I've been practicing group yoga for over 20 years and have Kirtan music playing in my cardiology office every day, but unfortunately, a busy medical practice and restaurant career have been keeping me away from my former 60- to 90-minute studio practices. A year ago I was introduced to a yoga practice reported to be over 2,500 years old, called the Five Tibetan Rites. After viewing a few videos and reading a short book, I adopted the practice every morning, whether at home or in a hotel room. I've continued the habit for a year and have some interesting observations. I have found them to be the "HIIT" of yoga as the entire practice takes less than 15 minutes.
What are the Five Tibetans?
First, a bit more about the practice. The Five Tibetans were first made popular in the United States in a 1939 publication. The Five Tibetans include:
1. Spinning clockwise with arms outstretched for 21 rotations.
2. Lying on the back and raising hands and feet straight up for 21 repetitions.
3. Kneeling and bending backward at the waist as far as possible 21 times.
4. Sitting with legs stretched straight in front and raising the body back and forth 21 times.
5. Flexing from upward dog to a pike position 21 times.
Some add a Sixth Tibetan Rite claimed to improve sexual endurance, which involves standing straight up and exhaling all air out of the lungs before bending over toward your knees or toes until returning straight up (I practice this one too). I usually add a shoulder stand and a plow pose to the flow as well.
What are the real health benefits of this quick yoga practice?
Claims of benefits of a daily practice of the Tibetans have included increased energy and feelings of calmness, mental clarity, greater spinal flexibility, better sleep, weight loss, better indigestion, and improved libido. I would endorse that list and can add some additional benefits. Data has emerged in the last few years suggesting that the flexibility of our spine predicts the flexibility of our arteries, and a yoga practice centered on spine flexibility, like the Tibetans, may help maintain our arteries in a youthful state. Although the Tibetan Rites have not been studied for arterial health, other studies suggest the flow can help cardiovascular health.
1. Spinal flexibility relates to our arterial flexibility.
In a study in Japan, researchers evaluated the ability of 526 adults ranging in age from 20 to 83 years old to sit and reach their toes, a measure of spinal flexibility. Spinal flexibility predicted arterial youthfulness independent of overall fitness and muscular strength.
2. Stretching exercises improve arterial flexibility.
Researchers asked sedentary but healthy men and women to participate in 13 weeks of strength training, cardio, or stretching exercises. The group doing stretching exercises showed improved artery flexibility measured by sophisticated ultrasound techniques.
3. Yoga improves artery flexibility.
Researchers measured artery flexibility in 42 people starting a 90-minute Bikram yoga practice three times a week for eight weeks. In 24 of the younger participants, arterial flexibility was improved at the end of the study. Cholesterol and insulin levels also fell after the yoga training.
After one year, did this sequence transform arterial health?
In my yearlong practice of the Tibetans, I used a simple device developed by a physician who is interested in yoga to measure and track my arterial flexibility reported out as arterial age. The device measures the stiffness of the aorta, which is known to predict both heart disease and dementia in later life. Aortic stiffness has been shown to improve with both walking and stress reduction. During my year, my arterial age dropped from the low 50s (I am 58 years old) to the low 20s. I wake up without back pain or stiffness and work all day long without back complaints.
In my anti-aging cardiology practice I emphasize that the goal is to maintain a youthful body, mind, and spirit for the next 10 years as medical advances are developing so rapidly at this time; protecting your health to enjoy those breakthroughs is worth the time and effort. The Tibetan Rites has been one of the habits I've adopted with measurable results, and one I hope you explore, too.