Body and soul are one and the same – and nothing shows this better than Tibetan yoga. Its ancient breathing and physical exercises will make you feel better in every way.
The five basic tsalung exercises that I describe below originate from the teachings of Mother Tantra (Ma Gyu) – that is, from Jungdrung Bön, the oldest Tibetan religious tradition. They show us how to work with five kinds of breathing. As Alejandro Chaoul-Reich, a disciple of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, explains: “Through simple body movements, the vital breath guides the mind into particular locations, or chakras, opening and harmonizing those locations to experiences that can support one’s meditative practice.”
This is why these exercises are performed as an introduction to further meditation practice. Each of the chakras corresponds to the five elements and features associated with them. Moreover, Tibetan yoga also includes trul khor, or magical movement, also known as yantra yoga. I will not describe it in detail here, except to point out that physical practices are an aid to mental practices, because they help steady or even enhance meditation and maintain a natural state of mind.
Breath is the foundation
Tibetan yoga’s breathing technique is compared to horse riding. Only when the rider and the horse act in concert, will they be able to reach the finish line. After all, the rider (a symbol of the mind) has no legs, and the horse (a symbol of breath) has no eyes. The combination of mind and breath in the tsalung breathing technique gives us the chance to take advantage of their healing powers’ influence on our body and emotions.
In Tibetan, tsa means ‘channel’ and lung means ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. When we focus and combine mind, breath and physical exercise, we can activate the body’s individual energy centres. We can remove blockages that interfere with identifying the pure space of existence. Uniting this space with our consciousness allows us to ascertain the positive qualities in life.
Tibetans believe and practice this, while for Westerners, confirmed data is important. So I will add that in the US, yoga research is conducted on behalf of the National Institutes of Health. A group of researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre led by Dr Lorenzo Cohen (Professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine) and the above-mentioned Alejandro Chaoul-Reich are studying the impact of Tibetan yoga on cancer patients at the Houston hospital run by this unit.
Benefits for the body and soul
How to describe the benefits of exercise? Everyone feels differently in their body, not everyone has come to an agreement with it, although I do hope that everyone understands that whatever happens to our body is an inseparable element of our wellbeing. Without the wellbeing of the body, our soul cannot feel good. Without the wellbeing of the soul, we cannot heal our body.
An unquestionable advantage of this set of exercises is their simplicity. They can be practised by almost everyone, regardless of their level of fitness. We perform them sitting down, preferably on the floor, on a meditation pillow or a folded blanket. Those of you with a small or limited range of motion can sit straight on a chair, not leaning back, with your legs crossed at the ankles. Your chin should be directed slightly downwards.
Before we begin, it is good to immerse yourself in silence and stillness. You can think about the obstacles or problems that you wish to overcome.
What you should know
At the beginning, it is helpful to visualize the flows moving within us. The basic idea of Tibetan medicine is that there are three channels within our body. The middle (or central) blue channel is the width of a thumb, begins about five centimetres below the navel, runs upwards through the centre of the body and opens at the top of the head. On the left, there is the red channel, and on the right, the white channel; these are slightly smaller in diameter than the central channel. Both are luminous, and they merge below the navel. At the top, they pass behind the eye sockets and exit through the nostrils. Visualizing the canals and their colours is not necessary to practice these exercises, but it can make it easier if we are not focusing solely on our breath.
To perform the exercises correctly, we divide each breath into stages. Inhale, hold your breath in for a moment, without exhaling, inhale again and rotate your torso, hold your breath for a little longer, exhale. Between inhaling and exhaling, we perform particular movements.
Clean your own interior
It is best to practice in the morning or twice a day (in the morning and the evening). The practice will last between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on how many times you repeat a given tsalung.
Harmony of body and soul is the aim of existence, and the teachings emphasize the desired effortlessness of our aspirations and actions. In our culture, this may seem to be a contradiction – we are taught that only strenuous effort and hard work can lead us to achieve our goals. However, here we are talking about another kind of effortlessness. This is not the only instance where concepts or their definitions get lost in a sea of translations, interpretations or simple misunderstandings. It is fitting to compare tsalung exercises to organizing space: we make room for what is desirable by getting rid of something unwanted.
The exercises described below are suitable for anyone, but an important element of Tibetan teachings is transmitting authentic lineage, which means that we should receive instructions – both for individual practices and for broader teachings – directly from the teacher. During the pandemic there was a breakthrough in this regard, and now you can find a teacher who will do it online. It is worth looking at websites such as ligmincha.org.
Unblock your energy
Five Tsalung exercises
Tsalung exercise 1
Upward Clearing Wind, associated with the throat and head chakra. It belongs to the element of earth and the colour yellow.
Inhale and hold the air in your throat; without exhaling, inhale again. Tilt your head forward slightly, rotate your head five times to the left and then five times to the right. The movements are to be loose, in a circle. After 10 turns, exhale.
Repeat this exercise three or five times, taking a moment in between each series. If you recall any problems or obstacles, imagine that you are releasing them with each exhalation, and feel the head and throat chakra become open and clear.
Tsalung exercise 2
Life-force Clearing Wind, associated with the heart chakra. It belongs to the element of space and the colour white.
Inhale and hold the air at chest level in the heart area. Breathe in and imagine that the lung is spreading throughout the heart area. Extend the right arm and move it to the left above your head. Repeat five times, then repeat with left arm.
Place your hands on your hips and, without moving them, rotate the right arm to the back. Repeat five times, then repeat with left arm. Exhale, imagining the air leaving through all three channels, along with the obstacles that you experience in your life.
If you cannot hold the air long enough, repeat three times instead of five. After a few attempts, you should be able to do it with the full number of rotations.
Tsalung exercise 3
Fire-like Wind, associated with the navel chakra and internal organs. It belongs to the element of fire and the colour red.
Place your hands on your hips, inhale and hold the air at the navel. Without exhaling, inhale again and rotate your torso: five turns to the right and five to the left. Exhale through the nose and feel an opening in the navel chakra. Repeat five times.
Tsalung exercise 4
Pervasive Wind, it encompasses the entire body. It belongs to the element of air and the colour green.
Place your hands on your knees with your palms up. Breathe in and feel the air penetrate the entire body, especially in places where energy is blocked. Raise your hands and clap over your heads, then rub them on the body from the top of your head through the shoulders and torso to the legs (as if you wanted to warm them up).
Inhale and imagine you are shooting an arrow: five times to the right and five times to the left. Exhale. Calm your breath and repeat five times.
Tsalung exercise 5
Downward Clearing Wind, associated with the secret chakra, associated with the genitals and anus. It belongs to the element of water and the colour blue.
This exercise relies on pulling up the pelvic muscles. Place your right leg in front of the other, and rest your hands on your knees. Inhale and direct the air to the base of the central channel, the secret chakra. Holding the right knee with both hands, rotate the torso five times to the left. Then, holding the left knee, rotate the torso five times to the right. Then, holding both knees, rotate the torso five times to the left.
This exercise requires some practice for two reasons. Keep your pelvic muscles taut and release only to exhale. Initially, it might be difficult to perform the exercise in one breath, because it takes longer than the previous ones.
If you feel that you would like to give it a go, I recommend watching Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s tutorials on YouTube. The exercises are simple, but difficult to describe.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel
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