Yantra Yoga By Michael Katz
|The following article is from the Spring, 1990 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.|
My first exposure to the subject of Yantra Yoga came through the master teachers Dudjom Rinpoche, who left his body in 1987, and Lama Gompo Tseden, who at the age of eighty-four currently lives and teaches in Tibet. Initially they did not give methods for practicing a Yantra Yoga system but rather told stories about the masters of Tsa Lung. Tsa Lung, which translates as channels and winds respectively, refers to the skillful methods of yoga which lead to the mastery of energy, body, and ultimately mind. Later I received instruction on aspects of Tsa Lung from several teachers. The most comprehensive instructions came from Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche concerning the system of yoga called the Unification of the Sun and the Moon (Trulkor Nyida Khajor).
The word Yantra in Tibetan is Trulkor Its literal meaning is machine or instrument, and one of its implied meanings is movement of the body and energy. Physical Yantra Yoga systems are used for balancing, and gaining mastery over body, energy, and mind.
The Unification of the Sun and the Moon Yoga was one of the earliest of the many systems of physical yoga which exist today, largely in secret. The text that poetically records this system of yoga was composed by the eighth-century Mahasiddha Vairocana. He in turn was instructed by the Indian meditation master Hum-kara and Padmasambhava. Trulkor Nyida Khajor is considered to be one of the oldest forms of yoga preserved within the Tibetan Buddhist religion, having been transmitted in an unbroken lineage for well over one thousand years.
Students familiar with both Hatha Yoga and this Trulkor system will note many similarities, due in part to their common Indian origins. Some Yantra Yoga teachers when asked to differentiate between these Trulkors and Hatha Yoga have noted the distinctive continuous movements that characterize some sequences of Yantra Yoga. Held breath and visualizations are also characteristic of certain exercises within the Yantra Yoga systems.
As previously mentioned the Trulkor Nyida Khajor was one of the earliest forms of yoga practiced within the Tibetan Buddhist tantric religion, but since its introduction numerous other Trulkors have been developed. These later systems of Trulkor are associated with Terma texts. Terma are texts and/or meditation instructions which were discovered by masters of meditation called Tertons. Terma are considered to be instructions for meditation and yoga particularly suited to a specific time and dimension. They are believed to have been hidden by Mahasiddhas such as Padmasambhava, and then rediscovered by teachers such as Dudjom Rinpoche and his previous incarnation Dudjom Lingpa, often under remarkable circumstances. The varied Trulkor exercises and Tsa Lung practices including Tum-mo, a practice for generating inner heat, are collectively considered to be part of the Anu yogas which together with Ati Yoga or Dzogchen form the innermost aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.
These yoga systems are generally held secret, as was true of the Trulkor Nyida Khajor. Recently, due to concern that this tradition might be lost, some teachers such as Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche have introduced them to the public.
I received these instructions personally from Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche during winter retreats held in Conway, Massachusetts in 1983 and 1984. Later Norbu Rinpoche awarded me a teaching certificate, and I have accompanied him on portions of several world tours, teaching yoga. It has been a wonderful experience to travel with Norbu Rinpoche, however I can recall teaching on many occasions with my heart in my throat as he watched and made suggestions. I am not a great practitioner of Trulkor; I have merely done my homework.
The Tibetans have an expression that if there is no wood to burn for fuel you stay warm by burning dung. I am happy to assist Norbu Rinpoche while I can still do the more strenuous asanas and movements. Even now various aches remind me that Trulkors are most ideally suited for the young, and were often introduced to teenager in Tibet. It is critical that they be introduced to a new generation soon as most of the other Yantra Yoga teachers like myself are children of the 60's.
As mentioned, it is traditional for the masters of yoga to prepare their students by recounting tales of other Tsa Lung practitioners. I remember one such story told by Lama Gompo. Two yogis who had already begun to achieve Siddhis or powers by virtue of their intensive practice were having a contest to see who could leap the highest. Lama Gompo, who at the time was inside the high wall of a monastery, recalled seeing them leaping higher than the walls themselves.
These allegedly true stories with fantastic outcomes have the effect of conveying the power of the yoga practices. When I first heard them they sparked my desire to learn these profound exercises. It was, however, not so easy. Lama Gompo, a master of a tradition called the Longchen Nyinthik, emphasized that they were secret and never given casually. He himself had only instructed a few heart students, and then only after they had demonstrated their motivation and worthiness by completing preliminary practices, which included one hundred thousand physical prostrations, one hundred thousand recitations for purification, and other mental and physical exercises which together are called Nondro. In addition, the aspirant would need to receive an initiation on a particular deity which itself was rarely given. If the student succeeded in obtaining the initiation there were subsequent commitments for reciting mantras, as well as pledges to do various other mental and physical trainings. This was one traditional route for beginning study of the Trulkors.
There was also another traditional path towards receiving comprehensive instructions on Tsa Lung. During the three-year retreat, which actually lasts three years, three months and three days, the teaching on Trulkor occurs during the second year.
At the request of the teachers the details of these instructions are secret even today. I have included these brief descriptions of the traditional methods for obtaining Tsa Lung practices so as to emphasize the respect with which they are held within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The decision of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche to teach a system of Trulkor was not taken lightly or suddenly. He spent many years in the West without teaching them at all; eventually he introduced Yantra Yoga exercises to a few students and gauged their effect. Finally, in the interest of preserving the tradition, he held seminars to communicate the instructions in a precise manner.
Shortly before attending one of Norbu Rinpoche's winter retreats in Conway I had the following dream: I was on a vast and beautiful beach. The light and colors were especially vivid. As I walked along the sand I passed different animalsa panther and a lionwho while normally fierce were on this occasion completely lethargic. Beyond the animals there was a gazebo-like pavilion on the sand. I could see through the beautiful blue silken cloth into the pavilion where half-naked yogis were practicing yogic postures. Later when Norbu presented the Yantra Yoga system I recalled this dream, and felt that it had foreshadowed his instructions. The retreat on which this occurred was itself magical. Snowbound with the Master in New England, we practiced each day in the funky shrine room of the old Dzogchen community house. The weather did its best to recreate a Himalayan landscape of brilliant blues and crystal reflections.
I subsequently practiced the yoga movements and breathing exercises. Although I have done occasional short retreats and practiced yoga intensively, I have primarily practiced while holding a job. On numerous occasions after completing a long day of work I found that a routine of yoga would be completely revitalizing. I have also noticed that the vividness and clarity of my dreams increases when I practice yoga regularly.
There are many other positive results of doing Yantra Yoga but by the same token there are some aspects of the Yantra system which are seemingly best left for retreat. Intensive practice of Yantra Yoga makes the mind unusually powerful and sensitive, and magnifies both positive and negative emotions.
A friend of mine who is also a lama once remarked that Tsa Lung is a sharp path, meaning that it can be dangerous when abused. Long-term practitioners frequently know someone who, due to over-zealousness, has suffered lung, or afflictions resulting from disordering the internal winds. Teachers have warned that under extreme circumstances misuse can lead to insanity.
These warnings as well as my own experience have made me conservative. I see my role as creating a foundation for further study with a master, as well as promoting the benefits of increased energy, flexibility, and clarity which may be gained without risking one's health and welfare.
Having made some general comments on the subject of Yantra Yoga I would also like to make some additional comments on the Trulkor Myida Kajor system. The original text which is currently being translated from Tibetan by Norbu Rinpoche and his students, outlines one hundred and eight exercises. These include preliminary exercises for purifying the breath, promoting flexibility of the joints, natural breathing, and the correct circulation of energy along internal channels. These exercises as well as ten asanas or postures are included in the videotape currentiy being distributed by Snow Lion. This video is the result of a collaboration of five Yantra Yoga teachers: Oliver Leick, Kennard Lipman, Eugenio Amico, Tom Garnet, and myself. It was filmed on location at one of Norbu Rinpoche's California retreats in 1987. It primary usefulness will be to someone who has already been introduced to the yoga system, as it would be extremely difficult to learn even the preliminary practices without instruction.
In closing I would like to express my gratitude to those teachers of the unbroken tradition, with the wish that many individuals will benefit from this path.Back to all Snow Lion Articles