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Illustration of a person with dark hair in a seated yoga position with arms extended upwards and back, next to the text "Why to do Tibetan Rites". At the bottom right, there is a graphic of ten almonds with the text "10 almonds".

The “Five Tibetan Rites” & Why To Do Them!

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Spinning Around 🎶

In Tuesday’s newsletter, we asked you for your opinion of the “Five Tibetan Rites”, and got the above-depicted, below-described, set of responses:

  • About 41% said “I have never heard of these before”
  • About 27% said “they restore youth by adjusting internal vortexes”
  • About 22% said “they are basically yoga, by a different name”
  • About 11% said “they are a pseudoscience popular in the US”

So what does the science say?

The Five Tibetan Rites are five Tibetan rites: True or False?

False, though this is more question of social science than of health science, so we’ll not count it against them for having a misleading name.

The first known mentioning of the “Five Tibetan Rites” is by an American named Peter Kelder, who in 1939 published, through a small LA occult-specialized publishing house, a booklet called “The Eye of Revelation”. This work was then varyingly republished, repackaged, and occasionally expanded upon by Kelder or other American authors, including Chris Kilham’s popular 1994 book “The Five Tibetans”.

The “Five Tibetan Rites” are unknown as such in Tibet, except for what awareness of them has been raised by people asking about them in the context of the American phenomenon.

Here’s a good history book, for those interested:

The Secret of the Five Rites: In Search of a Lost Western Tradition of Inner Alchemy – by John Michael Greer

The author didn’t originally set out to “debunk” anything, and is himself a keen spiritualist (and practitioner of the five rites), but he was curious about the origins of the rites, and ultimately found them—as a collection of five rites, and the other assorted advices given by Kelder—to be an American synthesis in the whole, each part inspired by various different physical practices (some of them hatha yoga, some from the then-popular German gymnastics movement, some purely American spiritualism, all available in books that were popular in California in the early 1900s).

You may be wondering: why didn’t Kelder just say that, then, instead of telling stories of an ancient Tibetan tradition that empirically does not exist? The answer to this lies again in social science not health science, but it’s been argued that it’s common for Westerners to “pick ‘n’ mix” ideas from the East, champion them as inscrutably mystical, and (since they are inscrutable) then simply decide how to interpret and represent them. Here’s an excellent book on this, if you’re interested:

Orientalism – by Edward Said

(in Kelder’s case, this meant that “there’s a Tibetan tradition, trust me” was thus more marketable in the West than “I read these books in LA”)

They are at least five rites: True or False?

True! If we use the broad definition of “rite” as “something done repeatedly in a solemn fashion”. And there are indeed five of them:

  1. Spinning around (good for balance)
  2. Leg raises (this one’s from German gymnastics)
  3. Kneeling back bend (various possible sources)
  4. Tabletop (hatha yoga, amongst others)
  5. Pendulum (hatha yoga, amongst others) ← you may recognize this one from the Sun Salutation

You can see them demonstrated here:

Click Here If The Embedded Video Doesn’t Load Automatically

Kelder also advocated for what was basically the Hay Diet (named not for the substance but for William Hay; it involved separating foods into acid and alkali, not necessarily according to the actual pH of the foods, and combining only “acid” foods or only “alkali” foods at a time), which was popular at the time, but has since been rejected as without scientific merit. Kelder referred to this as “the sixth rite”.

The Five Rites restore youth by adjusting internal vortexes: True or False?

False, in any scientific sense of that statement. Scientifically speaking, the body does not have vortexes to adjust, therefore that is not the mechanism of action.

Spiritually speaking, who knows? Not us, a humble health science publication.

The Five Rites are a pseudoscience popular in the US: True or False?

True, if 27% of those who responded of our mostly North American readership can be considered as representative of what is popular.

However…

“Pseudoscience” gets thrown around a lot as a bad word; it’s often used as a criticism, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider:

A small child who hears about “eating the rainbow” and mistakenly understands that we are all fuelled by internal rainbows that need powering-up by eating fruits and vegetables of different colors, and then does so…

…does not hold a remotely scientific view of how things are happening, but is nevertheless doing the correct thing as recommended by our best current science.

It’s thus a little similar with the five rites. Because…

The Five Rites are at least good for our health: True or False?

True! They are great for the health.

The first one (spinning around) is good for balance. Science would recommend doing it both ways rather than just one way, but one is not bad. It trains balance, trains our stabilizing muscles, and confuses our heart a bit (in a good way).

See also: Fall Special (How To Not Fall, And Not Get Injured If You Do)

The second one (leg raises) is excellent for core strength, which in turn helps keep our organs where they are supposed to be (this is a bigger health issue than most people realise, because “out of sight, out of mind”), which is beneficial for many aspects of our health!

See also: Visceral Belly Fat & How To Lose Itvisceral fat is the fat that surrounds your internal organs; too much there becomes a problem!

The third, fourth, and fifth ones stretch our spine (healthily), strengthen our back, and in the cases of the fourth and fifth ones, are good full-body exercises for building strength, and maintaining muscle mass and mobility.

See also: Building & Maintaining Mobility

So in short…

If you’ve been enjoying the Five Rites, by all means keep on doing them; they might not be Tibetan (or an ancient practice, as presented), and any mystical aspect is beyond the scope of our health science publication, but they are great for the health in science-based ways!

Take care!

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