Tsa Lung: Ancient Breathing and Movement Practices for Healing and Awakening

Spiritual and yogic traditions all around the world work with and find spiritual power in the breath. Not only do we need to breathe for the oxygen our bodies require and to rid ourselves of metabolic wastes, but the breath is closely connected to subtle energies. For thousands of years, yogis and yoginis have worked with the breath as a vehicle for self-inquiry, knowledge, and power. 

One very powerful but relatively unknown tradition comes from the indigenous peoples of Tibet known as Bonpos. While Bon today shares many practices and similarities to Tibetan Buddhism, its origins are in ancient shamanic practices, and its teachings come not from Buddha Shakyamuni of India but from Tenpa Shenrap, an enlightened being from a prior age. 

In the Tibetan spiritual traditions, body, speech/breath, and mind are known as the three doors to enlightenment. The contemplative breathing practices and the physical movements of the Tsa Lung exercises enable us to enter all three doors at once through a single practice, offering a powerful, skillful means for clearing the obstacles and obscurations to openness and clarity in meditation. Combining posture, breath, and motion, the movements of the Tsa Lung exercises create a dynamic energetic effect on one’s overall being—physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

These movements do not require significant strength, effort, or flexibility, but their regular practice helps lead us to the harmonious integration of internal and external energies. The distinctive movements of the Tibetan yogas arose as the result of deep meditation practice by Tibetan yogic adepts many centuries ago. Traditionally practiced in remote Himalayan caves and monasteries, and closely guarded, they have recently been introduced in the West as powerful tools for well-being in the modern world. 

Like more familiar yogic traditions from India, Tibetan yoga describes energy channels, or nadis, running throughout the physical body like a sort of second nervous system and chakras, or energetic centers, located along the length of the spine. Like our physical body, the energy body can experience tightness, restriction, and congestion. And just as we exercise and stretch the physical body to maintain or improve our health, we need to do the same with the energy body to clear negative energies, thoughts, and emotions. The Nine Breaths of Purification work to open the main energy channels, and each of the Tsa Lung exercises are designed to open and clear a specific chakra. 

Connecting to our breath we relax, are more alert, and open to experiencing life as it is in each moment. Using movement, we release the constrictions surrounding the different energetic centers and feel our completeness. Then, sitting and abiding in spacious awareness, we connect to the true source of our being. 

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