Here we present two talks given at Kunsangar North by Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo and Fabio Andrico about the relationship of Tibetan Medicine and Yantra Yoga on Wednesday, June 25, 2014.
This talk is about Tibetan medicine in relation to Yantra Yoga. Dr. Phuntsog has kindly agreed to come and give her expertise in this matter. Dr. Phuntsog has given these talks before and every time people are very happy to understand the connection between Yantra Yoga and Tibetan Medicine. Also I remember in Tenerife last time, there was an exposition of thankas of Tibetan Medicine and Dr. Phuntsog showed and commented on some of the thankas. I remember there was a thanka and people were asking about anatomy and what I understood she was saying – if I make a mistake she can correct me – that although Western medicine has got to a high degree of understanding of the anatomy of the human body, which was not lacking in Tibetan Medicine, but which in Western countries has become very detailed, in Tibetan medicine you also have what is described as the anatomy of the energy which is very much connected with the practice of Yantra. Because we always say that in Yantra Yoga it is not only the movement that is part of the practice. Not just the positions. But it is especially related to the function of the breathing and how this influences the level of the energy and the aspects of the elements.
So there is not only the more gross aspects of muscles, tendons, bones, joints, etc. Now I’ll make a very exaggerated example of a puppet. What makes the puppet move, come alive. Energy. So for example, the aspect of the breathing is fundamental in Yantra.
In many practices of yoga breathing is more or less considered because we breathe, even if, instead of moving you hold the posture, you still have to breathe. But Yantra is more than that. It is more the inner soul of the practice. It is not just breathing and connecting the breathing with the movement in the rhythm, but it is especially the aspect of holding the breath that makes Yantra Yoga pretty different from most of the other existing forms of yoga that I know.
The other particularity of the practice of YY that we are practicing and learning related to Rinpoche’s transmission, because for a practitioner, even if it is a secondary practice, it is still a practice connected with Rinpoche’s transmission, we base this practice on the text of Vairocana, a very famous Dzogchen master. Originally there were three different texts. In the book that has been published (also in Russian translation) there are two of these texts in the same book: the text on the trulkor, the movements, and the text about the medical aspects and benefits correlated to the practice. So the book that we are using consists of these two texts. This was due to Rinpoche’s great work of many years. In fact, at a certain point, he said that he had never worked so much for anything because not only did he have to study it and make commentaries, but to work on the text for translation for years and years. Then controlling the movement, showing the movement, explaining how it is took a long time.
Then there was a third text but it appears to have been lost and can no longer be found.
So even now that we are trying to open up Yantra Yoga a little more because it can be a great benefit for anyone and it is what we call the open level of YY, it is still a teaching based on a very serious spiritual path. We could say that the level of the mind of Yantra is a teaching of Dzogchen. But especially or also for the open level of Yantra – and this is also a bit for the YY teachers – having the possibility of showing the connection, the interaction, with Tibetan medicine, and what also from the point of view of medicine showing what the practice of Yantra can do is very important and very useful.
If you were here yesterday, we made a presentation of YY and for the people who were not here I can do a very short presentation to point out the most basic characteristics of the Yantra teaching. I have already said a few things at the beginning of this talk so I add a few more.
The whole practice of Yantra Yoga is 108 movements. There is an introductory part, which we could consider as the preliminaries. We start the practice with breathing that we call the nine breathings and which we apply any time we do a session of practice, even if it is not Yantra Yoga. The real name is “Eliminating the impure air nine times”. It is the first thing that is explained in Vairocana’s text, the first thing that we apply in practice and immediately it is related to breathing, not talking about a position or this and that. It talks about impure air so that means there is pure air, the air element, etc. So you immediately understand what the focus of the practice is.
We have the first group or preliminaries called tsijong that are more like warm-ups. The breathing is more vigorous. Generally vigorous breathing tends to activate but in this case it is more concentrated on the limbs and joints. Probably during Dr. Phuntsog’s talk we will have the benefit of Mira showing the exercises that we are talking about.
Then there are what we call the eight movements which are actually called lungsan. Again they are about purifying the prana, the air, and even though they have different positions, the movement is defined by the breathing. With the first movement, we move the arms above the head, but it is not called “arms above the head”, it is called “the first movement for complete smooth inhalation”. All the movements are like this. So what you see from the description itself is also more towards the function and application of the breathing in the form of different kinds of holdings and is more in the sense that the form of the body and the movement that leads to a particular form of the body is an accessory more than the main aspect of the practice. And again this is quite particular to Yantra because general this is in reverse.
Then there is a group of exercises called Tsandul, controlling the channels. The way I tend to explain is not controlling in the sense of blocking or imprisoning, but harmonizing the function of the channels in that sense. A kind of gentle control so that everything can work as it should, rather can controlling or blocking. In fact, for example, the fdirst one is a kind of massage. Many years ago I asked Rinpoche something about this and he told me that it is also about softening the muscles. So if we soften the muscles, things can also flow better in the channels. There are many kinds of different channels but the tsandul work at this level, the level of the functioning of the channels.
So you see again, the channels, the elements, the breathing and the body, all together should be the condition of the practice of Yantra. And the mind, of course. Sometimes there is even something to visualize and I’m sure that Dr. Phuntsog will give us some of her experiences using these functions for medical purposes. But also the mind should not be distracted. This is true not only for Yantra but for any practice of yoga. If your mind doesn’t have anything to do, you should just try not to be distracted otherwise you can even hurt yourself by forcing, by pushing. If you are not distracted it is very difficult that this happens.
And, of course, we are all following Rinpoche’s teaching so we know what it means to work with movement so it is just another aspect of the practice.
Many years ago when Rinpoche explained about sitting meditation and the time when you move after sitting practice, he said that learning how to integrate the experience in action you could start applying some kind of coordinated movement for example like Yantra Yoga. Of course, Rinpoche was explaining the Vajra Dance.
I would just like to say that Yantra Yoga could be a very important tool for many aspects of the practice and also for those who would like to apply a very powerful system of yoga, because only just the fact that when people do Yantra they have to understand and apply very precisely the aspect of breathing already changes the perception they have. I have been teaching recently some courses where there were also some Hatha Yoga teachers and they were really amazed about this focus on the breathing and how it is harmonized and applied in the practice of Yantra. Seriously, they were incredibly interested. And it was not invented yesterday. It is something with a long lineage of very important masters. The last master who has taught us is Chögyal Namkhai Norbu who received most of his teaching from his uncle, Tobden Urgyen Tenzin. It is also very important to understand that there is a lineage. There is a transmission. There is the substance for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Tibetan Medicine and Yantra Yoga
Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo
“A small effort that brings big benefit”
Thank you Fabio for your explanation. I am not an expert yoga teacher, we have many yoga teachers here today, and so I will try to focus more on the Tibetan Medicine aspect. Tibetan Medicine we call men (sMan). Men means not this or that, something that is not limited. Men means benefit, benefit to the sentient being. That is medicine. So in order to help sentient beings – sentient beings have a material body and mainly our suffering is the body – and even if we cannot see or feel it, there is something that gives us mental consciousness. So these two are the main causes of our suffering. Today we have doctors and psychologists, two different types of physicians. In Tibetan medicine the body, speech and mind are related, not something separated. So we say that in general when we’re looking at the goals of the healing system, there are two goals – one goal is that we try to prevent the disease, and if that does not work, then we try to treat the disease.
So today in Western Medicine we do a lot of vaccinations in order to prevent disease. Then if we’re sick there are many hospitals. In Tibetan Medicine we also have the understanding of preventing and treating disease. When we’re looking at the disease, we ask why do we have disease? Before we talk about the disease, firstly we need to know what the nature of the body is; without knowing the nature of the body, it’s very hard to tell is why we’re sick or how we can prevent illness. So for that reason the number one thing we must understand, if you are a physician or not, is what our body material is. That is number one. So once we have found out the material aspect or nature of the body, the second thing that we need to understand in order for this body to function is which kind of substances we need. So we say our body is made up of the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and liquids and so on and so forth. Those are the material level, and without the understanding of the substances we need, the material level is not working.
In order for the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and liquids to work, they need energy, breath and so on. So once the body, speech and mind are collaborating well, then we have health. Once one of them is imbalanced, we are unhealthy. For that reason, today our main topic is Yantra Yoga, which, in Tibetan, we call trulkhor. That means that this knowledge, this understanding, this trulkhor, is something like movement. Movement of the physical body, movement of the inner energy, movement of the breathing; everything needs to move in order to function. Breathing is something we may have trained in, or even without training, something we do in daily life. When we move if we don’t pay attention to our breath we can get abnormal conditions. So the purpose of the Yantra Yoga is how we can pay attention to the physical movement and the inner breathing and especially the mental consciousness, how these three are related.
Tibetan Medicine is based on the five elements, but today I’m not going to talk about that, otherwise it would take a lot of time. If we want to use this technique of Yantra Yoga as a preventative system, then we use it in daily life. The ancient Tibetan system this started from the yogis and then that knowledge slowly entered the medical care, and was also passed down to the families like a daily life regimen. I’m not saying all the Tibetan people know how to do yoga and are perfect, I’m not saying that, but I’m saying in Tibetan Medicine, the introduction of yoga started in that way and then started going into the daily family life.
We also have Ku Nye massage. So as Fabio mentioned before, when we’re studying yoga, first we have the nine breathings, like purification. In the Tibetan it is called lung ro selwa – lung is the wind, ro is like something left, which means when you inhale or exhale; each time there are certain subtle impurities that are accumulated. So when we are normally breathing we don’t breathe that fully and when we exhale it is not complete, and especially when we are hurried, distracted or stressed. So this is ro. Sel means to eliminate or clarify, so that is the lung ro selwa. Lung ro selwa is basically to try to change the old air in the body to fresh air. Also when we’re breathing we are visualizing the essence of the five elements represented by the five colors, we’re inhaling that, and then when we’re exhaling we try to exhale all the negative karmic breath as something dark brown, this is the kind of thing we normally do. Just doing these nine breathings is a healing method, has a healing purpose, so if you have something like acute pain you can do this breathing, exhaling, and especially when you’re inhaling, at that time you try to inhale more like fresh wind and water element, like cooling things, and you can manage that pain.
Or when you have like asthma or pneumonia, a kind of congestion, you can inhale more like warm heated light and then exhale more like the cool nature, so that also you can do. Or if you have surgery or a bone fracture or something, when you do this kind of visualizing you imagine a kind of connection where you have the injury. Or when you are very stressed you try to do long breathing to cool down, so that way you can manage to calm down. So just doing the nine breathings, they can be used a lot for healing purposes. I have a lot of experience using these sorts of simple techniques, showing to people who need them and they get a lot of big results, so I often show them to people.
Why is this breathing beneficial to healing? They say in Tibet that the body, the illness and the treatment, everything is same nature of the five elements. Why without eating supplements does only breathing help? Because when we’re looking at the elements, or when we’re looking at the body, the body could be the outer body, the inner body, or the secret body, or the outer element, like material element, energy element, subtle energy element; there’s not only one substance. There can be many things. So that way we get the benefit. The question of when we get the benefit depends on how we do the breathing and movement. As Fabio mentioned before, if you do it well you will get benefit. If you don’t do it well, instead of getting benefit you get hurt. For that reason we say that it is very important to learn properly and then apply properly.
In the Tibetan yoga, the main point is not the body position. In Tibetan yoga, the purpose is that the body, mind and energy are coordinated and move together. So first we have the lung ro salwa, the nine breathings. When we do the nine breathings we say is that you need certain body position. The first thing we say is we sit in a cross-legged position sitting down. Why is it important that the legs are crossed and sitting down? The point is not how your legs are crossed; the point is that your hips are on the ground. In Tibetan medicinal anatomy we say the two hips are like the foundation of the house. You see, without a stable foundation, the building will collapse; so for that reason the body is grounded. This is the number one aspect. Also when you’re sitting well, the hips are stretched and the sacrum is stretched. So once that the sacrum is a little stretched in sitting it affects the navel channel, we have the central channel, which goes through the navel. When we’re conceived, the first week we are conceived, and the second week the central channel is formed. The third week the main channel is very visible. So then once we’re sitting down in this kind of position, this central channel becomes completely straight.
Also we can tell when we’re sitting on a chair in this kind of way, or we’re sitting comfortably, our breathing is changing. So in Tibetan medicine we say the two hips are like the foundation so that is the purpose of this position. The second part of the body position is that we put two hands on the knee. In the Tibetan medical anatomy, we say the two hands are like silk ornaments. Silk ornaments means something light and moving. So if the hands are stable and not moving, it is a way to calm down. So the position of the hands is basically to settle down the body. Third we say the tongue touches the palette. So that is so we are not closing the breathing tube, the throat. So once the tongue is touching to the palette then the throat is gently opened. And then also when we’re touching the tongue to the palette we’re not producing a lot of saliva. Then that way we don’t have to swallow all the time, otherwise we make sound, swallowing the saliva. Then the fourth one we say is the eyes and mouth remain in a natural position. This means not too opened not too closed, just like normal.
In Tibetan Medicine we say the five sense organs are like the windows of a house. The purpose of the windows is to let in light, and also to see outside from inside or inside from outside. So the sense organs are the place where we’re exchanging information. So now the purpose for which we are doing this is that we want to calm down the body, speech or energy and mind, so for that reason we are like shutting the windows. If we close the sense organs completely then that will make us sleepy, in Tibet they say a bad meditation is leading to sleep. So if we close the eyes then that makes us sleepy, if they’re too open then we become distracted. Then the sixth one is that the back is straight. So the back is straight and the chin is a little down, because in Tibetan Medicine we say is that the central channel is like a golden beam in the body. So it needs to be straight. And then the seventh one is that the body is not too tense and not too relaxed. In the story of the Buddha, one of the Buddha’s younger brothers asked Buddha what would be the best method of meditation to apply. Buddha asked him if he played guitar. He said yes I do, I am a very good guitar player. And then Buddha said, “When does the best sound come from the guitar? If the strings is too tight or too loose, which one?” then he replied, “If it’s too tight it’s not good sound, too loose also there is no sound. So not too tight and not too loose, at that point comes the best sound.” And then Buddha said that is also best to apply to meditation. So that is not too straight, not too loose. So those are the seven positions of the body.
Then you all know how to do the nine breathings so we will look at the tsijong. The first one is called drimpa or tightening, so the benefit of doing this one is to remove the heavy, dull sleepiness on the body. Tightening also sharpens the mind and helps to remove the poor circulation. Why? Doing this position helps to balance the pervading wind. In Tibetan Medicine when we talk about lung (rlung) tripa (mkhris) badkan; lung is wind element, tripa is fire element and badkan is earth and water element. So when we’re looking at the lung, there are five subtle lungs. So the five subtle lungs are like the governors of lung. So when we’re looking at a government, we have one government where there is the health department, agriculture department and so on. We have many departments in order for that government to function. Like this, the body has five coordinating lungs. There are rough and many subtle lungs. So doing this position is beneficial for the pervading wind, which is located at the physical heart and then goes to the whole body, and all the circulation. The function of this lung is, we say, stretching, contracting, opening or closing. Most body functions are connected with the pervading lung. Once this lung is disturbed, losing the movement function is similar to a stroke; losing mental function is like a mental disorder, and then mainly causing like multiple sclerosis. Mainly losing muscle. Also related to this point, this position is very good for preventing arthritis.
The second one we call silwa. Silwa means moving lightly. This is good for any kind of joint problems. Why? Because at the joints is badkan, phlegm, which is earth and water element. So this badkan is the connecting badkan, which is located at all the joints. The benefit of this phlegm is connecting upper and lower so they are able to move. Many of us after a certain age, or certain diet, eating a lot of like heavy, cold things, or living in cool, wet, humid places, or as I said at a certain age, we have swelling of the joints, our joints feel cold and painful. That is arthritis. So in Tibetan medicine we have many different types of arthritis, but this is the arthritis that is connected to the badkan, which is called natural. So the benefit of the silwa is that the excess badkan liquid is eliminated or melted and then kept in balance. So that is the benefit. But if you do too much, or too strongly or in the wrong way, this can cause a deficiency of the badkan liquid, badkan sByor bye (jorje) of the joints. So that can cause rheumatism, also a type of arthritis but has a different nature. So then as Fabio said before you need to move with presence. Then we come to the deficiency of the badkan, which means increase of lung, because one of the lungs is also located in the joints. So one of the pathways of the lung is in the bones and joints. That can cause the lung to increase, which dries the liquid. Then we can have aching. At that time we don’t have swelling but is mainly dislocated and very dry. So that is the second tsijong.
Then the third one we call phulwa. Phulwa is more like the stretching. So the Phulwa is good for descending wind. So the phulwa is mainly for the lower body. Because the descending lung is located on the pelvic area, so the thursel lung is located on the pelvic area and goes to all the internal organs. It also goes to the inner thighs. The function is for the menstruation cycle, including childbirth, urination, defecation, and also reproductive fluid control. These need to be eliminated, otherwise the gate is closed and they are held inside. If the descending lung is imbalanced we have constipation, frequent or infrequent urination, miscarriage, irregular menstruation. I’m not saying that miscarriage or constipation are only problems of the descending lung, but the descending lung is one of the main causes. Also descending lung can cause colon disease. And then worse than that, if the descending wind is completely blocked it can cause mental disease. Always feeling tight on the chest area, always full in this area, pain in the back, insomnia and mentally not able to settle down. In Tibetan medicine pathology we say this descending lung imbalance is like moving, not settled, not stable, unstable. Also this phulwa is very good for restoring the kidney. In Tibetan medicine we say the kidney is like the outer minister of the king, the king would be the heart. This means who has the power or authority for decisions of the kingdom, or the king, the minister is not all the time with the king but also has the power. The kidney is like when we’re looking at a house, like the wall of the house, if the kidney is weak, the whole house can collapse down. So then we can have like infrequent urination, also fatigue, losing hearing, and if that gets worse then also hunched body, and then also slowly is the immune system goes down so then our body becomes like trash, catching all diseases. So we can tell that without the wall the roof cannot stay there. So those are the benefits of doing phulwa.
The fourth one we call beppa. Beppa means like jumping but in this case is not exactly like jumping. So the benefit of this; pain on the upper back, and then also neck and shoulders, particularly the trapezium muscle, down to the kidneys, and spasms on the calf, and then also digestive tract. This is because this movement is good for fire accompanying lung. Fire-accompanying lung is located in the abdomen, its main location is where the intestine connects to the colon and it goes through all the digestive tract. The function is to help to digest the food and to divide pure and impure. So its main job is dividing pure and impure substances. If the fire-accompanying lung has dysfunction then we can get all different kinds of indigestion disease. In the Tibetan medicine we say the root of all disease is in the digestion. So diabetes, kidney disease, edema and also cancers, tumors, all of this is put under the digestion group. Why do we have these kinds of disease? If mnyam lung (fire accompanying lung) is weak, then it is not able to divide pure and impure.
The fifth one we call is korwa. Korwa means moving. This is good for weakness of or loss of limb function, all diseases of the joints. And also this one is good for the pervading lung. As we said before, the pervading lung is located on the heart, and goes through all of the body. The body/mind function is connected to the pervading lung. If the khyab byed lung malfunctions, physically we lose contracting or stretching of the limbs, and then the tendons and ligaments become very thick and rough, the organs and particularly the brain don’t get blood circulation on time, and then sometimes we can have a stroke. So all those serious diseases can be caused by dysfunctions of the pervading lung. So those are the five tsijong.
So for what purpose are we doing this? You are determined to keep a healthy body, or you have some problem that you want to heal, in any kind of case you can apply this yoga. You see how easy it is to apply, no side effects if you don’t do it badly, very inexpensive, and you can do by yourself. That is what we call a small effort that brings big benefit. Particularly in today’s modern society, we are all very busy, distracted and stressed. I have been a Tibetan Doctor almost thirty years now, so since I have been in the West, when I’m checking ten patients, four of them have mental problems. Not necessarily very serious, but something a little bit – I think also including myself – we all sort of have this imbalance because our daily life is very stressed. We think the physical and material will give us happiness, and we work and run and we have done until now, but we didn’t get any happiness. Even if it brings happiness it is very temporary. So for this reason we all have mental imbalance of those kinds of elements. So this kind of simple yoga is good.
Another aspect is our diet. In our society young people are very good at mentally functioning, managing, and so on and so forth, but today when we’re looking statistically, many young people have diabetes, take antidepressants, have serious blood disease and poor circulation. So usually these kinds of disease for people over 65 years old, we wouldn’t see children with diabetes or mental disease, but today there’s a big number of children who need to take antidepressants or this or that. Also cancer, this kind of disease, used to be not so common but today it is becoming like colds or flu. There could be many other factors, but mainly the imbalance of those things. I told you that the imbalance of the fire-accompanying lung can cause the indigestion disease, and indigestion disease can cause tumors or cancers. So it would be good to do this kind of simple yoga to keep you healthy.
So I will stop here, if you have questions we can answer a few questions.
Thank you for listening.