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The interdependence between Tibetan yogas and Tibetan medicine

What does "yoga" mean to you?

For many it is a physical practice that allows the body to be maintained by making it supple and strong, all practised with attention to the breath, thus allowing the body and mind to be united. This is true, but I think it is important to go further than this approach, which is in fact a purified western vision of a spiritual practice integrated into a whole.

In the Tibetan system, yogas are very diverse practices including movement practices such as Lu Jong, Kum Nye, Yantra Yoga or Tsa-Lung, lying practices such as Dream and Sleep Yoga, and many non-movement meditative practices such as Tummo, meditations with Yidams (visualisation and then generation under the aspects of a deity), mantra recitations, ....

Because of the way our society is constituted, we are used to compartmentalising and separating each of these practices whereas the Tibetan system is to be understood and integrated as a whole because all these practices work on the same pillar, which is our energetic body and especially our vital energy.

Sowa Rigpa, or 'healing science', an integral part of spiritual practices

Also included in this package is Tibetan medicine, Sowa Rigpa, or 'science of healing'. It is important to understand that there is no separation in the Tibetan system between yogic practices and Tibetan medicine. Sakyamuni Buddha was the first physician. He is considered to be one of the Eight Buddhas of Medicine and delivered the Medicine Buddha's teaching in the form of the treatise Gyud Zhi.

"Because health is of primary importance,

In all understanding, all who wish to meditate

And attain nirvana and want wealth and happiness

Must learn the science of medicine".

(translated from Tibetan Medicine by Rechung Rinpoche)

Gyud Zhi, or the Four Tantras of Medicine, sets out the general theory of medical science and lists over 1600 diseases for which it provides explanations of all methods of treatment. This medical treatise contains 5,900 verses that every Tibetan doctor should know by heart in order to refer to it in his daily practice.

The healing methods used in Tibetan medicine combine the essence of the best ancient Indian, Chinese, Greek and Persian healing methods with Tantric Buddhist science.

Tibetan medicine is today one of the few traditional medicines to have survived the centuries fully preserved and intact, offering our present-day societies a healing science whose positive results are now gaining validation and interest from Western science. It is also interesting to know that Chinese medicine has been largely inspired by Tibetan medicine and that Tibetan pills can be found under the name of Chinese medicines.

Tsog-Lung, the pillar of Tibetan medicine

One of the two pillars of Tibetan medicine is based on the knowledge of "tsog-lung", vital breath or life force. It is known as "prana" in India, "chi" in China, "pneuma" in ancient Greece,... It is interesting to know that no less than 95 cultures in the world have built their healing system on this same concept...

This vital breath circulates in the body through a network of channels or "tsa" (3 main ones, 72,000 secondary ones), linked to the moon cycle. When there are blockages in these channels, the energy can no longer circulate freely and can therefore no longer reach all parts of the body in a uniform manner. It is in these areas of deficient energy flow that diseases can manifest. Disease is understood in the Tibetan system as the opposite of "tsog-lung". When energy is flowing, disease can leave the body where it came from, with tsog-lung releasing this negative energy. The body's energetic vibration, or its energetic charge, is then transformed from an unbalanced state to a healthy, vitalized state.

The 3 humours, the 3 internal energies

The 2nd pillar of Tibetan medicine is the concept of the 3 humours. The 3 humours are the 3 energies of health. It is the imbalance of these 3 humours that forms the underlying nature of ill health, giving rise to 404 diseases.

The 4 medical tantras of the Gyud Zhi explain how the effects of food interact with the 3 humours, our vital energies. Diet therefore plays an essential role in treating the causes of disease in the Tibetan medical system. The Gyud Zhi also describes how the 5 elements contained in food - earth, air, water, fire, and space - give rise to the 5 elements within the body, which are found in connection with each of the 3 humours.

The Lung (or Wind) mood, in connection with the Air element, constitutes the energy of movement. This relates to all movements, wherever they are. Physical movements such as walking, muscular movement, but also movements within the physical channels (vascular system, lymphatic system,...) and energy channels (tsa).

The Tripa (or Bile) mood, linked to the Fire element, constitutes the energy of metabolism. It represents the heat of the body as well as the digestive fire and allows to manage the transformations linked to absorption and assimilation and the whole metabolism.

The Bekan (or Phlegm) mood, linked to the elements Water and Earth, is fluid in nature. It is the structure that manages the totality of the body's bodily fluids, bringing fluidity, suppleness and smoothness to the body by greasing all joints, and plays an important role in concentration and memory.

The cause of disease in the Tibetan system or the impact of our mental aspects on our well-being

Tibetan medicine defines ill health in terms of its cause and then its nature. There are 4 causes of disease according to this system of healing and therefore 4 aspects to consider: diet, behaviour, seasons, karma. These aspects, including emotions, are known as "conditions". Indeed, any negative emotion or thought is a contraction whose accumulation creates blockages in the channels. The flow of energy becomes unbalanced, with energy being directed into areas that become increasingly over-activated, while others become under-activated.

It is therefore understood that the nature of physical illnesses are seen in their spiritual sense and come from our mental attitudes. The 3 main poisons are attachment, anger, and ignorance. It is these mental aspects that interfere with the life energies of the 3 humours: Lung (wind), Tripa (fire), Bekan (phlegm) and the result will be the manifestation of disease.

This is why it is important to go through a spiritual development in order to establish a positive, luminous mind, and thus set the conditions for a healthy body.

Tibetan medicine will of course work on the causes, but there is no point in working on the cause if we do not change the conditions.

The very first condition is to work on the root condition, ignorance. Ignorance is our erroneous understanding or perception of reality, the view. We therefore seek to eliminate "marigpa" which is the wrong view, or erroneous view, the one that makes us believe that the reality we perceive since we were born is the true reality. Through this erroneous view, we live in a world of duality in which our emotions form the fabric of our thoughts and lives. By freeing ourselves from this erroneous view, we can act on our emotions, transforming them from their negative to their positive aspects, allowing our subtle body to strengthen itself and thus establish a relationship of self-nurturing well-being. The mind becomes positive, the body balances towards health, both stimulating each other and allowing the establishment of a lasting well-being.

In practice, the doctor will work by increasing the mood in deficiency, decreasing the mood in excess, and harmonising the mood in disorder.

Diagnosis

The doctor will first of all establish a diagnosis and for that he will use several tools of which one of the most astonishing and most skilful is the taking of the pulse. Pulse-taking takes place in the form of three paths involving the doctor, the organs and the constitution of the energy body. While in the West the feeling of the pulse is a simple routine, Tibetan doctors "listen" to the pulse. This technique requires a great deal of finesse and takes a year to acquire, and at least a decade to master... A pulse taking can last more than twenty minutes during which the doctor literally enters a meditative state and is able to emerge with a precise diagnosis whose accuracy has really surprised Western researchers in validating studies.

Another tool is urine diagnosis, which is a method unique to the Tibetan system that Western researchers are beginning to explore, as Western diagnoses have previously focused on only 8 factors. Tongue diagnosis is widely used to confirm the results of pulse and urine diagnosis. Finally, astrological diagnosis is also incorporated through the Kalachakra Tantra calendar. It is important to know that a Tibetan doctor will complete his full course of study in Tibetan medicine as well as a full course of study in astrology. He will then choose at the end whether he will focus more on medicine or more on astrology. However, this orientation is not a separation. Indeed, a Tibetan doctor will also compose the medication, the pills, and these will be made jointly with the astrologers because according to the plants and minerals used, in relation to the effects to be obtained, certain pills will be made at specific times in relation to the movements of the Moon, but also in relation to the movements of the Sun. Some pills will thus be made only at night, at certain times of the year. Astrology is also used to define more precisely the karmic causes interfering in the life of the patient.

The doctor also uses eye diagnosis, analysis of dreams and dream visions, and sometimes anammnesis.

The means of action


Internal therapy

Diet plays a key role in health and is considered by most Asian cultures to be the best doctor. Tibetan medicine recognises diet as one of the four causes of disease. A proper diet is therefore the basis of the medical approach and Tibetan medicine emphasises the initial "wellness" of this diet. The ingredients must be healthy, natural, free of pesticides and fresh. The environmental aspect is therefore taken into account.

The digestive process is understood as an energetic process. The Tripa (fire) mood brings heat to the food before the Bekhan (phlegm) mood allows for what we call kneading and segmentation. The food then separates into 2 types, nutrients and waste, the nutrients then being directed to the liver through the 9 nutrient channels to be transformed into the 7 constituents of the physical body.

Since the digestive fire is essential for the proper assimilation of nutrients, Tibetan medicine advises avoiding cold drinks, especially those containing ice. A lot of advice is given about the temperature of food, the types of food to be favoured according to our basic nature (Tripa type, Lung type or Bekhan type) in relation to the balances and imbalances of the moment, the foods to be associated or whose associations are to be proscribed. (I will come back to these subjects in new posts on this blog...).

Medication is also prescribed. These are in the form of pills. The Tantras of Medicine state that everything on earth has the power to be a medicine, so 1006 plants and 840 minerals are listed, however since the Chinese invasion, 300 species of plants have disappeared.

The peculiarity of this medicine is that although the tantra medicines describe each plant or mineral individually, they are never used alone but in synergistic combinations which aim to even out the active effects of the ingredients on the body. It has been found that the side effects present in the Western pharmacopoeia could not be observed in the Tibetan pharmacopoeia and this could be due to the complexity of these formulas. Each pill contains between 7 and 100 ingredients and each of the thousands of formulas that exist is very complex.

Some formulas are offered as herbal teas, decoctions, powders, but also as syrups, liquid compotes or medicinal butters.

Other techniques are also proposed such as purges or oil therapies, purgatives and laxatives, enemas, drainages.



External therapy

External therapies include massages, poultices, medicinal baths, cupping, moxibustion, bloodletting.



Spiritual Therapy

Spiritual healing is an inseparable part of Tibetan medicine as we have seen that illnesses have their ultimate root in "marigpa" which is our erroneous view of who we are and how we interact in dependence on our emotions in the manner of a marionette being tossed around by constant flows of positive thoughts and emotions interspersed with negative ones.

In this context, we will use the recitation of mantras, which are not prayers but rather positive affirmations recited as songs, whose sacred syllables carry and deliver energy of a spiritual nature; we will carry out visualization meditations of the Eight Buddhas of medicine, which have purifying actions.

Maintaining health ?

Health requires prevention, so the Tibetan doctor leads the patient to adopt an adapted lifestyle. To do this, he will teach him to adapt his diet to the seasons, to adopt breathing exercises, to invite him to receive regular therapeutic massages, to practise daily Tibetan yogas such as Lu Jong, to carry out the practice of Nyoung-né which consists of fasting associated with meditation, to carry out the meditation of Tonglen whose practice consists of welcoming with tenderness the suffering of someone and to send back to him in exchange a lot of happiness.

What is the link with yogas?

Tantric practitioners or yogis, and Tantric healers or Tibetan doctors, consider these invisible channels to be more important than the nervous and vascular systems. They form the "phra-bailus", the subtle body.

The Tibetan physician uses the points of this subtle body to apply acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping or bloodletting treatments.

The yogi uses specific pressure points as part of his movements to direct the subtle winds in directions that support the energy flow and will use his perceptive feelings combined with visualisations to develop different points of the subtle body.

It is here that we understand the close interrelationship between Tibetan medicine and the practices of Tibetan yogas.

Thus the Tibetan doctor is not only a doctor in the sense that we understand it in the West. He is first and foremost a meditating being, developing his compassion more and more through his journey of transformation. When there is a consultation, the doctor often sees the patient arrive before he or she is there, through his or her practice of dream yoga, and during the consultation, he or she actually enters into meditation to connect with the patient's subtle body through his or her own subtle body, thus allowing him or her to go beyond the concepts and projections of thoughts, entering into a universe of non-duality, thus offering direct access to information and receiving directives as to the treatment to be applied in relation to the knowledge he or she has integrated during more than 15 years of study.

As for the yogi, as the Buddha indicated, it is imperative to maintain and develop an ever healthier body, to achieve a balance between body and mind, in order to be able to move towards transformation through his yogic practices. It is therefore important that each yogi study Tibetan medicine during his first decades of practice. Then, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama told us during the January 2017 Kalachakra in Bodhgaya, when he is ready to enter into the high-tantra practices, after having walked for many years and developed various realisations, he can or even should put aside these studies to work only on the internal work on the subtle breaths in relation to the three main channels.


But what if you want to practice the Tibetan yogas in the West but do not want to enter into a "lifetime of practice"?

So we have seen that Tibetan medicine and Tibetan yogas form an inseparable whole. We understand, however, that it is impossible for most of us to leave everything, our jobs, our families, to go and meditate, practice, study, and thus follow a deep spiritual path.

However, these practices can be integrated into our daily lives in a gentle way and already bring effects that will be quickly felt.

I have written this article as an introduction to a series of posts that will appear on this blog and that will include over time many small tips on lifestyle, diet, breathing exercises, movements, so that the reader and people interested in Tibetan yogas understand that these practices are one piece of a large puzzle whose ultimate path is to liberate ourselves and all beings from the suffering and causes of suffering related to our samsaric state.


Comments


--> Teacher training is given from 1 person upward. Kathy is in Lu Jong 1 teacher training ending in July. Aurore and Mickael are in training until January. It is possible to join or start a new training course from 1 person, Info here.
--> Johnathan returns to do the last course of Tog Chöd training in Chamonix at the end of June 2024. Venerable Oser is starting the Tog Chöd teacher training with the first face-to-face course in June in Chamonix and is already getting the hang of it with the theory through access to the online extranet. You can still join this training. The next training of Top Chod will perhaps start in June 2027 (or perhaps 2025 or 2026), to be continued...

--> A Tog ChOd discovery weekend is offered to everyone at the end of June! Info here

-->  We will be in Thailand in May and June and can offer discovery sessions or modules B of Lu Jong and Tog Chöd teacher training in French and English: in Chamonix from the end of June to the end of September, in Tenerife in October, in Nepal at the beginning of November 2024, in Thailand in November and December, and on Reunion Island in January 2025. And last minute... the Kora Kailash trip will take place in mid 2026 (the previous one was in 2018.. .), but will be reserved for former students or former participants of at least one trip with us! so if you would like to organize a retreat or training at these locations, contact us!

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