Doing the 5 Tibetan Morning Routine at all and then on a regular basis did not come to me easily, I must admit.
But the 5 Tibetan Rites form the best morning exercise routine that I know of, better than Yogic Sun Salutations in my opinion.
I have to thank my girlfriend Lyne for her persistence and encouragements, so that I can tell you about this wonderful way of becoming more alert in the morning and throughout the day.
Perhaps you have already heard about it and have your own experience with it. In any event, I’d be very happy to hear from you about how it is working for you, if you want to leave a comment below.
We have been doing the routine together nearly every day for at least the past 6 months.
For the year before that, she had used it on and off, demonstrated it many times, spoken well of it, encouraged me and then cajoled me to try it, and she kept bringing it back to the foreground when it had gone off track.
Thus it was not easy, but the benefits have shown up through the persistence and regularity.
Eventually, we are planning to have Lyne’s picture-perfect and official-traditional version of the 5 Tibetans, but for now, please accept my excuses for providing my imperfect version of the exercises.
What are the 5 Tibetan rites?
There are many websites that explain them in detail, in several languages too. You are welcome to look at the many good resources available.
Being a scientist, I am quite agnostic and I am mostly bemused by claims that the 5 Tibetan rites are nothing short of miraculous.
I’m definitely not the person to tell you about the mythology behind these exercises, nor to tell you that there is one and only one specific way to get them done.
I am taking a very practical approach, like a gym trainer.
In brief, they are a set of 5 exercises, each repeated 21 times.
Some pictures and demos can help, but they are not necessary as the exercises are very simple to explain in words and to visualize.Stand with arms extended to your side, and turn clockwise like a Dervish whirler 21 times at a brisk speed.
First Tibetan Exercise
1. Stand with arms extended to your side, and turn clockwise like a Dervish whirler 21 times at a brisk speed.
You’ll definitely feel quite dizzy the first time, but less and less so with regular practice.
This will energize you, and so will the next exercises.
Note that I struggle to keep my balance and to keep turning on the same spot.
Doing this exercise perfectly is harder to do than it sounds!
Second Tibetan Exercise
2. Lay down on a mat, then do 21 leg raises with control.
This will work out your abs and lower back!
Third Tibetan Exercise
3. Sit on your knees, then do 21 back bends, again with control.
This will stretch all of your back, and the front of the legs will do some work too.
Fourth Tibetan Exercise
4. Sit on the mat with your legs together in front of you, then do 21 table raises, i.e. push your trunk upwards with your abs so that your arms and legs form the 4 legs of a table.
This will require some suppleness in the shoulders, legs and back, and work the muscles there too.
Fifth Tibetan Exercise
5. Starting in the downward dog position in yoga, alternate 21 times between upward dog and downward dog.
This exercise will also work the legs, back and shoulder muscles as exercise 4, but in a different way.
In a nutshell, downward dog is the position where your hands and feet are on the ground, with straight legs and arms and your butt is up.
With upward dog, your hands and feet are still in the same positions and you still have straight legs and arms, but you are now lying down very near the floor without touching it, and raising your trunk with your arms
Finishing Up the Tibetan Exercises
After completing the exercises, an essential part is to do a meditation where you express gratitude and compassion towards life and everything that matters to you.
This doesn’t need to take more than a few minutes, but is a very important transition between finishing the exercises and starting the rest of your day.
What are the benefits?
With less than 10 minutes to do the exercises and 5 for the meditation on gratefulness, you’ve had a great start of your day in less than 15 minutes, which will bring you the following benefits, after you have been able to do them regularly for some period of time, like a few weeks:
- More strength and flexibility in your body with better alertness and clarity in your mind throughout the day, and especially in the morning
- From this, you will have more resilience against illnesses and injuries, and against situations causing stress and anxiety
Many more benefits are proposed on other websites, but I feel these benefits above are enough of themselves, and they’re the ones that I’m experiencing and thus can directly speak for.
Adjustments for beginners
Unless you are already very fit, I don’t recommend you do the exercises as above on your first try.
Instead you could try 7 repetitions of each. Or even just 3, to get a feel for it. Then build the numbers up over the following days.
Don’t overstretch: be careful about bending your back or neck backwards.
A lot of the benefits reside in the regularity, in doing a morning routine (almost) every day a few minutes after getting up.
You will start to see improvements after the first few days, weeks, and months.
Guidelines for doing the exercises “correctly”
In the first Tibetan, one aim is to not wobble, to put one’s feet in the same place turn after turn.
In the second, try to keep your legs straight, with flexed feet, at all times.
Also, you can keep a small distance between the legs, and keep that distance throughout.
In the third and fourth, the head bends forward in the starting position, and ends bending backwards as far as you can go in the finishing position.
Be very careful with this if you have neck issues.
In the fifth, it takes flexibility to keep the legs straight and the feet on the ground.
You can go on your toes and bend the legs before you gain the flexibility.
Crucial: when to breathe!
In the descriptions above, I was sloppy about the starting and ending points of each exercise.
To be more precise, it is important to breathe in and breathe out at the right time.
You should strive to inhale at the beginning of each exercise, and exhale in the ending position.
This does not apply to the first Tibetan, where instead you can aim to breathe every few turns.
For the second Tibetan, inhale when taking the legs are down, exhale when bringing the legs up.
For the third, inhale in the upright position bending backwards, exhale when returning to the upright.
For the fourth, inhale when going up into the table, exhale when returning to the ground.
For the fifth, inhale when going into up-dog, exhale going into down-dog.
The logic behind this, to help with remembering when to breathe, consists in expanding the lungs when going into the stretched position, and releasing the air when also releasing the body into the relaxed position.
Extensions: modified first, fourth and fifth, and a sixth Tibetan
It’s my nature to always want to improve things, here in the search for the perfect or optimal morning routine.
Modified First Tibetan Exercise
1. I like to alternate turning clockwise one day and turning counterclockwise on the next day.
This will ensure more symmetrical work for the feet, muscles and tendons.
Modified Fourth Tibetan Exercise
4. Instead of doing 21 table raises, I start in the same sit position but with my feet off the mat, and raise my body into a plank, i.e. the body and legs form one straight line, with the feet on the ground and the shoulders raised above the straight arms.
I got this exercise (step 2 of the bridges series on page 196) from the Convict Conditioning training program (which is an awesome program, with one downside that, for some of the more advanced exercises, it requires some fixtures I don’t easily have access to, especially some sturdy bars, tables, benches or the equivalent, at the correct height, that are more easily found in a proper gym than at home).
It is slightly more strenuous than the unmodified version.