own devices, so be it.
Way back I said I’d talk about yoga and I will. In fact, let’s start with Tibetan yoga. Five deceptively simple exercises that promise to give you vitality and wellbeing; longevity and rejuvenation. Nice huh? I discovered them way back when and did experiment with them but never made them a regular part of my regime. Then MaSte talked about them in the Labyrinth, said he did them every day, and so I dug out my old book and had another go. They’re good; they’re damn good. Actually they’re damn tough to begin with but you can take them at your own pace and gradually build up to the recommended 21 repetitions.
Sooo. What’s the story? Legend held that a hidden monastery deep inside Tibet zealously guarded a secret of everlasting youth and remarkable rejuvenation. Then, in the early part of the last century, a frail and elderly retired military officer, named Colonel Bradford, journeyed to Tibet in search of the rumoured “Fountain of Youth”. He found the monastery and was surprised to find that the magical rites were no more than five simple exercises, based mainly on yoga. They were easy to learn and only took only around 15 minutes a day to perform. But the effects were incredible. When Colonel Bradford returned to the West his friends simply did not recognise him - he looked half his age.
How can such a simple routine prove so effective? Esoterically speaking the five rites are based on balancing the chakras, the seven swirling vortices of subtle energy located roughly along the spinal column. They are also connected with various glands in the body. The first (lowest) chakra centres on the reproductive glands; the second on the pancreas; the third on the adrenal glands; the fourth on the thymus; the fifth on the thyroid; the sixth on the pineal and the seventh and highest on the pituitary gland. The five Tibetan rites stimulate the flow of energy throughout the body and encourage the chakras to function at peak capacity. Mind and body are brought into harmony. When we are young and full of vitality, our chakras all spin at the same, very high, speed. As we get older, stress, unhealthy lifestyle choices and emotional distress all take their toll and the chakras no longer work in harmony but start to spin out of synchronisation, eventually causing disease, decay and other symptoms of ageing. The five rites are designed to persuade your chakras to click back into gear once more.
But hey, even if you don’t believe in chakras, even if you’re making those little whirling circles with your forefinger round by your head (which, incidentally, is giving your crown chakra a mini workout) there is little doubt that the exercises would still have far-reaching benefits on both body and mind. They provide the body with a programme of deep but gentle stretching that can help keep both the spine and its supporting muscles supple.
They cost nothing to do and you don’t have to stir out of your living room. Yes, some are tough to begin with but start off slowly and gradually build up strength and stamina. However if you have a bad back or serious health problems, check with a qualified yoga teacher or physiotherapist before embarking on them. They are pretty challenging for the back so take it easy until you build up strength.
THE FIVE RITES
Ideally, perform the five rites first thing in the morning as they are highly energizing. Wear loose comfortable clothes and work on a yoga mat if you can. Eventually you will perform each exercise twenty-one times. However to begin with, aim for ten or twelve repetitions of each move. Make sure you breathe fully during each exercise. Allow yourself a few moments in between each rite. Simply stand quietly, with your hands on your hips and breathe in, through the nose and out through the mouth. Repeat and then move on to the next rite.
Once you’re comfortable with the rites you can perform them two or three times a day if you wish.
THE FIRST RITE: Spinning. Simply stand erect with your arms outstretched, horizontal to the floor. Now, spin around until you feel slightly dizzy. Make sure you are spinning clockwise, from left to right. Don’t be surprised if you can only manage half a dozen spins to begin with - with time you will be able to build up your spinning.
Tip: before you begin to spin, focus your vision on a single point straight ahead. As you begin to turn, hold your vision on that point for as long as possible and then refocus on the point as soon as possible.
THE SECOND RITE: Lie on your back with your palms resting on the floor. Inhale and gently pull your chin towards your chest (as if you were doing an abdominal crunch), at the same time as you point your toes and lift both legs straight up, keeping your lower back pressed against the floor. Now exhale as you slowly lower your legs and head to the starting position. Rest and then repeat.
Tip: this will be difficult unless you have very strong abdominal muscles. Try lifting your legs in a bent position to begin with.
THE THIRD RITE: Kneel with the balls of your feet on the floor and your knees about four inches apart. Place your hands behind you with the palms resting against the tops of your legs, just below the buttocks. Keep your back straight, and allow your head to drop forward so that your chin is resting against your chest. Now, inhale through the nose and arch your back, pulling your shoulders back, and lifting your head up and back. This will open the chest. Hold for a few seconds and then exhale and return to the starting position. Repeat.
Tip: take in as deep a breath as you can, to expand your lungs fully. Be careful and take it slowly. Don’t overstretch or strain.
THE FOURTH RITE: Sit with your legs in front of you, your palms on the floor and your fingers facing forward. Rest your chin against your chest. Inhale, and lift your buttocks and let your head drop back so that, in one smooth move, you’ve straightened your body from shoulders to knees to make a table. Your feet should be about six inches apart, your knees bent at right angles and your chest and abdomen parallel to the floor. Your arms are straight. Contract the muscles in your legs, buttocks, and abdomen and hold for a few seconds. Exhale, return to the starting position and repeat.
Tip: Keep your breathing steady and relaxed through this movement. If you feel out of breath, stop and rest.
THE FIFTH RITE: Lie face down, and push your torso up so you’re supporting yourself on your hands, as if you’re in an extended push-up/cobra position. Both hands and feet should be about shoulder-width apart. Only the palms of your hands and the balls of your feet should be touching the floor. Tilt your head back and arch your back so that you’re looking up and ahead. Now inhale and lift your hips straight up so your legs and spine are both in a straight line and your body forms a perfect triangle with the floor (downward dog). Hold for a few seconds, then exhale and return to the starting push-up position and repeat.
Tip: If you have back problems try a modified version: start in the push-up position and then move your buttocks back as you inhale until they are almost resting on your heels. Lower your head towards your chest and keep your arms straight.
Actually, there is also a sixth rite. But it’s all about transmuting sexual energy and I think we’ll leave that for a later date, eh? There’s enough here already to be going on with… J
For more information read Tibetan Secrets of Youth and Vitality by Peter Kelder (HarperCollins)
There are plenty of demonstrations of the Tibetans on YouTube. Some (like the example below) are very fast and energetic. I have always performed them quite slowly, meditatively but I guess it’s up to you. This video shows them clearly but the chap demonstrating isn’t terribly aesthetic – though, of course, he’s not doing badly for someone who’s 150!
If he’s too off-putting, try her instead… J The stretches inbetween help a fair bit…