Tibetan Yoga of Movement

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Reviewed by Ivan Nahem
Tibetan Yoga of Movement Yoga Teacher Magazine

Yes, I have one or two reservations about Tibetan Yoga of Movement The Art and Practice of Yantra Yoga by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Fabio Andrico, but let me start with accentuating the positive, which is, after all, the fun part! This is a gorgeous book, well put together, with an abundance of smart photographic illustrations, and there are plenty of useful activities described and instructed.  The writing is clear and articulate. It seems to be fairly comprehensive, presenting a form of yoga that is familiar enough to bang our gongs, and yet different enough to be downright exotic.

The introductory chapters inform the reader about the history of Yantra Yoga, what it is, how it differs from traditional Indian yoga, preparation and benefits. After describing breathing exercises used in this form of yoga, there are three chapters on the three warming-up groups of movements, and then the main body of the book concentrates on the twenty-five core movement sequences, or Yantras. Each of the five series of Yantras illustrates a different kind of “hold”: open, directed, closed, contracted, and empty. Although this seems quite regimented, there are suggestions for modifying the routines. “A typical full-length session of Yantra Yoga consists of fifteen to twenty minutes of preliminary warm-ups, followed by the actual practice of Yantra Yoga: the Nine Purification Breathings, the three groups of preliminary exercises (Tsigjong, Lungsang, and Tsadul), at least one of the five Yantra series, a pranayama exercise such as Rhythmic Breathing, and, finally, the Vajra Wave. But even a session as short as seven minutes can bring tremendous benefit to your body and mind.” In the appendices there is a miscellany of auxiliary information: more warm-ups, suggested routines, an essay on Yantra and Tibetan medicine, a glossary, and suggestions for further research.

Some major differences with the typical Hatha style are that there is no static holding of the poses for long periods, rather each pose flows into a certain dynamic sequence; male and female start movement on different sides; and in all the forms there is only one standing routine.  It should also be noted that these represent the protocols of a very particular school. As the authors proclaim, “A book cannot possibly cover all of the potential imperfections that might arise when we perform movement s, nor is it possible to provide in-depth advice on developing to your full capacity. For that kind of individualized guidance, you need to study directly with a qualified Yantra Yoga instructor authorized by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu  or the Shang Shung Institute.” In fact I think that just judging from my own attempts to follow along at home, this book would actually function best as an accompanying manual to ongoing study of Norbu’s Yantra Yoga with a teacher.

My main reservation is that the book makes historical claims for this practice which seem outlandish, although of course I cannot be certain of their inauthenticity. But I’m always a little suspicious of assertions such as “Yantra Yoga… has been preserved in its original and unadulterated form since the eighth century, when it was first brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava… [who] transmitted the principles of Yantra Yoga to the scholar, master and translator Vairochana, who in turn recorded the oral instructions in a text called Nyida khajor…”  This is a lot of wisdom to be transmitted in unadulterated form, and since my research on Padmasambhava indicates that he is generally considered a mythic figure of whom very little factual history is known, and since I can find nothing about this text Nyida khajor that is not associated with Norbu, I’m a tiny bit doubtful. But in the end, just like our Hatha yoga, either it’s good stuff or it’s not. Who cares when it was created? Do you investigate Henry Ford when you’re on your way to buy a new car? I know people place a lot of stock in lineages, but I would venture to say that in order to fulfill those claims some schools over-reach. It’s a very human impulse. On the other hand, who am I to say without a shadow of a doubt that this transmission is exaggerated? I suppose stranger things have happened.

The co-author of the book Fabio Andrico will be teaching Yantra Yoga for five days at Kripalu, October 20-25 (see our listing).

The book is published by North Atlantic Books and is available for purchase here.


Ivan Nahem is the founder/editor of Yoga Teacher Magazine.


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