The Five Tibetans

They are known as the Five Tibetan Rites, a handful of simple exercises that can be performed in less than ten minutes. How old the rites are and where they originated is up for debate. Some say they are over 2,000 years old.

What is beyond doubt is their efficacy. If you do these every day, you will see results in a week. You will see profound differences in a month. Practitioners claim that these exercises will keep you young, and I’m a believer. They fixed a nagging shoulder injury, and my back has never been stronger.

Amber and I are going to take you through all five with some explanations and variations. And then we put the entire routine together at a pretty upbeat tempo. You can do the full routine in five minutes once you get some practice. At first, they may take ten or fifteen minutes. Everyone can make time for the Five Tibetans. The trick is to do them every day. Like writing, the goal is to form a daily habit, the fruits of which come with time.

The first Tibetan is simply to spin in place. I was taught to alternate the direction of the spin each day. It’s okay if you can’t remember which way you went the day before; just mix it up! This exercise will improve your balance. Be careful, though. Don’t spin too fast or do this in an area where falling over could lead to injury.

The second Tibetan is a simple leg lift. Lifting your head (not your shoulders) will activate your upper abdominals. Twenty-one of these to start. Feel free to up the reps as you gain strength.

The third Tibetan is the opposite of the second. If we strengthen our abdominals, we need to balance that with a stronger back. This is a miracle exercise. My variation comes from one of Laird Hamilton’s favorite exercises. If your back is sore, revert to the classic third Tibetan. We show you both in this video.

The fourth Tibetan is to raise your pelvis from a seated position. If this feels taxing on your shoulders, do as many as you feel comfortable, and then revert to the variation Amber shows you. This activates the shoulders, triceps, glutes, the hamstrings, your back, and your core.

The fifth and final Tibetan is the opposite of the fourth. In the fourth Tibetan, you are face-up while lifting and lowering your pelvis. Here, you do the same, but face-down. This moves from downward facing dog to upward facing dog, and it activates your shoulders, core, thighs, calves, and back.

That’s it. Now Amber and I show you our typical morning routine.

Yeah, it’s a little sloppy. And fast. But in five minutes, you can do 21 reps of all five exercises. Everyone can find an extra five minutes in their day. Do them with your kids or parents or loved ones. Make it a habit; never skip a day!

I do these every morning, and they are better than a cup of coffee to get you going. You probably spend ten or fifteen minutes every morning brewing coffee or waiting in line at Starbucks. Try these instead for a week or a month or a year and see what you think.

60 responses to “The Five Tibetans”

  1. Sold! When the wife and kids whine, I’m blaming you, but this is happening.

    1. So cool to get the entire family doing it. Once you get it down, shoot a video, even if for you all to enjoy and note your progress.

  2. Got it, Hugh! I created a playlist on my YouTube account and the wife and I are going to be doing these. Thanks for the videos, you and Amber ROCK!

    1. Thanks, man. Exercising with your partner is the best. So much easier to get motivated with two people providing a push.

      1. Oh man, Hugh. For such a short workout, I really feel the burn! But it’s totally in a good way, if that makes sense. I can definitely see this as being a permanent daily routine. Thank you for taking the time to post these videos!

        1. My pleasure. Glad to hear you’re giving them a go.

  3. Bookmarked! So nice of you to demonstrate how to do the Five Tibetans. Hopefully, I can include these at the end of my Tabata workouts.

    1. Thanks, Shawn. Let me know what you think after doing these for a week or two.

  4. I’m definitely gonna start doing this, I’ve got awful balance/equilibrium and back pains. So hope this gives improvement

    1. I’m telling you, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

      Make a commitment to doing these every day for a month. One month. I promise after 30 days of this, you’ll want to do them for a year. Your entire body will get stronger, and little aches and pains will go away.

      1. I’m doing it! I’m on day two and don’t plan to stop. I love finding new quick exercise routines that are simple but have good results.

  5. Fantastic! As a yoga teacher I have to say, really good instruction from you two!

    1. Thanks, Amy. That’s terrifying, to think of yoga instructors watching this. My form is awful. :) But I’m trying!

  6. Thanks so much, Hugh. I’ve never seen these demonstrated before, and it’s so helpful! I plan to do this and report back next month on any differences I can feel.

  7. What’s the spinning part for? Don’t you get dizzy?

    1. Yup. And that’s the point. You get less dizzy every time. It improves your balance.

      I had a friend who danced ballet professionally, and his balance was amazing. He could spin over and over without any ill effects. I never could. It was a difference of practice. The Five Tibetans have been used as an anti-aging exercise routine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the best effects was the improved balance and fewer falls later in life by exercising this oft-ignored “muscle.”

      (Balance actually comes from these cilia, or hairs, in our inner ears. They’re in this coiled tube of flesh, which has a little fluid in the bottom. As we move, that fluid goes up and down the curved edges, and those cilia “feel” the movement of the fluid, giving us a sense of where we are in relation to gravity. We erroneously refer to our “five senses,” but we have many more than that. The sense of balance is one. And we don’t exercise it enough.)

      1. I might have to work up to 21 spins. Car accident gave me a slight balance problem. Its been a few years since, but I’m determined to beat it. I believe challenges are throw in our path to overcome. Maybe this will unwind my vertigo! Starting tomorrow…
        Thanks Hugh!

  8. Fiona and I are going to give it a try :)

  9. i’m giving this a try…while the coffee’s brewing. I went through the 5 after watching your videos, I was pleased that I could perform the spinning without falling over, however I won’t be trying them next to a pool as you demonstrated! The hardest one for me was the table top, that’s a killer!
    thanks for the vids

    1. The table top was the hardest for me at first. Use the variation on your back when you get spent. So let’s say you can do 10 of the regular variety. Do another 11 on your back, with the hip-raise. In two days, you’ll be doing 12 of the regular and 9 of the other. In a week or two, you’ll be doing 21 of the regular.

  10. Josh Albrechtsen Avatar
    Josh Albrechtsen

    Are these the only exercises you do, or are you combining this with other cardio or resistance training. Just trying to see if this is an exercise supplement or replacement.

    1. I use it as the main exercise routine in my life. I’d do them every day. In 10 minutes, I’m spent, and my cardio is up for the next hour.

      The rest of my exercising is very basic. I do pull-ups one day, and then butterfly curls with 40lb free weights in each hand the next day, and then a rest day. That’s practically it, other than the Tibetans.

      The other thing I do is lunges when walking the dog. I do 50 lunges. Two sets, if I can. I’m less regular with these, but I’m trying to make it a habit.

  11. I have psoriatic arthritis (think of the Phil Mikelson commercial for Enbrel). I’m 47 and used to think I was in decent shape, but really I was just fooling myself. I need something simple to get me moving in the morning. PsA is at its worst in the morning. Being more active helps, but it’s a catch-22. I can’t do too much. Not yet at least. Thanks for sharing Hugh. I’m starting these tomorrow morning.

  12. Thank you Hugh and Amber! I definitely need something like this in my life right now. :)

  13. What an awesome find. I’m bookmarking this and starting right now. Some of these exercises are similar to stretches I am already doing (irregularly) for when my lower back is achey.
    Everyone could benefit from core strength and balance.

    1. *I just got done doing the 5 Tibetans again and boy are my …

      Just nevermind.

      But seriously, I’m sore already. And I was dizzy for way, way too long afterward yesterday. Not so long today.

      Thanks for these, Hugh

      1. I had the same experience. Sore at first, and also couldn’t believe the difference day-to-day. The key to these is to make them a habit, one we look forward to. You really need to do them every day. That doesn’t mean beating yourself up if you miss a day, but it just means really trying hard to not miss a day.

  14. OK, I am turning 64 this month. I am trying not to let that affect my life. So I am hoping doing the 5 Tibetans will keep me sharp. I am a fan of your extraordinary writing.

  15. I spent my life wrecking my back – now I have rods and am trying to lose weight – I have four kids under 10 – mornings are crazy- this is exactly what I was looking for! It’s quick – doesn’t require a bunch of floor space and I can squeeze it into my early morning routine before I start getting the kids ready for school.

  16. […] The Five Tibetans exercises are tougher than they look (at least they are for me). […]

  17. This is great Hugh! I’ve been looking for a really good quick, well-rounded workout that I wouldn’t have to go to the gym for. Looks like I’ve found it :)

  18. […] The Five Tibetans exercises are tougher than they look (at least they are for me). […]

  19. I’ve been neglecting my back in my dailies for too long. I think I’ll replace some of my current regime:
    100 pushups
    200 crunches
    100 ob crunches
    with this series of exercises. I’ve been lax on my stretching as well, so this should help with that too.

    Thanks, Hugh.

  20. […] The Five Tibetans | Hugh Howey […]

  21. Did my first Five Tibetans routine this morning. Was a little surprised that I was actually able to rotate twenty-one times non-stop without falling on my ass. :D

    Thanks for the tip, Hugh and Amber! This will be perfect on the days I don’t make it to my yoga class.

  22. Thanks, Hugh and Amber! These videos are fantastic. Let’s see if I can get my boyfriend and cat on board with this tomorrow morning : D

  23. Woke up a little bit earlier this morning to do my first set of these. They are definitely a lot harder than I thought they would be. Also my form was pretty terrible. At least nobody was around to see haha. I plan to continue doing them either way.

    Thanks for sharing, Hugh!

    1. My form is still horrible. But it gets better with time. Keep it up!

  24. I’m looking at this page on mobile and where there should be the 3rd Tibetan, it’s the wrong video. It’s the summary video. Otherwise the stuff is great – thank you for sharing it!

  25. Thanks Hugh! This looks awesome! I’ve been struggling to find time to work out with two jobs. I know I can fit this in. Surprisingly I’m the most excited about the First Tibetan because I get dizzy / motion sick incredibly easy and it really ruins your day to feel nauseated. Thanks for all the amazing fiction too! Love your writing.

  26. Wow those were way harder than I was expecting and I’m still dizzy after only 10 spins. My abs are sore! I’ve grown so out of shape. Had to stop halfway through some of those reps. I’ll get there! :) Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to see the results.

  27. Kenneth Stevens Avatar
    Kenneth Stevens

    Polymath Jerry Pournelle (a blogger since before the advent of the World Wide Web) swears by the Five Tibetans as well, and he’s still writing books at age 81.

    1. How cool! I love Jerry. Had some good exchanges with him when I was a SFWA member.

  28. Great job, Hugh!

    My full time job is a Sports Therapist. And, this is one of the routines I have my clients learn because the benefits are absolutely spell binding. I was tickled pink after I read this. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks, Brandon! Since I’ve learned about these, I’ve heard from so many people who swear by them. Nice to have an expert voice in the chorus!

  29. That was awesome! Simple demonstration that makes me definitely want to try it! You both are proof that it obviously works for fitness and flexibility.

  30. Hugh, thanks for taking the time to make these videos. I’ve had back problems since I was a teenager—I was part of the generation that thought backyard wrestling was cool, you know, that thing kids did where they pretended they were Hulk Hogan in their backyards, slamming each other through tables, ext.— I’ve always been kind of ashamed of my injury because of how I came about it, and I’ve just always kind of lived with having a back that aches from time to time and limits the speed at which I can run and the work outs I can do in the gym. Needless to say, I was very excited when I saw your post talking about how you healed your back injury with positive mental thoughts and with back exercises. I’ve since told myself that my injury too was a long time ago, and have reminded myself that “I have a strong back,” and so far it’s worked. I’m not as limited as I was, and I’m hoping that these back exercises get me to a place where I won’t even remember what it was like to be limited by my back.

    1. That’s amazing news, Ken. Awesome. Hope these exercises help as well.

      I wrote that back pain blog post primarily for a writer friend who had the same issues as me. I’ve since heard from him that his back is now pain-free, after having tried many other remedies. It really is the secret to the vast majority of back issues: Just realize it’s in your head and take control of the pain.

  31. Been at these for a week now. (Skipped one day because I’ve a back injury from a car accident three weeks ago. Haven’t been doing yoga since, so the 5 Tibetans was my way back in. Anyway, the back was tired from having done the sequence all week and was beginning to feel the pull again. So I took a day off to rest it.)
    I’m up to 21 on all except the spin. Tibetan 4 is a toughie! Week two, here I come :)

    1. Fantastic! If the back is hurting, change Tibetan 3 to the easier version (the original version) where you are on your knees rather than on your belly.

      I’m still sore from my round of Tibetan Rites today. Feel so good, though.

  32. Hugh

    If you like these, check out Scott Sonnon’s “5 Classics.’ The Tibetans are one of the 5 classics and he’s got other exercises from ‘ancient’ disciplines. Some good stuff there! His company is called Rmaxi – google will get you there.


  33. […] you feel restored (it might take a few days), do them again. Add them to your Five Tibetan Rites. With these two exercises alone, you can get into and keep yourself in amazing shape. And by […]

  34. Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how a subtle variation in a regular move can be so much more difficult. Ignored muscles feel it. Thanks for the moves, some new, some done a bt differently. Let’s see if we all can keep it up. Go in strength, Hugh and Amber!

  35. Hi Hugh, after meeting you briefly at Sandals, I thought I’d check your website out. Your books look really interesting and will be added to my “To read” list immediately! I loved the videos on the 5 Tibetans and the lunges and am going to start this very minute with my husband in the garden at Sandals (thankfully, there’s a swimming pool to jump into to cool down afterwards!) Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. My pleasure! Nice meeting you as well.

  36. Started lunging during the daily dog walk today. Thanks for the kick. Good idea. ;)

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