Many years ago, in South America, I taught English to pre-schoolers. It was all about coloring and play. Still, the kids couldn’t sit at the tables without squirming and jumping around. So I’m not surprised that the hardest part of yoga, for many, is the stillness. Energetic, dynamic, physical practices can be easier than having a silent mouth — and mind.
That’s one of the reasons why the Encinitas, California schools teach yoga. The ancient practice is proven to give the kids more focus in their reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.
Yoga trains the body, and the mind, to be still for extended periods of time. The Yoga Sutras say, sthira sukham asanam. Which loosely translated means steady, at ease in a seated position.
Tibetan Yoga is an excellent practice to quiet the mind. Dr. Alejandro Chaoul is an advocate of this lesser-known form of yoga, for people of all ages and physical states.
Chaoul received his doctorate in Tibetan Studies. For the past 16 years, he has been on the staff of Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center. Among his many duties, he coordinates mind-body intervention programs for different cancer populations.
Tibetan Yoga is clearly close to his heart. He is the author of two books, dozens of abstracts, articles, and CDs that highlight his research. Recently, he shared his love for Tibetan Yoga at the 2016 Texas Yoga Conference in Houston.
Tibetan Yoga is different from Indian-based yoga. “We start with calming the monkey mind, then utilizing the body.” Through Tibetan Yoga, he says, one can maintain stillness to help release the mental, physical and spiritual obstacles. “That stillness can be a doorway to openness.”
Tibetan Yoga has been an integrative therapy at MD Anderson since 1997. Chaoul calls the 11-minute practice, given to patients on CD, his “connecting with the heart.” The hard part, he acknowledges, is “what happens the other 23 hours and 49 minutes in the day.” Therefore he prescribes ‘meditation pills,’ short meditation moments during the day.
His research on Tibetan Yoga, and other mind-body practices in integrative care, supports the benefits. “These practices can reduce chronic stress, anxiety and sleep disorders and improve quality of life and cognitive function.”
One of his studies was with Lymphoma patients. Those who practiced Tibetan Yoga reported significant overall sleep quality, quantity, and reduction in latency. Plus, they were less reliant on sleep medications. Alberto Rodriguez practiced in the seven-week Tibetan Yoga research project with Dr. Chaoul. He agreed the meditative practice improved his sleep patterns. Additionally, he said he had improved appetite, a greater sense of relaxation, and a clearer mind.
This Tibetan Yoga, called Tsa lung, is based on a long oral lineage that was put into writing in 11th-century texts. Chaoul learned Tsa lung from his teacher Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche more than 20 years ago. It’s about clearing the energetic channels (tsa). In Ayurveda, we refer to them as nadis. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are meridians.
There are five different movements. Each one is centered around one of the five winds (lung or vayus) that are described in Tibetan and Ayurvedic medicine.
Chaoul says that in Tibetan Yoga, one brings the mind and breath together at one of the chakras or energetic centers contacting one of the five winds. You focus on the chakra as you hold the breath and repeat a pattern of movements. “At the end, you exhale, and release obstacles that are there, enabling you to stay longer in your meditative state.”
Tibetan Yoga is a powerful practice to reach a higher level of focus, clarity, calm, and awareness. “The breath is a wild horse,” says Chaoul. “The mind is its rider and has a tendency to monkey. When we hold the breath, we help the holding of the mind, so it can gain control and focus and relax in that state of mind. Meditation is a state of mind that is both calm and aware.”
The purpose of the practice is that as we clear the tsa we can stay connected longer in our meditative state of mind. Eliminating blockages in these energetic channels is what both Acupuncture and therapeutic Yin Yoga set out to do. Given the shared histories of these traditions, we can see the common grounds in Tibetan Yoga and other Tibetan practices.
Tibetan Yoga is one of the several mind-body practices offered at MD Anderson. Sessions are free for anyone touched by cancer. To access videos and audios, click on clinical services and then Tibetan meditations. Read more about Chaoul’s work or review prior blog posts on Yin Yoga.