Fitness Friday: The 5 Tibetans

I’m always on the lookout for quick, easy workout sequences I can do when I’m short on time or to supplement my running training. Last week, I stumbled upon this routine, known as the 5 Tibetans or the 5 Rites. Some claim it to be a secret, ancient yoga sequence able to confer longevity and youthfulness, previously known only to Tibetan monks. More likely, it was invented by an American with an avid imagination in 1939.

While I can’t speak to the magical anti-aging qualities of the workout, I can say that in no more than fifteen minutes’ time it manages to combine mindfulness, balance and flexibility training, and an upper body and core workout. The sequence consists of five exercises and each is to be performed for exactly 21 repetitions. Much attention should be paid to form, because the exercises are not ones a trainer would recommend these days. One move has you lie on your back and lift both legs simultaneously with legs straight – a big no-no for those with lower back issues; and the last two exercises put a great deal of strain on the shoulders, so slow, intentionally movements are necessary. This is why I totally disagree with some of the blogs and videos I found on the subject, which recommend performing the exercises as quickly as possible, presumably to get a “better” workout. Instead, perform the exercises slowly and mindfully, like a true yoga asana sequence. Not only is this more in keeping with the supposed original intent of the mystical routine, but as an exercise program, it’s much safer and more effective. The best instructional video I found is by nationally known author and longevity guru, Ellen Wood.

Before I give you the link to the video clip, here’s the cautionary disclaimer: while one practitioner claimed that this sequence helped rehabilitate his shoulder injury, if you have ever had a shoulder injury you should not do this workout until you’ve cleared it with your doctor or physical therapist. The same goes for anyone with a history of low back issues. Also, don’t let the fact that Ellen Wood is 67 years old fool you – this is not an easy workout! I strongly recommend that you start slowly, with perhaps only 5 or 10 repetitions of each exercise and gradually work your way up to 21. You’ll especially want to do the first exercise slowly and build up repetitions in order to avoid dizziness and nausea. Here’s the video clip:

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