“String of Pearls” and the Five Tibetans

One of the frustrating things about the “Five Tibetans” is that everything DIRECTLY known about them is from a single book, one probably part fantasy.  Even if I believed the tale of “Colonel Bradford,” the notion that this guy learned anything but the raw basics of a set of baby exercises is rather hard to believe.


So this old, broken-down man went to these monks, and they taught him some healing exercises, and after X time he came back to the west and started teaching them.  Anyone think that they did anything other than say “wow. This guy is messed up. Let’s give him some basics and see if he sticks with it.”


Well, he did stick with it.  But every body-mind discipline I’ve ever seen has deeper progressions: the effect comes not from holding a position of some kind, but from maintaining a particular focus of attention on breath, muscle tension and balance that RESULTS in a particular external manifestation. And that if you can do X today, you have to do X+1 tomorrow, or you are actually back-sliding.  Why?  Because once you can do something it doesn’t take as much focus and attention to do it again.


This is the same reason why you  will look buff the first time you do a particular workout routine, but will actually decondition if you continue to perform it at the same level…the body and mind naturally look for ways to make things easier.  This is why a lot of martial arts instructors get fat. In the beginning, the workout itself taxed their bodies. Unless they do supplemental exercise, or continually push their edge in specific ways, they’ll decondition for anything but performing those specific movements.


So…what do we know about the Tibetans? There are five exercises. We know they can be modified to make them easier. We also know that you aren’t supposed to go higher than 21 reps of each.


To me, that implies that once you reach 21 you are either supposed to modify them to make them HARDER, or to make them more COMPLEX. Or…both.  “Harder” would imply greater strength, endurance, flexibility.  “Complex” would imply greater neurological sophistication.


Of course, that complexity could be greater synchrony of breath and attention, visualizations, muscle locks (“bandhas”) and so forth. Might not be anything you can see from the outside.  In fact, that would make sense in terms of yogic asana practice.


Sigh. So many possibilities.  And that’s before you start wondering if Bradford even perfectly represented what he’d learned.   Doubtful. Again, he was likely to bring back baby basics. Wondering what the real thing looked like…or what advanced versions might have been…is quite an exercise.


One of the things I do is look at different people performing them, and see how they make sense of it. Not serious changes to the patterns, but, for instance, someone theorizing that you spin in the same direction that water goes down the drain in your hemisphere. That is actually a pretty cool notion.


Sometimes I’ll see something and say: whoa!  That happened just a couple of days ago, when I saw the accompanying video.  Yeah, the guys are just doing this as a warm-up, but what was fascinating was the back/abdominal engagement.   Look at the spinal articulation in #3, #4, and #5.   The “string of pearls” feeling as opposed to the “flat back” approach.  If that doesn’t look healthier, more beautiful and more like a cat stretching, I don’t know what does.  It just LOOKS right, doesn’t it?   Presented for your approval…

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