Blog Post

The Five Tibetan Rites

TM writes: "My wife and I have enjoyed the five exercises seen here. They make it sound far more elaborate then what it is, merely five exercises 21 times each. At least that is how we see it. Can you comment?"

The five exercises in the above link are known as the Five Tibetan Rites.  They are yoga-based exercises with a sketchy origin and enormous claims that have little science to back them up.

The Five Rites were made famous by a man named Peter Kelder in 1939 in his books, The Ancient Fountain of Youth and The Eye of Revelation. In it, he tells the story of a British army officer named Colonel Bradford (not his real name) who lived with a group of lamas (teachers of Tibetan Buddhism) who were very old men and yet were the picture of vitality. They were so fit, in fact, that all the locals referred to their lamasery as the place where the Fountain of Youth could be found.

What was their secret? The lamas performed what is known as the Five Rites, which are a series of exercises said to be derived from Tibetan yoga. The Five Rites include the following exercises:

•    Standing with arms stretched to each side and spinning following the outstretched right hand. •    Supine leg raise with head flexion. •    On knees arching backwards with hands on thighs. •    Sitting with outstretched legs, arms by side and moving into Table pose. •    Upward-Facing Dog pose transitioning into Downward-Facing Dog pose.

The object is to work up to 21 repetitions of each exercise.

These exercises are based on the notion that the body contains seven spinning or "psychic vortexes" that begin to slow down as a person ages. By performing the Five Rites daily - which take only 15-20 minutes -  the "spin rate" can be restored, thus improving health.

Where these five rituals originated is a topic of great controversy. No one really knows the origin of them beyond Kelder's books. The rites are said to be a form of Tibetan yoga which emphasizes a continuous sequence of movement rather than the static poses of Hindu yoga. Popular legend says they originated from lamas who lived 2,500 years ago, but this has never been proven.

I've seen websites claiming people's youth can be restored down to regaining one's original hair color after turning grey, erase the wrinkles from their face and restore one's metabolism to that of a 25 year-old.

Is this true?

Of course not. The Tibetan Rituals don't do anything to the human body that can't be achieved by any other daily exercise regime. Regular exercise is already well-known (and scientifically proven) to increase longevity, combat a variety of health conditions from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, control weight, improve sleep, and boost one's energy levels and feelings of overall wellbeing.

And none of this has to do with alleged spinning vortexes or energy centers known as chakras. As this article explains, the source of energy that keeps everything going in the body is called ATP or Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the biochemical way to store and use energy. How ATP is turned into energy is a series of very complex chemical reactions. It has nothing to do with a putative energy form (aka, qi, chi, universal life force, prana) that allegedly puts the "spin" in the vortexes and the power in the chakras. This energy form has never been scientifically established which means that any practice based upon it is essentially based upon thin air.

As for the Five Rites and its many claims, there's nothing but anecdotal information to back them up. According to an article appearing in American Fitness magazine, Dr. J.P. Saleeby, a medical doctor practicing integrative and wellness medicine in South Carolina, cites only one study that showed any positive effects from the practice of Tibetan yoga.

"Larger, well-designed investigations of the Five Rites will be required to corroborate claims made in the media of actual health benefits obtained from the dedicated practice of this type of yoga," Dr. Saleeby concludes.

The bottom line is that the body reacts positively to exercise - any exercise - which is why people claim to feel so much better after taking up a regular exercise program.

So there's no need to get involved in any kind of religion-based rituals such as Tibetan yoga (or any other kind of yoga for that matter).