July 27, 2013

Tibetan Yoga of Movement: The Art & Practice of Yantra Yoga. ~ Dana Gornall {Review}

This is not your typical book on yoga.

Many of us are familiar with yoga and it’s many forms. Whether you have experienced a Hatha Yoga class in a gym, enrolled in an Iyengar Yoga session with blocks and straps, or sweat it out in a Hot Yoga class, you are probably familiar with at least some type of asana.

Tibetan Yoga of Movement: The Art and Practice of Yantra Yoga is written by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and Fabio Andrico. Norbu is an internationally known Buddhist teacher and author and Andrico is one of his closest students as well as a Yantra Yoga expert that is responsible for bringing this form of yoga to the West in the early 1970’s.

Yantra Yoga originates from Tibetan Medicine and uses many of the principles that deal with this type of healing.

Like most yoga, it has a general warm up (Tsigjong) preceding your session,a portion of intense poses (Yantras) aimed at increasing flexibility and strength, along with recovery poses to soothe both mind and body. However, this unique Yoga has a strong focus on breath work or Pranayama, combined with poses (Lungsang) and comes with detailed instructions on how to incorporate this in your practice.

The book further explains the male/female aspect of Tibetan medicine and how it relates to health, guiding you through variations depending on your gender. Breath work is a crucial detail in this form of Yoga, and the authors give precise instructions as to how to use breath to facilitate your practice and why it is important.

Timing the breath work with the poses takes some practice, at first.

For example, a pose sequence might start with an initial inhalation for four counts while moving your arms into position. After the four counts, you calmly glide into the second part of the pose while exhaling for another four counts and then continuing to through again for another four counts, etc. Once you get into the flow of it, the experience is almost meditative.

All of the poses are clearly displayed in color photos and alternate poses are given for people who have issues with flexibility. It includes a graph after each sequence that lays out all of the inhalations and exhalations for each portion. One part that I found helpful was that the authors gave a variety of sequences to  practice with variable time frames.

You can pick up this book and attempt a short seven minute routine to get a feel for this flow, or work even longer with an 80 minute session, which makes it accessible to anyone. Throughout the text and included in the appendix is a list of ailments and poses that are recommended for each.

Yet, the book doesn’t stop at just poses and alignment.

They delve further into the nuances of Tibetan Medicine and theory. This tradition pre-dates Buddhism, and has been influenced by Ayurveda, Chinese, Byzantine and Persian medicine. It’s theory is that the human body functions with three main energies: wind, bile and phlegm. Illnesses arise when these energies are out of balance and an array of dietary and behavioural treatments are prescribed (such as Yantra Yoga) to alleviate these symptoms and promote healing.

Tibetan Yoga of Movement gives an all encompassing view of approaching the mind and body through breath work and movement while introducing the practitioner to Tibetan healing concepts. This is an amazing insight into a practice that is traced back 4000 years.

While this book is aimed at being a basic introduction, it gave me a good overview of the core concepts that are the basis for this practice and presented it in a way that is user-friendly and straightforward.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Malcolm Aug 18, 2013 9:23pm

Hi Dana:

Yantra yoga does not come from Tibetan Medicine. I am not sure where you gained this idea. I am a student of Dr. Wangmo's and am a practicing physician of Tibetan medicine, having studied with her between 2003 and 2009 at Shang Shung Institute.

Yantra yoga has a relationship with Tibetan medicine because they share the same cultural perspective of human anatomy, illness and so on. But the origin of Yantra Yoga is rooted in tantras brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava in the 8th century.

While it is true that Tibetan culture is 4000+ years old, and therefore, the Tibetans had a system of medicine from the beginning, however, the theory of the three humors as well as the five pranas etc., is completely Indian in origin and also entered Tibet with Buddhism in the 8th century.

I have also studied and practiced Yantra yoga over the years.

One other thing to note, the use of counts to guide one through movements is not unique to Yantra Yoga, and is in fact a system one finds in the original Vinyasakrama of Krishnamacharya as taught by his student, Srivatsa Ramaswami (who is also my teacher). In Vinyasakrama, ideally one will develop oneself to the point where one might do a complete movement with inhalation and exhalation being counted out over a minute, for example, slowly moving through the Tadasana sequence with a precise measurement of the breath — the minimum count however being five seconds for any given movement.

What is most unique to Yantra is the way the asanas are constructed in order to deepen one's ability to maintain a khumbhaka inhalation.

Otherwise, Yantra along with other Tibetan Yoga systems which I have studied all share a common feature in that virtually every asana and movement is said to relieve either vata/rlung or kappa/bad kan, or some other kind of health problem — with the exception of the third humor, pitta, which is actually exacerbated by intense physical activity when it is out of balance. This is not surprising because Hatha Yoga texts also contain such health recommendations, and in fact the recommendations for poses in both Yantra and Hatha are often similar, pointing to a common origina in India.

Anway, enjoy Yantra, it is great system of Yoga, and the probably the oldest documented system in existence.


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Dana Gornall

Dana Gornall is a mom of three crazy kids and a dog. She works as a licensed massage therapist in Amherst, Ohio and is a certified sign language interpreter. She recently started an apprenticeship with elephantjournal and is looking forward to even more personal growth. While not interpreting, doing massage, or being with her family she loves going to yoga.