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Subtle and Gross Winds in Tibetan Medicine

December 27th, 2017 Posted in Articles

Three human bodies showing different organs, also separate figures of the vertebral column and of the solar plexus and the system of channels connected with the five senses and with consciousness. Along the top, twelve great teachers of medicine. Tibetan.

Nashalla G. Nyinda Menpa © 2017

Meditation and mindfulness are increasingly popular and studied in systematic western approaches. The focus is shifting from examining primary mental-emotional health benefits to looking at precise changes within the nervous system, brain tissue, cardiovascular system and many other essential bodily functions of long-term meditators. This exciting area of research brings with it an increasing need to both directly interface and correlate how results of meditation and health conjoin. This is best articulated by familiarizing oneself to the origins of the body-mind connection as presented for thousands of years in Asian medical systems. To incorporate the benefits of meditation and provide such practices as viable healthcare options within a general population, it becomes imperative to educate western scientists on the origins of the subtle and gross body. Navigating why meditation practices influence the gross body guides one into deeper integration with fundamental Buddhist theories of interdependent origination and the subtle body.

Formation of the body and influence of the elements

In the Tibetan model the primary driving force responsible for the formation of the gross body, as well as a subtle body are elements. The predisposition of a basic nature or elemental dominance is known to shape mental states. In fact, all aspects of the gross body fall under this sphere of influence. Centuries of analysis reveals that in both disordered and corrective states, the influence of meditation directly acts upon elements in a macro and microcosmic way.

In fact, every physiological response of the body relates back to the origins of the elements, their classified behaviors and their direct relationship to the host organism. This level of understanding what elements do on a physiological level, as well as how to alter and affect the elements for leaning towards homeostasis, have been the backbone of the healthcare management model for Tibetan physicians for centuries. The Tibetan medical system and mechanisms for correcting imbalances vis-à-vis mediation as a treatment mode work directly with altering elements. Fusing the principles of Tibetan medicine to sciences makes meditation even more useful as it becomes naturalized into western medicine treatments for depression, anxiety, hypertension, stress management, and neurological disorders.

The nervous system is composed of many divisions, the central, peripheral, somatic, autonomic systems all which influence not only basic physiology and life-sustaining functions, but also relate to mental wellness and cognitive functions just now being understood in western science. This is an example of the Buddhist relationship to interdependence. Here the nervous system is an entire bodily system instigating widespread body-mind regulation. You cannot separate one aspect of governance from the other; they depend on one another. The management of the whole organism both in states of illness and homeostasis link directly back to the influence of the elements being in the correct proportions functioning well within the entire system.

It is no wonder that many Asian systems, not just the Tibetan relate with how to use elements to harmonize the organism. Many highly refined methods are employed to modulate our internal elements in Tibetan Medicine. A physician will work with the environment, seasons, foods and composition of medicines. In prescribing meditation practices to work with the elements, the Tibetan doctor may also determine necessary treatments of diet, behavior, and what medicines may benefit. In a real sense, a person is always present with one’s sense perceptions and the so-called mind. Thus working with those aspects of mind, sense perceptions through meditation are medicine treatment. Some highly trained Buddhist masters will say Dharma, and the training of one’s perceptions to enter into a merging of non-dualistic understanding of the dependent origination of all phenomena is the greatest of medicines.

Interdependence and emptiness

According to Buddhist cosmology, interdependence is the relationship between our consciousness and reality as we perceive it. What we attribute to the phenomenal world through perceptions is not intrinsic to the object itself. If we examine the physiological responses here, such reactions are a result of our mind acting as a filter. The physical connection is within the nervous system, cranial nerve functions, and sense organs, therefore physiologically, the filter is our own idiosyncratic perception. What is important to note here is that the same ‘reality’ can, in fact, appear differently according to cultural background, education, definitions of language, and education.

Within this theory of interdependence we come to understand that objects, as we perceive them, are actually void of inherent sovereign properties, thus lacking solidity and permanence. This relates to a classic Buddhist view that all things are empty of nature. It is essential to understand that in this example in Buddhism ‘emptiness’ is not nothingness; it is not a nihilistic view. Here emptiness is the absence of independence and autonomy for the objects we perceive.

Specifically, due to this law of interdependence,  the potential and capacity for all phenomenon varying in an infinite number of ways exist. This means phenomena as we perceive it can develop in unlimited possibilities. Therefore, the only real nature of phenomena is their interdependent nature. Emptiness here is the ultimate nature of all things precisely because phenomena are void of permanent existence, they only appear to exist due to the observer’s perceptions.

To further explain this Buddhist concept, you can look at the two categories for what Buddhism defines as reality. The first is what one might consider as conventional, or ordinary reality. This relates to the reality of our daily lives, the functions we perform in a bodily form and so forth. The second is that of ultimate reality, which has this quality of emptiness.

Conventional reality concerns the transformations and changes to things in the phenomenal world. Here changes are governed by causal laws similar to the physical laws discovered by the sciences. These are what science is measuring when they see the tangible benefits of meditation practices. In the Buddhist model of conventional reality, phenomena can be measured by physicians by palpitation, observation, perception, and how elements in the body are known to behave physiologically. However, the primary difference is that in addition to these physical laws, Buddhism introduces a law of causation known as karma. This means that consequences of our acts, either positive or negative, lead unavoidably to our future happiness or suffering. A Buddhist knows this conventional reality is based on mere perceptional appearance.

Phenomena in the most profound Buddhist viewpoint does not have an objective existence. Examples given in the Mahayana Buddhists sutras compare reality to mirages, dreams, and illusions. If one considers the interdependence of one’s sense perceptions received through the sense organs – including vision, sound, smell, taste, and touch – it is possible to discern that these realities do not exist independently. These perceptions, therefore, serve as received mental objects, empty of independent nature and thus are just like a dream, empty of nature.

Meditation, elements and the three primary energies

Often meditation practicers dismiss the direct physiological bodily aspects when initially seeking meditation practices for mental wellbeing. However, I assert that if the body is a vehicle for enlightenment, as I often tell my patients, how can you pursue enlightenment without knowing your own elements? Furthermore, beyond merely identifying the elements, how can you better interact with them? Habituating in a direct way exactly how elements serve as a micro and macrocosm for the human organism provides the mediator with a complete set of tools. This means the meditator must initially learn how to relate to the elements on the body-mind-spiritual level for a whole picture of better health and stable meditation to develop.

Longchenpa, a great Tibetan meditator was known for mastering control over his body to such a degree that he could subsist solely on bcud len or rejuvenation pills for years at a time. He thought that enlightenment was impossible unless you gain control over the elements. This level of meditation mastery is possible only by first knowing how the elements both act and co-create either homeostasis or disordered states of the body-mind, and second by being able to learn how to control them.

Accomplishing control over the bodily elements relies squarely upon understanding the gross and subtle aspects of the ‘winds’ or rLung as presented within gSo wa Rigpa གསོ་བ་རིག་པ་, otherwise known as Tibetan Medicine or the Healing Sciences of Tibet. In brief, there are three primary energies in Tibetan Medicine, all which are both a source and expression of derivations of the five elements. This points to why it is vital to understand the nature of dependent origination. Without the five elements and ones own habitual karmic propensities, to even obtain the precious human body is impossible. The combined karma and elements uniting with the three root poisons appear throughout all Buddhist systems as originating in the basic unknowing or ignorance known as Ma Rig pa. Simply, without formation of the three root poison arising from basic ignorance, the fusion of the three poisons and elements could not occur; nor could our minds or consciousness function or merge with any solidified physiological state.

From basic ignorance the three root poisons reflect further solidification of this most distant cause for disorder and imbalance. Ignorance gives rise to more ignorance, which in turn creates the Bad kan It is primarily a mixture of the earth and water elements. Ignorance also gives a ground for the second root poison, known as aggression or aversion to arise. With the nature of heat and fire, this aggression poison mingles and forms the mKris pa energy. The third root poison which emerges from ignorance is attachment, or desire and mingles with the air, or wind element, producing the rLung energy.

Meditation as medicine

This papers focus is primarily on the rLung energy as it relates to the subtle and gross body but the background is essential to understand how these winds work. This serves to help the reader to take meaning in the basic formation of the channels, primary to facilitation of proper meditation and progression along the path towards full enlightenment. Another focus in more advanced meditation practices is the cleaning and opening of said pathways within the subtle body. The channels being open and receptive to subtle winds movement actually works in conjunction with various mental states. The preliminary aspects of meditation training to seat the mind is often the focal subject of mind training. This prepares the meditator to move the consciousness without the distraction.

The preliminary practices are crucial, whose aim is to teach mind placement. Unless one learns to focus one-pointedly without distraction, without self-judgment, without continually following thoughts of the past, future or even thoughts of the present, capacity to manipulate our primary elements, their natural expressions and subsequent influence upon our gross and subtle channels and associated root poisons is impossible. Therefore, the clearing and opening of channels and fully transforming subtle wind movements requires mediation stabilization. For this reason preliminary practices exist.

This gradual opening and refining of one’s subtle bodily pathways and chakras alongside the bodies elements give the mind and consciousness a system in which to both travel and ‘be seated’ in the static human form. These channels, pathways, and chakras in which the consciousness must move need refining and training to become open and clean. This also is another aspect of why preliminary practices need cultivation. Shamatha or calm abiding is a meditation technique that cultivates mind placement without distraction.

Conceptually this sounds simple, but the reality expressed and experienced by many who embark on the path of meditation as a transformational system know this is indeed hard work. This is why it is called ‘mind training.’ By training the mind, or learning to settle ones discursive and unending waves of thoughts, past, present, future is but only one aspect of meditation. The other aspect is the proper flow of the subtle energy in the body so one begins to master the elements themselves.

By training the mind to steady itself, only then can one in train the more subtle aspects of the inner elements. Ripening and transformation require steadiness. rLung or wind energy has a tremendous capacity to transform by its very nature of being light, mobile and subtle. Furthermore, the same nature makes one also easily scattered, distracted, ungrounded, anxious, unstable mentally or physically. Therefore the control of the winds themselves requires familiarity with both formation and function as they perform on gross and subtle aspects of the body.

Primary winds and their functions

The second half of this paper serves as an outline to the rLung energies and winds as related to the gross physical channels enumerated within the Tibetan Medicine tradition. There are whole volumes of commentaries written about the chakras, channels, the way in which winds and subtle bodily substances move throughout the human form. This is a rather broad overview of these central aspects encountered within Tibetan medicine, yet will help both beginning mediation practitioners as well as point out specifics for those who have cultivated a meditation practice for many years under the guidance of a qualified master. Seeking a qualified teacher or meditation instructor to help you realize and work with the more gross and subtle aspects of the winds and channels is imperative.

Life Sustaining WindSrog aDzin rLung སྲོག་འཛིན་རླུང་

Location - Crown of Head

Pathway – Pharynx & Esophagus

Functions – Swallowing, inhaling, sneezing, spitting, belching, clears perceptions of the sense organs and the mental constructs, governs and integrates the mind/body/spirit system. If this wind is disordered, a variety of physical or mental issues may arise. Specific examples mentioned within the Four Tantras include confusion, hearing sounds, hallucinations, one may easily lose balance or even experience loss of consciousness.

Ascending Wind - Gyen rGyu rLung གྱེན་རྒྱུའི་རླུང་

Location – Torso / Chest

Pathway - Nostrils, throat, and tongue

Functions – Speech, clear complexion, regulation of body color, stamina, clarity of mind and memory, awareness in general and the ability to focus and with diligence. Disordered states of this wind Malfunctions of this wind cause disorders of the upper part of the body, such as lung disorders, breathing difficulties, loss of voice, neck and shoulder pain, as well as headaches.

All Pervasive Wind – Khyab byed rLung ཁྱབ་བྱེད་ཀྱེ་རླུང་

Location – Heart

Pathway – Runs through and pervades the entire body via the blood vessel channels

Functions – Governs all body movements, muscle functions: walking, stretching, lifting, movement, contracting. The opening and closing of orifices and verbal, mental and physical functions rely upon this to function well. The manifestation of a disordered state for this particular wind results in loss of balance, stress and anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations and discomfort or disease, shoulder and back pain presenting as a mixed wind disorder in including blood circulation diseases.

Fire-Accompanying WindMe mNyam rLung མེ་མཉམ་རླུང་

Location – Stomach *Note: Traditionally the text only states ‘stomach’ I assert however that as in the case of the other three digestive powers, this may also include the duodenum*

Pathway – Runs throughout the alimentary canal

Functions – The primary function is regulating the digestive system. By separating nutriment from waste, it aids in the digestive process and ripens the successive objects of harm (feces, urine, and sweat). In a disordered state, you see both acute and chronic digestive disorders, constipation, low metabolism, poor absorption, and a variety of indigestion states found in combination with other energies, primarily Bad kan (earth and water) disorders.

Downwards Voiding WindThur Sel rLung Wind ཐུལ་སེལ་རླུང་

Location – “Secret Chakra” Area / Anal canal / Urethra / Vaginal canal

Pathway - Large Intestine, urinary bladder, reproductive organs, and thighs, rules the body functions below the navel.

Functions – Facilitates the function of holding and releasing feces, urine, sperm, menstrual fluids, fetus and placenta. Malfunctions of this wind demonstrate as lower body blood circulation disorders, lower abdominal disturbances, particularly in the reproductive function and abdominal organ prolapse.

Tibetan tantric view of yoga

Tantric yoga introduces practitioners to developing control over aspects of the body-mind and subtle channels. This is facilitated by directly engaging in a variety of meditative practices to both recognize and control these winds. This familiarity enables the practitioner to learn to manage the five consciousnesses, as well as mental consciousness.

1 Visual (eye) consciousness མིག་གི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ Mig gi rNam shes

2 Auditory (ear) consciousness རྣ་བའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ rNa ba’i rNam shes

3 Olfactory (nose) consciousness སྣའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ sNa’i rNam shes

4 Gustatory (tongue) consciousness ལྕེའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ lCe’i rNam shes

5 Tactile (body) consciousness ལུས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ Lus kyi rNam shes

6 Mental (of mind) consciousness ཡིད་ཀྱི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ Yid kyi rNam shes

Depending on the tantra referenced, there are either 72,000 or 84,000 different channels which correspond with the 72,000 or 84,000 different mind states. The gross and subtle aspects of all the winds move in these numerous channels throughout the body. The basis of the subtle or energetic body consists of channels, known in Sanskrit as Nadi, and in Tibetan as rTsa, in which the rLung or winds flow. Also to consider are the primary points of intersection, commonly referred to as chakra points in which these channels, or rTsa come together. In the Indian system, there are seven chakras, wheres in the majority of Tibetan tantras, there are only five chakras.

Regarding specifics, the rGyud bZhi, or Four Tantras, the foremost medical text dating back to the twelfth century enumerates four main classifications or types of rTsa རྩ་ channels with numerous functions. The primary point of tantric yoga is bringing control and concentration of these winds. Through meditative practices, tantric yogis refine their physical and subtle bodies. Briefly summarized, the four main types of channels discussed within the medical tantras, are those central both medicine and in spiritual yogic meditation application.

What is the definition (nature) of rTsa རྩ་ or channel

རླུང་ means ‘wind’, Khrag (pronounced trak) ཁྲག་ means ‘blood,’ in this way the seven bodily sustainers carry the དྭངས་མ་, nutriment or purest substance derived from our nourishment throughout the channels. The wind and blood and all the seven bodily sustainers need healthy channels to functions correctly. The rTsa རྩ་ in this way is a pathway or a channel to run the blood, seven bodily sustainers throughout the system, just like an intricate web. This is the definition of rTsa རྩ་.

Initially, the rTsa རྩ་ relate directly to the creation of the body, next the elements will emerge, then increase. Between those two aspects of the elements developing and increasing, the body is sustained and stabilized through these channels. This is in essence homeostasis. Lastly, the elements disintegrate, and the life force channel collapses.

The four main types of channels are as follows, first the ‘Channels of Formation,’ second ‘Channels of Existence,’ third, ‘Channels of Connections,’ and the fourth ‘Channels of Longevity’ otherwise known as ‘Channels Wherein Longevity Abides.’ These four classifications of channels appear in numerous commentaries regarding their categories, roles, mechanism of action, connection to the innumerable auxiliary channels and the subtle tantric body.

1 Channels of FormationChags pa’i rtsa ཆགས་པའི་རྩ་

These three channels form during the embryonic formation of the gross and subtle body. They extend up, down, and outward from the navel. These channels of formation are what is directly worked with the five-channel winds practice known as rTsa rLung.

The first channel forms the brain and the ‘white channels’ or rTsa dKar རྩ་དཀར་ also known as rTsa rKyang ma རྩ་རྐྱང་མ་ associated with the nervous system and the primary energy the Bad kan (earth and water). This channel is associated with the lunar energy and pathway.

The second is the ‘black channels’ rTsa Nag རྩ་ནག་ also known as rTsa Ro Ma རྩ་རོ་མ་ located on the right side of the body and associates with specific vessels and the primary energy of mKrispa or bile. It relates to heat solar energy pathway.

The third and often considered a primary channel, the ‘life channel’ Srog rTsa སྲོག་རྩ་ also known as rTsa dBu ma རྩ་དབུ་མ་ which relates to the genitals and the primary energy of rLung or wind. This life channel forms during the 6th week of gestation when the gender is said to be determined.

2 Channels of ExistenceSrid pa’i rTsa སྲིད་པའི་རྩ་

Located in the brain, heart, navel, and genitals. The channels of existence govern the sensory experience, memory, clarity, and sharpness of the cognitive functions, growth of the body, and the respective continuation of one’s lineage via reproductive functions.

There are four channels within this category. The first one is the དབང་པོ་ཡུལ་ལ་འཆར་བའི་རྩ་ dBang po yul ‘char ba’i rtsa (pronounced Wangpo yul-la char way tsa.) and relates to the brain. This channel facilitates sense organs to function correctly, therefore it relates to cranial nerve function. There are twenty-four channels/nerves which extend to five-hundred branch channels.

The second in this classification is དྲེན་པའི་དབང་པོ་གསལ་བའི་རྩ་ Dren pa’i dbang po gsal ba’i rtsa (pronounced Ten-pa wangpo sell way tsa). This channel is related to the heart and the functions of the cognition mentioned prior. There are twenty-four channels which extend out to five-hundred branch channels.

The third is the ལུས་ཀྱི་ཕུང་བོ་ཆགས་པར་བྱེད་པའི་རྩ་ lus kyi phung po chags par byed pa’i rtsa (pronounced Lu key phung who chag par je-pa tsa) which is related to the formation of the body and thus directly related to the navel, containing twenty-four channels which extend and become five-hundred branch channels.

The fourth and last in the category of the channels of existence is called བུ་ཚ་རིགས་རྒྱུད་འཕེལ་བའི་རྩ་ bu ash rigs rgyud ‘phel ba’i rtsa (pronounced U-tsha rig gyu phel way tsa) and related to the secret chakra (root chakra), the reproductive organs (sam se’u སམ་སེའུ་ ) and genitals. It allows for healthy sexual satisfaction and desire function, as well as actual reproduction of humans. Like the previous there contain twenty-four channels which extend and become five-hundred branch channels.

3 Channels of Connections‘Brel ba’i rTsa འབྲེལ་བའི་རྩ་

The channels of connection are somewhat complicated to describe because their nature is all about the relationship to the whole organism. Thus the branching is too numerous and extensive to enumerate. Essentially these are a set of sub-channels which arise as branches from the main central life force channel, previously described as the Srog rTsa སྲོག་རྩ་. There are various types of this life channel. From a western anatomy point of view, you might consider these as originating traditional as the circulatory system of blood vessels and nerves alongside the spinal cord. These are known as the ‘black’ (blood) and ‘white’ (water) channels. Initially, these connecting vessels and nerves are a part of the life channel. They then bifurcate and become two, either the white (water) or the black (blood) channels.

In actuality, three life force channels exist. First, we consider there is the white life force channel, which relates to the nerve system as ‘water’ channels. Secondly, we know there is the black life force channel, which relates to the blood vessels. The third life force channel is the red life force channel, which are the arteries. At six weeks when the primary life force channel is said to form, these three exist within the main channel. You should understand that the red life force channels (arteries) are already functioning. In Tibetan medicine, the red life force channel starts from the thirteenth vertebra; in western anatomy, this is the twelfth thoracic vertebra – in the Tibetan system counting begins from the seventh cervical as the first. In the Tibetan system, the thirteenth vertebra connects to the naval channel. It is interesting to note that the western anatomy states that the twelfth thoracic vertebral nerve is the strongest and thickest in the body.

It is essential to understand the red life force channel is the originating force behind the so-called blood channels. From the original two white and black channels. Next we focus on the black (blood channels).

Black (blood) channels:

There are twenty-four different channels which arise from the original black channel, which serve to create blood and flesh. There are another eight channels arising from this main channel which connect between hollow and vessel organs. There are also sixteen additional channels which connect to the appendages.

Within these black channels, there are one-hundred-eighty-nine points connecting the inner and outer body. Seventy-seven of these channels are used in standard bloodletting therapy. Additionally, there are one-hundred-twelve vital points in the body which originate via these channels. These inner and outer one-hundred-eighty-nine points are considered to form due to the seventy-seven and one-hundred-twelve mentioned above.

From there onwards you deal with what is known as the outer, inner and in-between channels. We begin with the outer, which is as counted as one-hundred-twenty, relating to skin and muscle. The middle serves and represents bone and bone marrow, also counted as one-hundred-twenty. The inner set, numbering as one-hundred-twenty, is connected to the hollow and vessel organs. In this way, there are a total of three-hundred-sixty in the category of outer, inner and in-between.

From the three-hundred-sixty, further bifurcations and branching occurs outwards, totaling seven-hundred branch channels. The seven-hundred form in the following way. The outside skin and muscle have two-hundred-thirty-four channels, the inner solid and hollow organs are two-hundred-thirty-four in number, and the middle bone and bone marrow also number as two-hundred-thirty-three.

From these seven-hundred outward branch channels, you have endless amounts of capillaries, described in the Tibetan medical text as ‘nets’ or ‘as if there are so many pours in the body they are uncountable.’ This concludes the enumeration of the black channels. In general, one should picture the back channels as coming upwards, as if the flow moves towards the head, which is, mostly the opposite for the white channels, which in most typically branch downwards from the brain.

White (water) channels:

The white channels are called the ‘water channels’ and relate to the brain and intricate nervous  system. The text describes the brain as ‘an ocean of nerves, which just like a root going down so too do nineteen channels branch downwards from the brain and innervate.’ These channels govern the movement of the appendages and indeed the movement of the whole body.

After the initial nineteen channels branching down form the brain, there are thirteen inner organ nerves. The thirteen are said to come in this way: From the small intestine and heart, there are four nerves which produce the wind. There are four nerves from the lungs, large intestine, liver, and gallbladder which provide the primary energy of mKris pa (bile). There are another four channels which come from stomach, spleen, kidneys and urinary bladder which produce the primary energy of Bad kan (earth and water). Lastly, there is one nerve from the reproductive place (samse’i སམ་སེའུ་).  These thirteen white channels are considered ‘hidden nerves.’

More apparent, on the outside are six water channels which form in this way. Two are the water channels known as Chu rTsa sBu Gu Can ཆུ་རྩ་སྦུ་གུ་ཅན་ these come from the brain stem to the seventh cervical vertebra. ༼ བོད་ཀྱི་གསོ་རིག་སློབ་དེབ་སྟོད་ཆ་ ༡༩༠༽. The next set of two is the so-called ‘Ja’ byed འཇའ་བྱེད་, which arises from the ‘hair swirl area’ just below the occiput. It then goes to the seventh cervical vertebra. The last two of the apparent outer channels are called the Ratna རཏྣ་ channels. It is vital to note that the seventh cervical vertebra is known as the ‘general wind point.’

4 Channels of Longevity – Tshe’i rTsa ཚེ་འི་རྩ་ or

Channels Wherein Longevity AbidesTshe gNas pa’i rTsa ཚེ་གནས་པའི་རྩ་

There are three channels of longevity. Of these three, one is sDod rTsa སྡོད་རྩ་, the second ‘Phar rTsa འཕར་རྩ་ and the third bLa rTsa བླ་རྩ་ which I explain briefly.

The sDod rTsa སྡོད་རྩ་ is related to the previous discussion of the black (blood) channels. It is responsible for circulating both the blood and the fire element (warmth) throughout the body. Throughout the body, the head and limbs and every portion of the body are pervaded by this channel which spreads the fire energies ‘just like the veins on a leaf.’ This channel is related to the solar energy.

The ‘Phar rTsa འཕར་རྩ་ is related directly to the red life force channel (aorta and arteries) and thus associated with the element of rLung, (wind). Thanks to this channel respiration functions are performed. Normal respiration is considered as five beats pulse per the normal healthy doctor breath in and out while reading the pulse. This diagnostic tool is applied in pulse reading techniques.

The third channel of longevity is the well known and slightly misunderstood bLa rTsa བླ་རྩ་, related to the white (water) channels (nervous system) and to the water element itself and lunar energy. This explains why the bLa is said to rotate with the moon. It travels from the big toe to the tip of the head between the new and full moon. The channel itself is related to bodily movement, sense feeling and the basic functions of the nervous system.

The word bLa བླ་ gets mistranslated as ‘soul.’ I prefer the term ‘consciousness’ for this word. Some may be familiar with the ceremony of ‘bLa ransoming’ or ‘calling back the bLa’ This is not a ‘soul retrieval.’ Instead, in this ceremony, we call the force and vitality associated with our life force channel home, thereby increase longevity. Likewise, the Tibetan physician may read this ‘life pulse’ or ‘longevity pulse’ to determine if, and when your elements will dissolve and you will die.

Relating to the seven-point meditation posture of Vairochana

Each of the five rLung (winds) can be related and balanced with the seven-pointed postures. When doing basic meditation, the posture helps calm excess circulation of one type of wind, and supports the settling of mind.

1. Legs crossed *in vajra (full lotus) position or crossed sitting.
2. Hands in meditation mudra, left hand under right at the level of the groin.

  • These first two postures work directly with the functions of the Thur Sel rLung Wind ཐུལ་སེལ་རླུང་ the Downwards Voiding Wind.

3. Spine and back straight (as if vertebra are a stack of golden coins, just as is described in yoga practices) to allow the flow of the wind more easily.

  • This third posture regulates and harmonizes the Me mNyam rLung མེ་མཉམ་ Fire-Accompanying Wind.

4. Jaw relaxed, tongue against pallet.

  • This works with our Srog aDzin rLung སྲོག་འཛིན་རླུང་ Life Sustaining Wind.

5. Head chin tilted very slightly forward and down (to open the throat and straighten the back of spine).

  • The chin tilted elongates the neck and very clearly will help work with our Gyen rGyu rLung གྱེན་རྒྱུའི་རླུང་ Ascending Wind.

6. Shoulders level and relaxed, scapula’s (wings) laying down the back.

  • Khyab Byed rLung ཁྱབ་བྱེད་ཀྱེ་རླུང་ All Pervasive Wind is nicely balanced with the shoulders relaxed, allowing for the energy to the arms and the legs to flow more freely.

7. Eyes slightly open, gaze directed downwards or twelve or so inches ahead fro the tip of the nose.

  • The gaze is very important for calming the wind, or preventing stupor. In placing the gaze at the appropriate location for your primary energy the Srog aDzin rLung སྲོག་འཛིན་རླུང་ Life Sustaining Wind is assisted in remaining in its own location.


This article presents a general overview of the origination of the subtle and gross body as it is formed and related interdependently to the elements and sense perceptions as demonstrated in the traditional Tibetan medical model. Concepts of the commonplace and ultimate reality as understood in Buddhism are essential for relating and deepening the science behind how mediation affects the body-mind and spiritual aspects of our wellbeing. While meditation practices are as varied and diverse as the 72,000 or 84,000 different bodily and mental energies we work with during meditation; all trace back to the three primary energies, five elements, three root poisons and main distal cause of illness and mental affliction: ignorance. By understanding how the gross and subtle body form, and how this relates to Buddhist concepts of emptiness and co-arousal of perceptions; meditators and modern scientists both have an opportunity to deepen meditation practices and understand why meditation leads to greater control over physical wellbeing and bodily systems.

Word of caution: It is vital to receive proper transmission of these more advanced yogic practices form a qualified teacher and lineage, only as they see you are ready, otherwise any practice can be harmful, but this is especially true regarding wind and subtle body or Tantric yogic practices.


(Publish date unknown) Bod kyi gso rig slob deb stod cha — བོད་ཀྱི་གསོ་རིག་སློབ་དེབ་སྟོད་ཆ། Tibetan Healing Sciences Book (Top Part or Book I), Men Tsee Khang བོད་གཞུང་སྨན་རྩིས་ཁང་གསོ་རིག་མཐོ་སློཔ་སྡེ་ཚན།

Gonpo, Yuthok Yonten 1982, 2002 rGyud bZhi — རྒྱུད་བཞི་ The Four Tantras, Tibet / China: bod lzongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang

This article is an expanded version originally written as a handout for a teaching given at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in December 2017. Feel free to share with proper credit to the author.   blog: © 2017


Healthy Digestion In Developing The Tantric Body

August 5th, 2017 Posted in Articles

Dr. Nashalla G. Nyinda Menpa TMD

Within the myriad forms of illness, 98% of problems can be traced back to Ma Zhu Ba, or indigestion. Diet, as a treatment, is profoundly important because first, you don’t need the physician once you are given guidance to match your condition or elemental makeup; and second, food is medicine. Healthy digestion is fundamental to prevention and healing of diseases as well as to developing stability on the tantric path of Buddhism.

When I arrived at the Chagpori clinic, Darjeeling, to study, I had a bucket list. Seeking comprehension of common diseases, I assumed my focus should pinpoint specific disorders. My teacher skillfully asked, “What do you want to learn exactly?” In my naïveté, I read my list: heart disease, IBS, neurological illness such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, neuropathy, diabetes, cancers, tumors, depression, acid reflux and other common western afflictions. He looked at me deeply and said, “We start with indigestion.”

Longchenpa stated, “By understanding the characteristics of the body’s origination, you attain certainty as to the Reality Body.”

Patients seeking longevity and enlightenment through Buddhist practice can become flustered when facing the truth of physical sickness and impermanence. Then the question becomes: how much cultivation of the Vajra body comes from practice alone and how much is derived from proper nutrition and balance of the Three Humors? Rarely explored in Western Buddhism, this question is important to ponder. Seldom understood, there are actually two ways to increase the most re ned Life Force essence of Thig le, a substance which supports both physical health and spiritual evolution.

The Tibetan medical perspective states that formation of the coarse body begins from a spark cre- ated by the merging of the red and white drops, or re ned essences, known as Thig le from each parent and due to the propensity for reincarnation driven by our consciousness. There are different kinds of Thig le. The indestructible Thig le refers to base conscious- ness, or all ground consciousness (kun gzhi’i rnam par shes pa) and is located in the heart chakra where also the most subtle body essence goes and supports mental consciousness. Thig le produces radiance, which circulates to all parts and surfaces of the body. A white Thig le comes from the father, while a red Thig le comes from the mother. These “drops” are refined essences giving power to the mind and also become the seats of consciousness.

A human life begins by the consciousness merging and forming our navel chakra at the navel center with 500 major and minor channels. By increasing and sustaining Thig le, one’s Life Sustaining channel is healthy and enduring. Physical stamina and meditation stabilization automatically expands. One method to develop longevity and mental clarity stems from meditation practice itself. Another method derives from healthy Digestive Power known as the Me Drod.

The Tibetan medical tradition traces the most important concept of nutrition to preserving what is known as the Lus Zungs, translated as the Seven Bodily Sustainers. Our entire system of physical and mental health is based upon re ned nutritional elements be- ing properly absorbed, divided and transformed into various gross and subtle bodily substances which sustain life and support all Five Elements and the Three Humors. The entire process takes 6 days. On the 7th day, the most re ned aspect become Thig le. Residing in the heart, Thig le assists the Life Sustaining Wind in maintaining the separation of the red and white drops within the Life Force channel. Thus, increasing Thig le via the Seven Bodily Sustainers improves vitality, consciousness and one’s life-force. The process itself is both complex, yet precise. Once understood we can support repairing imbalances of major illness and mental disorders through basic digestion.


1. Nutritional Essence — dang ma དངས་མ་

  • The good nourishing aspect of nutriment derived from our food.
  • Gives rise to the production of the hair and other bodily constituents.

2. Blood — khrag ཁྲག་

  • Derived from and made from the essence of # 1 (Nutritional Essence).
  • Moistens the body and sustains life.

3. Muscle — sha ཤ་

  • Derived / made from the essence of # 2 (Blood).
  • Covers the internal, external and intermediate parts of the body.

4. Fats — tsil ཚིལ་

  • Derived / made from the essence of # 3 (Muscles).
  • Lubricates the internal, external and intermediate parts of the body.

5. Bone — rus pa རུས་པ་

  • Derived / made from the essence of # 4 (Fats).
  • Provides the framework for the body.

6. Bone Marrow — rkang pa རྐང་པ་

  • Derived / made from the essence of # 5 (Bones).
  • Transforms its essence into the regenerative fluid.

7. Reproductive Essence / Regenerative Fluid — khu ba ཁུ་བ་

  • Derived / made from the essence of # 6 (Bone Marrow).
  • Enables conception to occur.

In the fifth Chapter of the Explanatory Tantra, the sage Rigpa Yeshe explains the characteristics of the body as twofold: Nod Ja Kham, translates roughly as “The Basis of Afflictions”; and Nod Jed Nad Pa, translates as “The Factors Which Inflict Harm.”

The concept of what harms the body can be construed as that which hampers or slows meditation and spiritual development. When distracted by ill- ness and mental afflictions, dualistic concepts firmly establish “I” and “my body,” eclipsing the nature of reality. Interdependent origination, also known as emptiness is shrouded in the distraction of our suffering. This directly relates to disordered indigestion contributing not only to diseased states, but obscurations experienced daily as perceived binary reality.

Bodily functions are de ned by the role of Nye pa, the Three Humors, Lus Zungs, the Seven Bodily Sustainers and the Dri Ma gSum, the Three Wastes. These three aspects of the body are considered interdependent with regard to their nature and function. This serves as the basis for birth, life and the dissolution of energies occurring at death. Re- member the word “Humor,” Nye pa, literally means “faults” and is a direct reminder of impermanence and change. Striving for homeostatic balance, the body is constantly influenced by food via elements, qualities and environmental factors. This directly validates the interdependent nature of reality within the healing sciences on a bodily level. Subsequently, this demonstrates why dietary prescriptions and proper digestion are powerful healing methods. When indigestion exists, the whole organism can- not function well at the precise level of dependent origination.

The Nod Ja Kham “the basis of afflictions” includes classification, a functional role known as Me Drod or “The Three Digestive Heats or Digestive Powers,” plus the transformation and stability of the process.

“The Basis of Afflictions” or Nod Ja Kham, is divided into two types: Lus Zungs or the Seven Bodily Sustainers, and Dri Ma gSum or the Three Waste Products.


The Me Drod is the basis of the entire digestive process. Digestive power maintains health and lon- gevity, promotes diligence (an aspect of bile), pro- vides healthy complexion, and assists to help supply heat for the bodily sustainers to mature properly.

Digestive power serves as a catalyst for the devel- opment of the subsequent Seven Bodily Sustainers, complexion, health, function of the waste process, and Lus Kyi sTobs or “strength of the body.” When the body is consistently nourished and preserved, this assures a long healthy life. Central to spiritual health is having clear channels, by which we maintain through meditation practices and develop results as intended.

Primary within Tibetan Medicine is repairing and nourishing digestive power. Be it restoration from physical ailments or assisting tantric practice, both aspects are the aim of a sustained healthy digestion. The health of Me Dro is both dependent upon and assisted by a healthy Life Sustaining Wind, Srog rLung; and a well maintained essence of Thig le stored with- in the Life Force channel. Training to control subtle channels not only relies on the physical form to support spiritual results, but is reciprocal to physical health itself. Spiritual systems which transform coarse or subtle body channels must be clear to operate basic bodily functions and perform higher tantric functions.

The ultimate refined essence which itself is the supreme vitality of the body is known as mDangs ma. Through the process of refinement, nutrition transforms into our bodily substances. The end result of this 7 part process, when functioning properly, generates Thig le stored within our Life Sustaining channel. This aspect of the essence re ning itself in the nal stages of the 7 Bodily Sustainers is rarely discussed. So too can this process diminish under mental suffering or through poor nutrition and in- digestion related issues. Therefore, when a person suffers from the loss of this most precious re ned substance responsible for supporting the physical body, mind and emotions, then the patient suffers from great fears, emaciation, weakness, depression and loss of physical radiance. This is yet another example of the interdependent nature of reality mirrored in our physical form. The antidote for such a patient suffering from the loss of their mDangs ma is rejuvenation therapies. Primarily this is treated by giving nutritious foods such as meat, bone broth, milk, and medicine formulas to restore vitality to the body, mind, and spirit.

Our modern age is one of grasping for material objects, war and conflict. Increased mental suffering results in ultimate harm to the Life Force channel via indigestion and weakening of the Seven Bodily Sustainer processes. Western medicine has found that the small intestine, (location of the re-accompanying wind or Me mNyam rLung, one of the 3 aspects of the Me Dro and partially responsible for the initial stages of transformation within the Seven Bodily Sustainers), is full of as many neurotransmitters as within the brain. Literally, this is why when the nervous system is disrupted by trauma or prolonged over-stimulation as in mental suffering, then the Seven Bodily Sustainers process of absorption and refinement of essence weaken.

Further perpetuated by insubstantial foods, preservatives, man-made additives which cause cellular harm, sugars, excess fats and animal products, our Me Drod and thus the resulting Seven Bodily Sustainers often cannot function optimally. Nearly every patient encountered is treated for indigestion before focusing on other symptoms.

Nourishing ourselves and properly maintaining the Seven Bodily Sustainers function will serve us on many levels. The body is a vehicle for enlightenment. It is important to properly learn spiritual practices to clean and maintain health of the channels. Vital to the success of Tantric practices is proper physical nourishment. Indigestion directly hampers our spiritual development. The relevance of interdependence is

clear to the Tibetan physician, supporting the trans- formation of the Five Elements, Three Humors and ultimately the Three Root Poisons themselves. This cannot be achieved if we disregard or lack cultivation of the interdependence of nutrition and spirituality together. These aspects are a normal part of healing for Tibetan doctors who observe and provide antidotes for indigestion. Healthy digestion not only physically contributes to the creation of the ultimate re ned essence, dang ma, providing our stable health, it also bolsters spiritual longevity and metamorphosis as well. Proper nutrition should therefore be considered a part of the spiritual path.


1. Germano, David 1992. Poetic Thought, The Intelligent Uni- verse, and The Mystery of Self: the tantric synthesis of rD- zogs chen in fourteenth-century Tibet, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1992.

2. Gonpo, Yuthok Yonten 1982, 2002 rGyud bzhi — The Four Tantras, Tibet / China: bod lzongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang 3. Gonpo, Yuthok Yonten 2011. The Root Tantra and the Explanatory Tantra, Dharamsala: Men-Tsee-Khang Publications

4. Clark, Berry 1995. e Quintessence Tantras of Tibetan Medicine. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications.
5. Hall, Amelia and Nyinda, Nashalla, 2016 (Forthcoming) Channels, Winds and Drops: applying knowledge of the physical body to tantric Buddhist practice. (unpublished monograph).

DR. NASHALLA GWYN NYINDA  TMD began the study of Tibetan་Medicine in 1999 and treating patients with permission in 2004. She was encouraged by
her root teacher, VV Thrangu Rinpoche, to complete her medical studies in Darjeeling, India. Nashalla then earned her Menpa degree (Doctor of Tibetan Medicine) from Qinghai Tibetan Medical College, Tibet and The Shang Shung Institute of Tibetan Medicine USA in 2009. She has a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Naropa University, with a focus on Asian Medicines and Buddhist Psychology. Nashalla has taught Tibetan Medicine and meditation techniques worldwide to Tibetan and western students, practitioners and doctors. She is currently an adjunct faculty at Naropa University and the director of the Tibetan Medicine & Holistic Healing Clinic in Boulder, Colorado USA.

  • ©Sowa Rigpa Journal 1: 2017 Republished here on my blog with permission from the editor



Treatment of Fibromyalgia Pain in Tibetan Medicine

April 13th, 2017 Posted in Articles, Tibetan Medicine Info

Written for The 4th Annual Symposium on Western & Tibetan Medicine, Stanford April 2017

Presented also at the 3rd International Confrence on Sowa Rigpa in Varanasi, India March 2018

Nashalla G. Nyinda Menpa, TMD Adjunct Professor Naropa University

Tibetan Medicine & Holistic Healing Clinic  © 2017

Fibromyalgia presents a myriad of pain symptoms therefore pinpointing treatment is challenging and varied. Based upon my experience working with Fibromyalgia patients, I assert that this condition primarily falls under the Tibetan medicine category of  “wind” or rLung disorder. If one consults the chapter on wind disease contained within the third volume of the classical four volume Tibetan medical treatises, a direct correlation emerges. The root causes of this condition rest within the causes and conditions of wind disorders.  Further, due to the chronic nature of this disorder, involvement of other bodily systems often produce further symptoms of imbalance which may fall under other humoral or elemental classification. By understanding the basic pathology and described symptomatology, the causes and conditions, locations in the body, and patient sensations a clear pathology is revealed. Treatment follows guidelines elaborated within the classical Tibetan medical texts. More specifically, wind disorders attacking muscles, tendons, ligaments or wind ‘running in the channels’ described here provides accurate descriptions of and treatment models for this modern affliction. In this paper, I identify which treatments within the Tibetan ‘Four Methods’ , consisting of diet, behavior, medicine and accessory therapy are beneficial for  Fibromyalgia patients. I present case study examples, techniques which produce beneficial results, and precautions for preventing future flare ups of pain.

The classical four volume Tibetan medical treatises are commonly referred to as the Four Tantras or rGyud bZhi. In this paper I will primarily stay within the Third Tantra, which focuses on pathology and detailed information on causes, conditions, classifications, typology for diseases as well as corresponding treatment. The chapter on wind disease groups a total of forty-eight rLung disorders. These are further broken down, twenty by type and twenty-eight by location.

In every wind disorder case, the nature of the wind has mixed with another disorders nature. Meaning it is either a conditioner or directly affected by another imbalance within the system. The term nature indicates the three principle energies of rLung, mKrispa and Badkan or wind, bile and phlegm. Some Tibetan physicians may describe wind as a neutral agent, mixing with hot or cold in consequence. All disease pattern and pathology are understood by looking upon the actions, locations and organization of the three primary energies, of wind, fire, earth and water respectively. Space is considered omnipresent within the other four elements and resulting humors. By relating the three to their associated bodily systems symptoms are classified and straightforward, even when mixed humors present. This clarity directly relates back to the first volume on medicine, the Root Tantra, where the cause of healthy and unhealthy body are introduced in detailed Tibetan anatomy and physiology theory. It is therefore stated, if you know the root, whatever grows and appears will be evident.

Translated often as humor, or dosha, each of the three has a direct relationship to the bodily systems known both in Tibetan and western anatomy and physiology; skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, digestive, nervous, endocrine, lymph system, et cetera. In a very direct way, when wind mixes with other systems it can confused diagnosis as rooted in another humor. Yet it is vital to remember two factors. One because wind nature almost always mixes with other systems and spreads, increases, hardens, and intensifies disease this act of blending creates either a disturbed, excess or deficient amount of wind. This in turn will then travel down a wrong pathway, aggravating another system as it enters the location it is attacking. Two by knowing the Root Tantras introduction and explanation of the nature of wind, its characteristics and resulting symptoms it is clear which is a wind disorder, and which is the secondary humor involved.

We now turn our attention to the specific symptom presented in the wind chapter. As previously stated, disease is reliant upon wind to increase, spread and solidify a disorder. In this way when you control the wind, you control the disease. From the Tibetan medicine method of how pathology is created you have five possibilities in how disease enters and takes over a location of the organism. Disease must either 1. Spread on the skin, 2. Develop on the muscle, 3. Stick to bone or ligaments, 3. Run through the channels (nerves) 4. Land on a solid organ or 5. Fall into a vessel organ.

In fibromyalgia, symptomatology detailed in the wind chapter directly matches many of the documented general signs of basic rLung conditions. Wind or rLung itself is very pervasive, it enters though all five possible entrances or pathways. It primarily shows symptoms directly on skin, muscle, bone, ligament and runs though the channels. This you see in cases of fibromyalgia.

Generalized Symptoms of Wind Relating to Fibromyalgia from the rGyud bZhi:

  • Pain which moves and is un-stationary
  • Stiffness and joints which feel hard and difficult to move
  • Shivering and feeling of deep cold
  • Pain worse with movement (exercise can flare symptoms)
  • Feeling of squeezing or pressure or swelling even if no swelling or pressure is applied, or as if the body has been bound tightly
  • Stiff locked limbs held tight in extension or contraction, or muscle spasms such as restless leg syndrome
  • Feeling intense pain – as if the bones are broken or the muscles and tendons are tearing, or as if one has been badly beaten, or as if you are walking on hot thorns
  • Pains in the hips, waist, head aches
  • Insomnia
  • Desire to stretch, feeling constantly stiff
  • Symptoms worse in the morning despite sleeping a heavy fatigue
  • Dullness or foggy mind
  • Wind points are painful upon touch
  • Tingling, numbness and loss of sensation in extremities

Western Medical Symptoms of Fibromyalgia:

  • Chronic muscle pain, muscle spasms, tightness, restless leg or curled toes
  • A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet
  • A feeling of “being squeezed or bound”
  • Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long
  • Moderate to severe fatigue and decreased energy
  • Insomnia, sleep disturbances, or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks (“brain fog”)
  • Abdominal pains, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Chronic digestive disturbances
  • Tension or migraine headaches
  • Jaw and facial tenderness or TMJ
  • Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold or hot
  • Feeling anxious, panicked, obsessive or depressed
  • Describe general feeling of “being plugged in” feel twitches in nerve system with no evidence in MRI scans
  • Numbness or tingling  all over, and non-stationary “roaming pain” or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increase in urinary urgency or frequency (irritable bladder)
  • Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise
  • A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet

In the rGyud bZhi medical text there is an explanation of eight summarized symptoms of the twenty wind conditions categorized by type.

1. & 2. Stiff and Shrunken: རེངས་དང་འཁུམས་

3. Dryness: སྐམས་

4. Bloated: སྦོས་པ་

5. Paralyzed:  འཕྱེས་

6. Pain: གཟེར་

7. Mental / Emotional Instability: འཕྱོས་པ་

8. Cognitive Challenges: ལྐུགས་པ་

When we compare these manifestations of wind disorders from classical Tibetan medical text with the modern allopathic descriptions there is clear affirmation that fibromyalgia is related to a syndrome of wind. The twenty specific disorders by type underscore the following five specific wind diseases meeting a majority of criteria for matching fibromyalgia symptoms.

* ཤིང་རེངས་ Shing Rengs which translates as “Wood Like Stiffness

This is where the wind has combined with undigested earth and water, known as phlegm and has blocked the wind channels preventing wind from traveling through the proper channels which allow movement of the body. This makes the body stiff like wood, and often it is difficult or becomes nearly impossible for the torso or limbs to easily bend. If left untreated the stiffness progresses and the limbs can be more or less stationary.

Very frequently those patients whom I have seen with fibromyalgia have sluggish digestion which relates to the phlegm or Badkan humor being in excess and combining with wind.

  • བི་ཤ་ཙེ་ Bi Sha rTse which translates loosely as “Loss of Finger and Hand Functions

This wind disorder is characterized by hands and fingers losing their function and sensitivity, making movement difficult. Wind can attack the ligaments and tendons themselves. Initially there may be pain which one becomes accustomed to. The nerves in the hands are affected because the pathway is limited by the wind attacking the tendons and ligaments, the extensor and flexor muscles atrophy and the fingers can curl up with loss of function and feeling.

  • བརླ་རེངས་ brL Rengs best translated literally as “Stiff Thighs”.

This shares similar pathology as the first one we discussed, Wood Like Stiffness. Due to undigested substances the channels in the thighs become congested. The wind can no longer travel throughout the tissue, causing pain, swelling, coldness and a heavy feeling. The person will feel it is difficult to lift or move the thighs. This can easily be mistaken for a phlegm disorder due to the increase of flesh and fat to the area; and other limb problems often can appear as a phlegm issue. However it is clear this is due to a wind disorder when patients report simultaneously experiencing loss of appetite, stiffness of tendons and heaviness in the legs  culminating in diminished sensation of the legs. They describe they can feel they have an extremity, but without much sensation beyond that their legs are ‘just there’.

  • ཚེར་མ་སྟེ་ Tser Ma sTe disorder which is quite descriptive as “With Thorns

Also relating to nerve, tendon and ligament disorders, the wind is said to enter at the ankle area and attack the tendons and ligaments of the ankle. The feet will lose their functionality and have uncomfortable pain described as being stuck with thorns. The skin itself is also discolored pinkish showing inflammation.

  • རྐང་བརྩེ་ rang brTse is translated as “Walking on Top of Rocks

This disorder has some crossover for fibromyalgia pain as well. Feet will tingle, burn and have pain as if you’re walking on top of rocks. Some describe this as if there were thousands of tiny needles on the bottoms of the feet and it hurts to have any pressure applied to the feet. The soles of the feet themselves will appear darkish, or more brown and feel hot to the touch. The top of the foot and ankle may be pale and slightly swollen. Like other tricky wind pathology, the symptoms of heat and inflammation might make one think this is due to wind mixing with bile, when in fact this is due to Badkan mixing with rLung, or a Bad-rLung cause.

Next the wind chapter describes the twenty-eight specific locations affected by wind disorders. Looking at the list you can also surmise a connection to fibromyalgia issues. These twenty-eight are listed in the following manner.

  1. Skin ལྤགས་
  2. Muscle ཤ་ / ཤ་གནད་
  3. Fat ཚིལ་
  4. Nerves རྩ་
  5. Blood ཁྲག་
  6. Tendons & Ligaments ཆུ་བ་
  7. Bone རུས་པ་
  8. Joint ཚིགས་
  9. Bone Marrow རྐང་
  10. Reproductive Fluid ཁུ་བ་
  11. Heart སྙིང་
  12. Lungs གློ་བ་
  13. Liver མཆིན་
  14. Spleen མཆེར་
  15. Kidney མཁལ་
  16. Place of Digest ཟས་ (more specifically as the Duodenum ཕོ་བའི་ཟངས་ཚགས། རྒྱུ་སོར་བཅུ་གཉེས་མ།)
  17. Place of Undigested མ་ཞུའི་གནས་
  18. Post Digestive Place ཞུ་བའི་གནས་
  19. Gallbladder མཁྲིས་
  20. Rectum བཤང་
  21. Urine གཅིན་
  22. Womb མངལ་
  23. Head མགོ་
  24. Eyes མིག་
  25. Ears རྣ་བ་
  26. Nose སྣ་བ་
  27. Teeth སོ་
  28. Whole Body ལུས་ཀུན་

When you go into detailed explanations of these twenty-eight I pulled out those which relate to symptoms arising from wind that many fibromyalgia persons experience by location.

Wind spreading on the skin:

Skin is painful, sensitivity to touch, discomfort of anything touching skin, bumpy or rough to the tough, may have cracks, especially in winter.

Wind attacks / enters the muscles:

Muscles are swollen, skin covering affected muscle is rough, skin color changes, bumps, pimples or puss, can also be itchy red or yellow if involved with plasma heat disorders.

Wind attacks / enters the channels:

The affected channel becomes very visibly swollen, can protrude, appears swollen or puffy.

Wind attacks / enters the ligaments:

Various responses range from becoming very stiff in the limbs, diminished movement, loss of control or spastic, paralysis and often this will be centralized to the ligaments on the neck or limbs.

Wind enters the bones:

Tremendous pain and discomfort, muscle loss, diminished bodily strength with feeling weak and loss of healthy complexion. The skin and complexion dulls and they appear weakened.

Wind attacks the joints:

Joints become empty, spongy and soft, swell or can become puffy and swell (due to wind) and can lead the thoracic outlet and sternum to protrude and appear swollen, almost like a Robin’s breast. * This is my description and not in texts, this can lead to the disorder known as rLung da rGan.

Wind attacks the bone marrow:

Insomnia and difficulty sleeping is an issue. Patient describes feeling bound tightly, and this can dull the pain, you get relief when you press on wind points. (Corresponding to the rtsa dkar རྩ་དཀར་ or nervous system) It is my experience that this person shows general wind symptoms of sleep disturbance and malaise and does get relief when point and massage work is administered. However this person can easily have a ‘flare up’ if points are pressed too intently. I frequently see it affecting the three bones of the pelvis: the ilium, ischium and pubis with a dull ache helped by massage. It is my experience this is because the hip area is a location or ‘seat’ if you will, of the wind.

Wind Attacks the whole body:

Symptoms are similar to the general wind symptoms when it has spread or covered the whole body. General wind symptoms include the following aspects:

Pulse is floating and empty. Urine has appearance of water, thin and clear. Instability of mind which can be a feeling of mild uneasiness, distraction or total anxiety and panic. Frequent sighing, yawning, feeling light and ungrounded in ones body, dizziness, shivering, crackling or ringing in the ears. Sharp pains in the temple, chest and occiput area or moving non-stationary pain. If you push on a wind point it feels “open” and pain that worsens upon movement. Feeling constricted, stiffness, locked limbs in either extension or contraction. Bones feel “broken” muscles and tendons feel as if they were being torn. Experience of an achey body, as if you were beaten, body feels tightly bound. Feeling deep pain as if some pressure is pushing on the eyes. Can also appear a bulging of the eyes, pain in the hips or waist. Dry, rough or cracked tongue, bubbles in sputum. Rough and dry skin and cold hands and feet. Pores of the skin feel open and hairs stand on the end and have an appearance as if the hair had dew on the tips. Insomnia, body trembling, easy to startle. Desire to frequently stretch. Irritation and anger which arise quickly. Discomfort worsens in the early morning, at dusk or after eating. Bloating, gurgling sounds in the abdomen. Fluctuation in stools from dry to loose, seemly for no reason.

Methods of Treatment Explained

Having firmly linked and established the connection between wind rLung diseases and fibromyalgia symptoms the logical question becomes, what traditional Tibetan Medicine healing methods can benefit this affliction?

Tibetan Medicine has four methods of treatment. These are diet, behavior, medicine and external therapies. We always link the misbehaving humor or element to the correct antidote in these four methods. In addition I maintain a watchful eye and educational slant towards behaviors, diet and medicines. Even “natural” and alternative treatments which claim no side effect or the cure all may aggravate, increase the disorder, or create a secondary disorder through mismanaged or wrong treatment. It all comes back to relating to ones basic nature and the nature of the disorder.

I encourage people to work most closely within the first two treatment methods of diet and behavior. I believe these are the most important aspects for both recovering balance and management of conditions. The reason this is so fundamental as a treatment is the aspect that it is maintained primarily by the patient. The methodology is given by a qualified physician whom can identify what helps and what harms; yet the application is not necessarily dependent upon the physician. I believe firmly that if a physician of Tibetan Medicine gives proper direction and instruction they have done the most important service in the relationship between doctor and patient.

The analogy I return to over and over exemplifies the idea of instilling a commitment for your patient to become an active participant on their own healing journey. If going on a trip and you are told what to take to ensure you have all you need for a comfortable journey, alongside a good map, you may not need a guide every step of the way. This is not to be understated. What I have discovered in working to integrate western allopathic modalities and Tibetan Medicine approaches is the gift of correct diet and behavior should not be a side dish, but rather the main dish.

Always begin with dietary prescriptions because it nourishes all body systems. As a simple and direct approach, it has no side effects when applied correctly. For new, minor and psychological diseases, diet is the superior and effective treatment. Dietary treatment as the main priority is easy to accept because everyone has to eat. In a real sense food is medicine and medicine is food.

The third method focuses on natural medicines. The Tibetan pharmacopeia is vast and derived from various herbs, purified stones, minerals or animal substances. Again, here we return to the facts that these formulas are based on the five elements respective powers of hot and cold, qualities and characteristics which antidote the three humors and disease.

Qualities and Characteristics are essential in all aspects of the four treatment methods. This is due to the understanding that maintaining homeostasis is itself within a state of constant fluctuation. Movement is constant in the world and our bodies on a cellular microcosm level and a macrocosm level. Life stages, seasons, climates and in responses to foods, medicines and any dis-regulation of said elements and humors directly engage with a patient, their disorders balance or imbalance. Throughout the four treaties of Tibetan Medicine connections to the actions and reactions on both subtle and precise levels is indivisible in the methods of diagnosis, treatment and prevention. This relates to the very nature of our bodies elements, humoral balances and imbalances. Repeatedly we engage in this interdependence in every aspect of Tibetan Healing. I assert that this relationship of the body to its inner and out environment is the key to the systems unique success in helping disorders which are sometimes not well managed in allopathic or other alternative systems.

The fourth aspect of treatment within Tibetan Medicine relies upon external therapies. These methods are comprehensive. Treatment can include gDug (Compress) and Lums (Bath & Vapor) Therapies, gSer-Kap (Golden Needling, Metza known widely as moxibustion in Chinese Medicine, Me-Bum (Cupping Therapies), gTar-Ka drawing out bad blood techniques through bloodletting. My most often employed external therapy, sKu-mNye Massage and the hand on Therapies integrating various points or gsang for organs, bodily systems and the three principle energies of wind, bile and phlegm is the superior treatment for wind.

I describe this as four legs of a stool. Often in our western culture we have become accustomed symptoms arising, consulting a doctor and walking away with a prescription for the primary treatment. However as I began to compare western and Tibetan Medicine approaches, I clearly saw that if you only take medicine for symptoms and do not integrate other modalities or behavior modifications, how long can you stand on one leg?

Back to the analogy of packing a bag for a journey. If you use diet and behavior as your primary forms of treatment, not only do you have two legs to stand upon, but you can walk down the recommended road with correct tools and a map for your unique healthcare needs. Following and  establishing diet and behavior modifications is the main treatment. However, you may need to add medicine formulas into the protocol. Now you have a solid three legged stool for a treatment plan. If the case is more acute, critical or chronic, you add external therapies, the fourth leg of the stool. Each treatment modality adds strength and stability to the treatment plans. Maintaining diet and behavior as the primary legs upon which a patient must learn to navigate and take responsibility for their own healing journey with encouragement and correct guidance is the key to success.

Very serious illness needs a base on which to stabilize. In such cases, all four legs of the stool provide that support. As the patient heals, symptoms recede and the core strength of the organism functions better overall. Once this foundation of recovery and basic wellness arrives you begin to sometimes take away a leg, or ask the patient to stand on their own two feet if you will. In this case diet and behavior become the only needed tools in the bag and these two legs can be self sufficient in disease management.

With education about dietary concepts linking us to both the nature of a humor, its associated root poison, qualities, powers of effect, characteristics as well as antidotes we gain profound awareness into what aggravates us personally or worsens our condition. Food now becomes the primary medicine.

As holistic approaches are integrating into western allopathic treatments and medical schools are spending more time educating doctors on both nutrition and mind-body health, we are seeing better results and reduction in basic illnesses and the need for heavy prescriptions. It is my viewpoint that treatment should always begin from the basics of dietary healing. Improper diet and behavior create the majority of illness, thus if the antidote is applied in the correct manner diet alone can heal a great majority of illnesses.

With this understanding I believe the healing methods of Tibetan Medicine are totally self-sustaining. This integration of the theories into western treatment as an adjunct therapy is accomplished by using direct observation. Required is the basic comprehension of the theory of how these elements work in our body. This does necessitate some education of the patient. I view this as completely worth both time and effort.

I have found as patients experience a decrease in symptoms, they likewise increase their compliance to the protocols of diet and behavior. Understanding even in very rudimentary ways how ones own body and mind relate to disorders affecting them, which foods harm or help further creates greater compliance. Therefore as tractability to a corrective diet and behavior modifications brings increased symptom relief, commitment from the patient to additional protocols such as medicines and external therapies only serves to quickly increase the  desired stabilization and reversal of acute and chronic conditions.

I tell my patients, always think, what is my nature, what signs and symptoms show what humor is in excess (most common) or deficiency? What is the opposite antidote? What season are we in, how does that seem to affect my symptoms? What are the qualities of this season and how to balance that? Most importantly, what foods provide an antidote and how do I feel when I eat the foods on the yes list and or avoid the foods on the no list?

General Diet for Wind:

In general fresh, warm, nutritious and slightly oily or smooth foods which absorb easily are best for those who are suffering from the various disorders of wind. Onion, garlic, meats, bone broths, fish (no shellfish), boiled half milk – half water, cooked vegetables, aged cheeses, butters and aged meats, molasses, warm sake or tibetan alcohol called chang, (often a fermented grain) are of benefit.

Many cooking spices are medicines and can be used in both categories, as a food and a medicine. This is a simple way to treat wind conditions ongoing because spices are easy to add to food. Cardamom is excellent for wind attacking the hip bones and low back pain or nerve pain. Cumin, caraway, nutmeg, ginger, long pepper, black pepper, salt, curry spices, cinnamon, black salt, asafoetida all are excellent minor additions to daily diet which can help settle excessive wind while increasing circulation and bodily warmth.

General Behavior for Wind:

Akin to dietary guidelines, behavior as a treatment method is a constant in ones everyday life. Habitual tendencies which help or harm and awareness of the variance is equally vital to the process. This can fall under the category of how much sleep, how much exercise, how and what type of stress management or meditation is employed. Behavior is both simple and complex. Habits are profoundly related to our attachments and do tend to be difficult for people to both acknowledge and change. However, pain, unhappiness and feeling not your best can sometimes be a big motivation to change ones daily choices.

Those affected by wind disorders quite frankly need to de-stress. Ideally one suffering from a wind disorder should be in a peaceful, pleasant and simple locations which will not be excessively distracting to a mind prone to roam and overthink. It is said in the medical tantras “one should be in a warm, dark (not very brightly lit) place with a good friend or lover whom talks sweetly to them.” Because the cool nature of wind (unless combined with a heat situation) can attack the channels, nerves, ligaments and muscles it is vital to remain warmer, and adequately dressed. Sleep and rest are very important to the wind natured person, as it increases earth and water and can stabilize the movement and groundless aspects wind. Avoidance of diet and behaviors which increase or aggravate wind conditions can only be done with a focused mind. Therefore it is vital to help the patient feel clear, open and grounded enough to begin slowly to implement changes which improve their condition.

Though not expressly listed within Tibetan Medicine system, vagus nerve breathing is a promising new area to help fibromyalgia patients. However what is long known in both Tibetan Medicine and meditation is the reliance upon the breath. During meditation following and deepening the breath is an easy way to stabilize the mind and calm the wind. This is now known to decrease inflammatory responses. Breathing and meditation as a healing practice is becoming a popular area of research in the allopathic world. Studies verify the connection and benefits of vagus nerve stimulation, breath work and inflammation. Like food, breathing has to happen daily, and more so, moment to moment. By introducing basic meditation and placing emphasis on following the breath, calming the nervous system this is known to greatly benefits wind conditions such as fibromyalgia.

General Medicine for Wind:

Five classifications of medicines are used to treat wind. In the medical text there are many recipes and ingredient lists regarding these five. I will explain what these classification mean and some of the formulas and recipes which relate to the treatment of fibromyalgia.

  1. Decoctions Thang ཐང་ / Khu ba ཁུ་བ་ (broths) – 7 types
  2. Fermented grain & medicinal wine Chang ཆང་ – 5 types
  3. aDon འདོན་ ‘medicines to dig out disease’ – 4 types
  4. Powders phye ma ཕྱེ་མ་ – 1 type
  5. Medicated Butters sMan mar སྨན་མར་ – 5 types

Decoctions & Broths:

There are seven types of decoctions or broth recipes known for their power to suppress and heal wind disorders. Most notably bone broth from healthy animals which has been boiled for a long time is very nourishing. This has become widely popular in the last several years among the Paleo and gluten free diet movement. The specific bones said to be superior for the treatment of wind are ankle bones (calcaneus and talas), scapulas, and the sacrum. However any variety of bones can be healing. I usually encourage people to add garlic onions and various spices to their bone broth. I add also cumin, black pepper, ginger, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to my bone broth recipe for general wind disorders.

I frequently recommend to my wind patients to take bone broth. My instructions are to first scoop off any excess fats which rise to the top and place the liquid into ice cube trays or freeze into small amounts. When cooking vegetables use the cubes of spiced broth to cook vegetables for added nourishment. This can help avoid indigestion from oil if any phlegm condition is present or indigestion. Less heavy fat is especially important if the channels are sluggish and phlegm, disorders are combined with wind. I also advise weak patients to cook their grains in half water and half broth to help increase their appetite and provide warm easy to digest foods.

If one is vegetarian and just cannot bring themselves to take bone broth, that is ok. I suggest an alternative of barley miso soup used and spiced in the same way as bone broth. Sometimes I find people whom have been vegetarian for many years with a nature of wind as their basic constitution in extreme mental, emotion or physical distress due to wind aggravation. While they may need to temporarily eat some animal products until they recover, broth can sometimes be more manageable than meat. Bone broth is an ideal choice to ease into this situation. In this case bone broth provides deeper nourishment without having to eat the actual flesh of an animal, which can be equally distressing if used to cook beans, rice or vegetable instead of oils.

Fermented Grain Medicinal Wine:

Five specific recipes for fermented barley wines with herbs, molasses, butters, bones and spices are detailed in the texts. I will limit these to a simplified version based on my experience. I instruct those who posses a more basic wind nature, or may experiencing periods of feeling very high strung to take 1/2 TBS warm sake in about 1/4 cup hot boiled water alongside a formula for wind to increase the medicine’s potency and effect.

Medicines to Dig Out Disease:

These four cleansing formulas are themselves very interesting and contain five subsections in the chapter. The first four subsections are based on the substances within these formulas and the fifth details benefits.

In my experience I feel the third cleanser formula is superior for the treatment of fibromyalgia. It can alleviate symptoms of weakness, body aches, fatigue or brain fog. It is also said to be a good treatment for hot flashes in menopause and general wind. The recipe is as follows.

Ferment the barley first. Before adding any water or substances, open the lid to release the vapors. Mature the barley a few more days halfway covered. The fermented substance starts to appear like a mashed up strong smelling substance which produces its own liquid. Strain this liquid and add one year aged butter, molasses and some ginger. Cook this down until it all becomes liquid and melts. Cool to a comfortable temperature and drink this in the evenings.


This compound is formally known as Nutmeg Powder Compound རྫཱ་ཏི་ཕྱེ་མའི་སྦྱོར་བ་.

Contains fifteen ingredients, many basic spices which are staples of both Tibetan Medicine and cooking. Nutmeg, asafoetida, black salt, orange halite, rock salt, the three salts, cinnamon, pomegranate, cardamom, myrobalan, tinospora cordifolia,  garlic, white molasses. It is said this formula will suppress all wind of the upper, lower, inner (mental emotional) and outer (nerve, bone, ligament and tendons) and has a specific recipe on how to make this formula. But when looking at the ingredient list, it is clear many of these spices can just be also added to food.

Medicine Butters:

Of the five medicine butter recipes, I tend to use the butter called Pomegranate Medicine Butter  སེ་འབྲུ་སྨན་མར་ the most. It is pleasant to taste, increases digestive power and can open stuck channels due to chronic indigestion and weakness. It is praised for its power to suppress any type of wind disease. Especially useful in the winter months I use this to prevent wind from attacking muscles and resulting in muscle loss, which appears as if one is too thin and weak. It has  three parts. The main ingredient is pomegranate and one part, to that add one part coriander, one part ginger, one part chili pepper, one part long pepper, and three parts butter.

Medicinal butters are extremely therapeutic. I also make them with any number of kitchen spices which may be of benefit to wind. While there are traditionally five, new recipes with anti-wind herbs are perfectly fine.

General Treatment by External Therapy:

Enemas, massage, metza and compresses or horme treatment are all highly beneficial treatments for wind diseases. These methods all directly pacify wind by the poor of effect to antidote wind. The methods mentioned can be done either by peaceful or a more wrathful (strong) treatment.

The large intestine is a pathway of wind, and therefore butter enemas are used for when that particular pathway is more blocked. In the case of some neurological disorders atrophy of the sphincter muscle can be an issue and also relates to wind because the large intestine is a location or seat of wind, but the nerves which help the sphincter move are effected.

In my experience fibromyalgia patients respond best to massage which is neither vigorous or with extreme pressure. I use specific oils formulated for the benefit of wind disorders. The mechanism of action is to nourish the nerve system and decrease inflammation, increase the circulatory system and relax tendons, muscles and ligaments. When considering the symptoms and pain areas of fibromyalgia patents, it is especially important not to aggravate the body tissues and create a flare up of pain or inflammation.

Warmth applied as in horme and warm compresses to ligaments and muscles can ease tension and nerve pain. Warm compress of barley to soften the muscle can also be helpful before applying massage. So too is a warm compress of heated stones. Massage is touted as the “best treatment for wind” and this is very spot for the majority of fibromyalgia patients.

Horme is a gentle soft treatment which can release tension directly into the system by accessing the nervous system via  warm oily application to wind points or points of tension. I make horme with many of the same kitchen spices which I have previously listed to help wind. Nutmeg, caraway, salt, sesame, black pepper, long pepper etcetera, all will bring benefit as a horme oily compress. First warm the oil and then apply directly to the appropriate wind points.

Metza can be a more wrathful or strong treatment for wind and is usually more reserved for dire needs. It can be very helpful to clear mental fog and feeling cognitive challenges especially in the morning and after lunch due to a mixture of wind and phlegm. Warming metza not a full burn can also calm anxiety in general, as well as obsession around pain sensations from fibromyalgia that feels like “its all over and moves around the body” which can be disconcerting to some people. In general for fibromyalgia, any herbal oily horme compress is superior to metza in my experience unless heavily influenced by phlegm conditions.

Warm baths with  either the Five Nectar Bath, known as Dutsi Five Lums, or hot salty baths are both excellent external treatment for fibromyalgia. However, it is important not overheat the system as there is a low grade inflammatory situation happening, so the normal prescribed high temperatures of the bath series should be slightly modified. For an article on the five nectar bath, please refer back to the clinic website

In conclusion, fibromyalgia is classified as wind natured disorder. It can blend with either heat of bile and inflammation, or earth and water’s heavy, cool and sticky conditions of phlegm. In the Tibetan system it is managed through proper diet and behavior known to reduce and eliminate excess, deficiency or perverse levels of wind. Teaching patients which foods and behaviors harm and increase symptoms aids in restoring vitality. Engagement and inspiration to relate with basics of the Tibetan system is helpful in creating a relationship with patients willing to actively work towards management of their symptoms. The body and mind connection can be further enhanced with breathing and vagus nerve breathing during meditation to decrease inflammatory responses.


Gonpo, Yuthok Yonten 1982, 2002 rGyud bZhi — The Four Tantras, Tibet / China: bod lzongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang

Nyinda, Nashalla G. Notes and translations of the rGyud bZhi


Hold the Coconut, Pass on the Gluten Free Products Please!

April 9th, 2017 Posted in Articles, Tibetan Medicine Info

By Nashalla G. Nyinda, Menpa © 2017

Not all things ‘gluten free’ or made from coconut (the oil, milk, water or natural sugar derived from coconut) nor the date sugar, nor the chia or flax seeds, tapioca and alternative flours are the good for your gut fix they are touted as. In fact, sometimes they will harm you. That itself is a controversial statement within the current alternative and natural healthcare world.

As a Traditional Tibetan doctor who has studied this ancient medicine known in as Sowa Rigpa, The Healing Science of Tibet, I am in a unique position to make such a controversial statement. Long have I pondered how to refute the constant onslaught of ‘Heal Your Life with Coconut Oil’ or  ‘Coconut: Miracle Oil from Nature’ and ‘Drink Coconut Water and Milk to Heal (insert whatever) Disease’ or ‘Gluten Free Recipes to Restart Your Digestion.’ Yes, every you name it – coconut cures it article I see on a weekly basis floating around the internet has inspired me to write this article. My patients know this all too well. I have to restrain myself from perpetual eye rolls or throwing up my hands each time I hear “I use coconut oil to cook exclusively and do self massage.” Several times a week I hear myself repeating while shaking my head, “Stop using the coconut oil” or “No coconut milk or water.”

People come to Tibetan Medicine with a myriad of symptoms, disorders and complaints. Like most ancient or indigenous medicine systems, Tibetan Medicine traces 90% of illness back to indigestion. When you get digestion and absorption to work efficiently, this cleans the blood, lowers inflammation and every system of the body begins to function more efficiently.

Many people react to gluten and claim gluten sensitivity, or have bonafide Celiac Disease. The Paleo and Gluten free food industry is booming from chronic indigestion which has become an epidemic. In the case of either gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease, most patients are eating gluten free products which actually harm their digestion just as much as gluten, if not more. These same people often don’t understand why their gut is slow to heal despite eliminating gluten, eating purely organic and carefully prepared home cooked meals.

Likewise, Celiac patients are so weakened from years of inflammation, fatigue and pains, even gluten free grain alternatives or any type of processed gluten free products can cause severe reactions. For many of these folks the Paleo Diet is all they can manage without feeling they live in a perpetual state of fatigue, pain and brain fog. While Paleo friendly restaurants, or grain free items in the grocery may exist more than ever before, the vast majority of Americans with gluten reactions are frustrated. For these patients extreme limited dietary options or just the amount of time they have to devote to cooking when dealing with chronic fatigue, IBS, Diverticulitis, Celiac etc. is daunting. Moreover, Paleo diets can send a body into ketosis and is hard on the kidneys if not properly balanced.

As this article will demonstrate, many of the gluten free and alternative options are actually more harmful for those with sensitive digestion. Frustration ensues for the patient trying to eat ‘clean.’ Yes, they improve their digestion somewhat. However, many still feel like their digestion is fragile. They can’t go to a party, restaurant or dinner at a friends house without fear of severe repercussions from accidentally ingesting foods, which to their delicate system can mean weeks of discomfort. Common among the ingredients in many gluten free products are coconut oil, coconut milk or sugar, date sugar, tapioca flour, chia and flax seeds. In Tibetan Medicine these all are extremely harmful for cold or heavy indigestion disorders.

Almost everyone is surprised when told to stop eating these gluten free or grain alternative products. Tibetan Medicine, its concepts behind food and potency, or “power of effect” on the substances we eat and our bodies are the pinnacle behind truly healing the gut. If one pays attention to the potency and characteristics of the food, diet changes alone can often reverse sluggish digestion, clear brain fog, heal chronic indigestion and eliminate inflammation of the intestinal tract. Sound too good to be true? Trust me, eighteen years experience with Tibetan Medicine and the joy and newfound energy my patients experience when they cut these foods out of their diet, or when over time they can eat limited or infrequent grains with zero aggravation tells me otherwise.

Let me give a quick lesson in the basics of Tibetan Medicine and why these products are not for everyone.

The basis of the Tibetan medical theory revolves around detailed observation of the external elements in the world, such as in nature, while seeing the interconnected aspect these same internal elements give to the human organism. Based upon these qualities, characteristics, taste is created from the five elements and whatever foods consumed. A physician then applies observation to symptoms and mannerisms for diagnosis and treatment based on where the dominance or deficiency lies.

Because external and internal elements are interrelated, in fact are based on the same material, Tibetan Medicine takes the viewpoint that the sciences of anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology are all based on the five elements.

The Five Elements: འབྱུང་བ་ལྔ་

  1. Earth ས་
  2. Water ཆུ་
  3. Fire མེ་
  4. Air རླུང་
  5. Space (also translates as ‘Sky’) ནམ་མཁའ་

The 5 elements create the 3 humors. If one was to translate the word ‘humor’ from the Tibetan language, it literally means ‘faults’ and is a direct indication to the underlying concept that homeostasis is always in fluctuation. As this is a Buddhist system, we relate to the five elements as arising from the 3 root poisons of passion, aggression or ignorance.

Within the 3 humors, again we reflect upon the elements. What are they comprised of, what’s their basic nature and what characteristics do they contain? In learning this we are able to antidote easily and with great accuracy.

A physicians’ role is to view and treat each person as an individual. This is the primary reason the Tibetan medical approach is unique. Each person has their own combination of relating to how the environment, life history and habits affect their body mind and spiritual states. Due to each person having a distinctive elemental makeup and dominances of those elements and humors, two people with identical conditions may have slightly different symptoms. Likewise, for this reason we never treat the same disease the exact same way and often treatment protocols and dietary guidance can vary.

Once one clearly relates to their basic nature, the relationship of outer to inner becomes clear. Foods and behaviors become either an antidote or aggravator. It is as much the patient’s responsibility in prevention and treatment to follow the instructions as is the physician’s duty to explain why diet, behavior and the treatment methods are so essential.

The 3 Humors:

  • rLung (pronounced Loong) WIND རླུང་ arising from passion or attachment
  • mKhris-pa (pronounced Tri-pa) BILE / FIRE མཁྲིས་པ་ arising from aggression
  • Bedkan (pronounced Pay-can) PHLEGM བད་ཀན་ arising from ignorance

There are three possible ways the 3 humors can be imbalanced: (Most frequently there is excess)

  • Excess
  • Deficient
  • Disturbed (in TCM calls this rebellious)

Most frequently people have a natural predominance to one or two humors, which will dominate and thus most likely go out of balance first. There is the occasional person with a balance or disorder of all three humors, but this is less common. Things always shift with times, stages of life and seasons. There are 7 possible combinations one can present with the humors.

7 possibilities: How the humors display themselves:

  • Single wind
  • Single bile
  • Single phlegm
  • Duel wind + bile
  • Duel wind + phlegm
  • Duel phlegm + bile
  • All 3 humors combined: wind + bile + phlegm

The first two treatment methods of diet and behavior are the most important in recovering balance or management of a condition. Why, because this part of the treatment is performed by the patient. The methodology when applied correctly is not necessarily dependent on the physician. Let me repeat that, YOU the patient can be responsible for your healing process. For many westerners this concept of relating directly to ones illness and taking responsibility for your own healing journey is innovative. A good physician of Tibetan Medicine is much like a person giving you a bag and telling you what to pack to carry along the path you will be traveling down. Proper dietary prescription is the most profound medicine by itself simply because everyone needs to eat several times a day. This paradigm shift in relating to the characteristics of our food, how they match, or oppose the characteristics of our elements and illnesses becomes the most powerful healing tool of all. When a Tibetan doctor guides you on foods to avoid and those which help,  its like having the road map and good directions. Essentially what are the proper to tools for your unique toolbox.

Understanding these concepts link us directly to the nature of a humor, its associated root poison, the qualities, powers and characteristics. This sows the seeds of bringing awareness to what aggravates you personally when you eat it. The healing methods of Tibetan Medicine are totally self-sustaining with simple observation and basic comprehension.

Going back to the premise of this article, why is coconut oil, water or sugar and many gluten free products not the cure all magic often touted? This is because the qualities and characteristics of these food items relates directly to the elements and characteristics we have previously introduced. Why then would tapioca for example, be bad for digestion? It is very sticky cool and aggravates indigestion issues. The same is so of coconut! Everyone reads how wonderful coconut oil is. Yes, it’s a high burn oil which does not alter when cooked, yes it is full of good fats, so how could it possibly harm?

Look back again at the basic characteristics of the humor which comprises the elements of earth and water, we call it Badkan in Tibetan. They are oily, cold, heavy, blunt, smooth, firm (stable), sticky. Now ponder the qualities of indigestion. Heavy, bloated, hard or sticky stools, belching, burping are very frequently described symptoms. For those with sluggish digestion, even water can make one feel heavy and bloated. Lastly, look at the quality of the gluten free ingredients commonly used. Coconut oil, dates, figs, flax seed, chia seed, tapioca. All are heavy, cold, sticky, smooth and firm or stable. It is simply a matter of the characteristics of these foods will increase the very same characteristics of the elements which in turn give rise to the increase of the Badkan or earth and water humor and almost all disorders relating to indigestion.

Now yes, there are two types of indigestion in the Sowa Rigpa system. One can be “hot indigestion”, the other “cold indigestion.” In this article the gluten free products and coconut oil I am referring to are those which mostly harm colder natured indigestion. In this case often the symptoms are sluggish stools, bloating, belching, heaviness, fatigue, especially after eating and foggy brain. Cold indigestion can over time create inflammation, yet the nature of it remains cold. Likewise, hot indigestion, which you see more with acid reflux, sharp abdomen pains soon after eating and loose or watery stools, can become chronic. Over a prolonged time this heat indigestion will turn slowly into a cold indigestion. However, even if you compare the nature of bile or mKrispa as it is known in Tibetan, relating to the fire element, its basic characteristics of oily and moist are still found in the grain free flour cooking ingredients on many packaged gluten free products: flax, chia, tapioca and coconut oil.

So then, what oil should I use you ask? A good high burn oil is grape seed oil. However caution should be used in ensuring this was not extracted using harsh chemicals like hexane. Another issue with grape seed is it is high in Omega 6, which is not bad in small amounts, yet can be harmful to your hormone regulation if taken frequently or in large quantities. Cold pressed grape seed oil is a good choice, just keep the chemicals out of it. If you’re more prone to insomnia or anxiety and do not have hot indigestion, meaning the commonly seen symptoms of acid reflux, etc. then I recommend avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in oleic acid, resists oxidation and is high in beta-sitosterol. Beta-sitosterol is a type of cholesterol which the body uses to convert less healthy fats into more usable forms.  Avocado is full of chlorophyll and a type of magnesium known to remove toxic metals from the system. However, because avocado is so heavy, consume with caution, limiting to a few times a week only. Other options, ditch the oil altogether and use low sodium free range chicken stock. Better yet, make your own bone stock, letting it sit and cool down. Remove the fat from the top and refreeze it in ice cube trays. Ready to stir fry those veggies? Use a few of those bone stock ice cubes as an ‘oil’ and receive good nutrition without the heavy quality many oils can have. When people are very weak from long term indigestion low fat good quality bone broth is the amazing healing agent it is now suddenly becoming known for. Tibetan Medicine has touted its healing benefits for hundreds of years. Precisely because the heavy, oily and sticky quality of oil itself can hamper both hot or cold indigestion issues, oil should be minimized. This makes good quality bone broth with the fat removed an ideal ‘oil’ to use.  Cooking and baking, don’t worry, a little coconut oil won’t harm you, but daily use certainly will. I have seen this clinically over the years. People improve almost immediately within a month or more when they stop using coconut oil in excess. If there are no lactose tolerance or allergy issues, go for the real butter. Tibetan Medicine says “a spoonful of butter a day will sharpen the mind and produce longevity.” When doing self massage for anxiety or dry skin, don’t use the cold natured coconut oil! Instead use apricot kernel or almond oil after your showers. These are more warm and light and do not hamper digestion. Often people have heard of using sesame oil from Ayurveda for anxiety and ‘wind’ related issues. Yes, it’s warming, yes it calms wind and anxiety. However, it is very heavy in nature and if your digestion is already sluggish, it can harm digestion, and it has a hot nature, so if you have hot indigestion it can harm that too, even with external application.

In short, no one health food is THE health food solution for everyone. In Tibetan Medicine all people are unique, with their individual alignment of the elements and thus a unique dominance of humors. These can even be expressed as an overlay of a disorder which have dominances of characteristics that may even feels very different from the ‘real you’ and somehow intuitively, you know something is off balance.

Instead I encourage you to think always about foods quality and the specific experience and characteristics. Ask yourself, how does this feel in my body? Does it make you feel heavy, bloated, sluggish? Does it make you feel warm or cold? Do you feel light, does it seem sharp? Do you feel tired or more energized after consumption? These awarenesses can begin to inform you about how to make food choices.

See other articles on this website or our full clinic website for more info on Tibetan Medicine and healing with the ancient system of Sowa Rigpa.

Eat well!