Kum Nye: A Review of Waking Up for Beginners

This small and elegant book is an introduction to the instruction of Kum Nye, a series of eight positions, or moves as they are called in the book which are said to stimulate and revitalize the organs, relieve tension and increase energy. Kum Nye is a Tibetan discipline, and the one presented here comes from the Northern Treasure School (Jangter Bon) of the pre-Buddhist culture of ancient Tibet.

Author Stephanie Wright learned the discipline over an eight year span. She says this discipline was taught as a means of survival, helping warriors with strength, endurance and focus. This book is said to be the first written introduction to the West of the original Kum Nye from the ancient Dur Bon teachings. The Tibetan Bon tradition predates Buddhism in Tibet by 17,000 years, likely making it the world’s oldest religions and spiritual traditions, but it seems to have gone under the radar.

As presented in the book, the eight Kum Nye positions are designed to work as a series in a particular order, each for a two minute period of time. Pictures of a model in each position are used to illustrate proper posture and positioning. The first of the eight positions in called: Calm Abiding. It is said to be helpful for neck and shoulder problems as well as weaknesses in the spinal musculature. This is the only position in which the eyes are to be closed when doing it. There is also a transition pose after Calm Abiding before going on to the second position.

Position two is called: Lions Roar. It is said to bring courage and fearlessness into one’s life if practiced properly. The cardio-vascular system is affected by this position and the breathing pattern though once again in through the nose and out through the mouth is combined with placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth behind the teeth, with the mouth open. Though difficult on the lower back for some people, this position is said to help with upper body strength, lower back and stomach tone and lung capacity.

Kum Nye can often allow old injuries or traumas to resurface, but the practice is also said to be able to repair those conditions, as well as the emotional trauma that is associated with them. In the Tibetan Bon position it is taught that one’s muscles hold everything your body has experienced. In Western medicine we are used to masking symptoms, but Kum Nye works on deep level to release old traumas, making it very much a modality that affects root causes. The Bön also teaches that the spine is the largest emotional organ in the body and is the key to integrated well-being. This makes Lion’s Roar one of the more challenging positions, but having a Kum Nye discipline is said to help develop emotional stability and spiritual insight along with the structural alignment. There is a transition pose after this position that stretches the calves and Achilles tendon if done properly.

Connecting Heaven and Earth is position three. It concentrates on the torso region of the body and is said to create nausea in some beginners. The excitation of the Vagus nerve may be responsible for this reaction, but in the Tibetan Bon tradition, this is seen as a good sign. Kum Nye is said to detoxify the body and this may be one reaction to that process. Position three is said to help intestinal function and yawning and burping is said to be a good sign! The practice of sit-ups is said to be counter to the process of opening up the digestive system because of the contraction of the muscles. Connecting Heaven and Earth is said to have an opposite effect. The breathing technique is the same as the previous position and the open mouth and is said to release emotional blocks that may suppress self-expression. The bust-line in women and tighter abs for men is said to benefit from this position.

Drug use is discouraged when one practices Kum Nye because it heightens energy and that can manifest in deeper depression when the drug effect wears off. Alcohol, in moderation, is an exception, perhaps because of the quicker elimination time of this drug. It is not spelled out in the book. The author DOES suggest that Kum Nye does help with hangovers, but getting the urge to do Kum Nye while hung over may be another challenge. Of course doing Kum Nye will lower one’s tolerance for alcohol due to the detoxification inherent in a Kum Nye practice.

Position four is called: Flying Drum. It is the first of the exercises to work the lower body and this position is said to strengthen buttocks, thighs and lower legs. The breathing pattern changes, as the tongue is no longer behind the back teeth and the mouth no longer wide open. I remember this by feeling the cool breath on my feet as I do this position. The practice DOES generate body heat, and that is especially the case during the fifth position. The Flying Drum position is felt very quickly in the thighs as a deep burning stretch begins to take place. The quadriceps and calf muscles are also strengthened. Those with previous knee, ankle or hip problems may temporarily re-experience those traumas.

In the Bon tradition it is taught that muscles hold memories of past events in picture form. Many new practitioners often remark that they have more intense dreams after starting this practice. Stephanie Wright suggests that during sleep the trauma stored in the muscles is expressed and processed by the nervous system in dream form. I keep a journal, with a special effort made to record dreams and have a number of wild dreams recorded over the past several years and many after September when I received this book after buying it on-line.

The author suggests that with the emotional shifts fostered by Kum Nye, the body will also begin to shift, holding positions more accurately, more aligned. In addition to abstaining from drugs, the author also suggests a balanced diet, and an avoidance of stimulants and excess sugars. Of course this is good advice for anyone, but this practice provides real energy, not the artificial boost provided by sugar and coffee, so these crutches become less necessary while the Kum Nye gives practitioners the strength to change counter-productive behaviors.

Honor to the Earth King is position five and the author recommends two to four weeks mastering the first four positions before trying this one. Hands are spread out on the floor in front of you while you squat with your spine parallel to the floor. Behind the knee one is to put a little space just wide enough to put your fingers. The key words in the chapter describing this position are: If you find this position continuously easy then it is unlikely you are doing it correctly. This position creates a burn so intense, I could not hold it continuously for two breaths without stopping to catch my breath. Try not to pant the author counsels and this is another position that allows for a cardio-vascular workout. After having a yoga practice for 15 years, I would have been surprised to think any discipline like yoga would not be an aerobic exercise, but positions two and five are just that. Honor the Earth King did bring up emotional issues for me when I first started doing it, as did position 6. With position five, you wonder if you are good enough, strong enough, but being able to master this position allows one to be more confident in taking on the challenges of life. The author says when the positions become too difficult she listens to her heart to find the source of the blockage. I have never experienced yoga as this kind of biofeedback system, but with Kum Nye this is one of its beauties.

Humility is the first word in the chapter describing position six, entitled: Honoring the Lineage. It is said to be a position in which you may contemplate your own origins. If affects the ankle, knee and hip joints and how they interconnect. I can see people with knee problems having serious trouble with this position. In the Louise Hay book Heal Your Body, another great resource connecting the mind and body, she says knee problems are about inflexibility and the knees themselves represent pride and ego, which corresponds to the Bon teachings. Position six is said to encourage your place in the greater scheme of things. This can manifest in an increased clarity in one’s vocation, but the new practitioner must get through the emotional release that often accompanies this position. There was serious bawling for me when I advanced to position six.

Awakening the Central Channel is position seven. The central channel is the spinal column and spinal cord. The spine and neck are lengthened and the function of spinal nerves and hip joints are said to improve. This position is the first of two to be performed on one’s back. In the old days lit candles were placed on the soles of the feet to ensure proper position. I can imagine hot yak butter trickling down my legs while in this position, which is difficult as it is without candles! This position creates trembling in me that can be quite intense. I have had similar releases in yoga and other modalities, but the one fostered by this position is as intense and regular as anything I have ever experienced. My history of a minor kyphosis is likely the culprit here, and the Bön tradition teaches that old thought patterns, usually carried as DNA, is what causes these kinds of imbalances. Of course when we swirl out that energy, we see it come back to us (if we are aware) and that can deepen the imbalance or give us the impetus to overcome the challenge. I have found that the combination of Kum Nye and the Invocation for the Removal of Obstacles, a Tibetan Bön prayer, to be especially potent for crating positive change in one’s life.

The final position is entitled Balance and helps to stretch the spine and muscles at the back of the arms and legs. It engages all of the limbs down to the fingers and toes. There is more focus on the Achilles tendon here, the largest and strongest tendon in the body and one essential for proper gait and agility the author contends. This position helps balance the body energetically. There may be shaking in this position which the author says is a sign that the muscles are being worked. After two minutes in this position you are to rub all over your legs as hard as you can to avoid cramping and to encourage circulation. You are to lie on your left side to rest, breathe and relax.

When one finishes a round of Kum Nye, there is relaxation and a sense of accomplishment. It is amazing how in just twenty minutes one can have this kind of workout and the author writes with honesty, clarity and a gentle sense of humor. She includes some case histories in the book to help the reader understand the kinds of breakthroughs people have and how we may be able to recognize our own.

This book, and the wisdom it relates, is more evidence for me that this ancient tradition has remarkable power and validity for the times in which we live. Though I sometimes go a couple of days without doing Kum Nye, I am reminded when I practice how beneficial it is for all aspects of my life. I especially enjoy doing it with my partner who has taken it up and told me that she did it due to my suggestion, but does it now because she has seen how it has helped strengthen her physically and emotionally. It is remarkable to me how people put up with the daily pains and discomforts they have, but even more remarkable is the way in which this culture spends billions to mask symptoms that are nothing more than the body’s messages to us to help us wake up and experience life on a deeper level. For people interested in that, this book is a valuable resource.


9:31A – 5.10.05



Wright, Stephanie   Kum Nye: Waking Up for Beginners   Century:  London,  2004