Traditional Tibetan Medicine



Traditional Tibetan Medicine is originally called Sowa Rigpa, or Sorig for short. It has two meanings. Basically it means the Science of Healing, which refers to the Tibetan and Himalayan regional system of natural medicine. It has thousands of years of history, passed down through the generations. Carrying its own unique wisdom cultivated from the high plateau of Tibet; Sowa Rigpa has also met and integrated much of the local systems of Ayurvedic, Greek, and Chinese medicine. While absorbing various influences, it remains distinct.

Sowa Rigpa is a primary natural healing system in countries such as India, China, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and throughout the Tibetan diaspora. In the past few decades it has begun to develop in western countries as well. Since 2006, the International Academy of Traditional Tibetan Medicine (IATTM) has offered comprehensive courses in Sowa Rigpa around the world including Asia, Europe, Australia, and America. IATTM is one of the most active organizations today which specifically brings TTM to the west. With its wide academic offerings and professional instructors, IATTM has taught over a thousand students worldwide. We collaborate with many medical professions; professors, doctors, teachers and instructors, and cooperate with medical faculties at many institutes and universities in both eastern and western countries, including the hospital of Traditional Tibetan Medicine in Xining, Eastern Tibet.  In the USA, the branch of IATTM is The Sorig Institute, which has been conducting Tibetan Medicine courses since 2008. Our program mirrors the other courses taught internationally with IATTM, and includes advanced study opportunities in hospitals and clinics in Eastern Tibet.

Now, we are pleased to welcome you to join our Tibetan Medicine Pogram. The program consists of four levels, which will systematically go through the principles and practice of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, maintaining the traditional principles while making the teachings accessible to a modern American audience. The principles of Tibetan Medicine are universal, and offer a timely wisdom applicable to our current health concerns.The courses consist of modules with Dr. Nida Chenagtsang or other instructors. Each course runs typically around 7 days, and integrating both practical and theoretical training. Diagnostic skills and therapeutic techniques are built on from the very beginning, as are making and using herbal preparations. In between the main courses, there are additional written and online study materials, as well as individual and group assignments.

The Four Levels of Study

The four levels of training follow the traditional order studied by doctors for centuries, based on the Four Medical Tantras, the basic scripture of Tibetan Medicine. Instead of only relying on memorization of principles, there is a unique visual and meditative learning system employed which allows the entire system of medicine to be accessed simply. First the outline is built, then the details are filled in with each succeeding level.

The first level covers fundamental principles of Tibetan Medicine, the essential tools necessary to understand the body and how it functions and goes out of balance. Various therapies are introduced, as well as simple herbal and home remedies.

The second level begins an immersion into diagnostic techniques, especially pulse, urine, and the analysis of the sense organs. Then there is a deeper study of herbology and pathology.

The third and fourth levels comprise the advanced training of treating various diseases. Each module will cover causes, diagnosis, and treatment of specific conditions. While following traditional formats of teaching from the texts, current biomedical understandings will be introduced when useful. There will be more clinical training opportunities with Tibetan doctors, both locally and in Tibet.

While this program will train future practitioners of Tibetan Medicine, the first segments of the course are beneficial for anyone that wants to learn more about their body and energy system from a Tibetan perspective.

LEVEL 1: Fundamentals of Sowa Rigpa

1.1 Sorig Foundation Course
1.2 Sorig Anatomy, Physiology, and Subtle Anatomy
1.3 Lifestyle, Diet, and Basic Pathology


The first level covers the fundamental principles of Tibetan Medicine. First, all the principles and map of the territory of Tibetan Medicine is covered in the Sorig Foundation Course. It sheds light on our human body and how to keep it in balance in all activities of our lives. Then, a deeper, comprehensive study of the principles of Tibetan Medicine begins with the second and third modules.


1.1: Sorig Foundation Course

This class opens the door into the vast, profound world of Tibetan Medicine. All aspects of the healing system are introduced in simple, yet comprehensive terms; using the visual system of metaphorical trees. This unique method employed for teaching follows the format of the Root Tantra, the first text studied by all Tibetan doctors for centuries. It allows the entire system of medicine to easily be accessed by the student.
While this class is the basis of all further studies of Sowa Rigpa, it also is in itself enough to develop a foundational understanding in maintaining health and discovering the fundamental causes of imbalance. The wisdom of Tibetan philosophy will also be introduced, portraying human life in context with the interconnected web of all existence.

• Introduction to Sowa Rigpa, the Five Elements, Three Humors and Tree of Balance
• The Tree of Imbalance- basic principles of disease
• Principals of diagnosis, intro to pulse reading, urine analysis and symptoms of disease
• Basic treatment with food and lifestyle
• Principles of herbal remedies
• Overview of Tibetan external therapies
• Home remedies and commonly available herbs

• External therapy training: basic moxabustion and wind points
• Fundamentals of Tibetan language
• Additional home study in the History of Tibetan Medicine, the great masters and doctors who revealed the science.


1.2: Sorig Anatomy, Physiology, and Subtle Anatomy

The Sorig Foundation Course covers the Root Tantra, which gives an overview of the entire system of medicine. Here the program begins the study of the Explanatory Tantra, which covers all aspects of medical practice and theory in depth. Tibetan medicine has a very precise educational structure, which in many ways resembles modern science. There is first a basis in anatomy and physiology, and then other topics are introduced, step by step, systematically.

• Embryology according to medical and spiritual systems
• Anatomy of the body including tissues and energy channels
• Physiology according to the 3 humors. The dynamics of life.
• Constitutional typology
• Signs and omens of death
• Subtle anatomy according to the Vajrayana yogic tradition- anatomy and structure of Vajra Body, Speech, and Mind.

• External therapy training: Horme- ‘Mongolian Moxa’ hot herbal oil compress treatment
• Additional study of points, meridians, and blood vessel points
• Training in breathing techniques, the foundation of Tibetan yoga


1.3 Diet, Lifestyle, and Basic Pathology

Tibetan medicine has two main aims: preventing and curing diseases. Of these, prevention is considered more important than curing. Natural medical science places great importance on healthy people maintaining their health. To have good health, we need to consider the causes of diseases. According to Sowa Rigpa, the primary cause is negative emotions and states of mind, fundamental misperceptions of reality. The secondary causes are improper lifestyle and diet, out of balance with our circumstances and seasons. Working with diet and lifestyle has a very deep curing effect, rebalancing our energy state with the natural world. It is thus strongly emphasized as an ideal treatment, rather than depending on strong or harsh medicines.

• Basic disease pathology
• Causes and conditions of disease
• Basic pathology of the three humors
• Healthy lifestyle guidelines
• Individual lifestyle- Includes all our daily activities in a day, from eating, working, sleeping, sexual activity, yogic exercises, geomancy, etc.
• Basic herbal remedies and treatments
• Social lifestyle- Looking at health on a larger perspective through the eyes of interdependence. How to be a healthy part of our human and natural community.
• Seasonal lifestyle- working with the changes of the Earth and heavens, keeping balance. Includes a basic study of Tibetan astrology
• Spiritual lifestyle
• Rejuvenation practices
• Principles of diet- including the energetic nature of different foods
• Basic explanation of food and drink
• Food combinations
• Nourishment
• External Therapy: Kunye massage, Num Cho oil therapy
• Tibetan healing yoga
• Additional study in Tibetan astrology, Sache geomancy


LEVEL 2: Applications

2.1 TTM Diagnostics 
2.2 Herbal Study- Basics of Pharmacology
2.3 Pathology 1- Three Humors

The Second level of training goes deeper into clinical aspects of Tibetan Medicine. First, the system of analysis is covered in depth, especially pulse and urine analysis. Next, more herbs and formulas are covered, which are put into use experientially and through observing subjects. By this time, the student has background training to study the advanced topics in the Upadesha Tantra, which goes into depth on the nature of all the different diseases recognized by Tibetan Medicine. This begins with the analysis of the three humors, the last module of level 2.
In addition, the second level adds more clinical training, observing subjects with Dr. Nida and other Tibetan doctors.


2.1 TTM Diagnostics

All of the main Asian systems of traditional medicine are renowned for their special analytical sciences. Pulse specifically is quite well known. In Tibetan medicine, there is also a uniquely developed system of urine analysis. This course goes into detail in the study of analysis, pulse, and urine from the Explanatory and Final Tantras. Other aspects of analysis, such as observation of eyes and other sense organs, are included from another text, the Somaradza.

  • Pulse reading- healthy and sick pulses
  • Seasonal pulse variations
  • Pulse theory of disease
  • Pulse of specific organs and pathologies
  • Types of divination through pulse- a unique ancient Tibetan technique
  • Urine analysis
  • Urine of healthy and diseased patients
  • Urine of three humors and specific pathologies
  • Hypothesis from urine
  • Examination of sense organs, including eye, nose, tongue, skin
  • Basic clinical training
  • External therapy: Stick therapy- a unique method of healing originating from the yogic terma tradition using gentle rhythmic pulsation with special rattan sticks and mantra to maximize healing potential.
  • Additional study: The Ethics of a Physician


2.2 Herbal Study: Basics of Pharmacology

Herbal study is a very important topic in Tibetan Medicine. More than 70% of the pharmacopeia is based on herbs. This study is diffused in the whole program, with herbs and formulas being gradually introduced. However, here we go in depth into Tibetan herbalism. The training is both didactic and practical, with additional study into making herbal formulations.

  • Introduction- study of taste, potency, and quality of substances
  • Cultivating, harvesting, processing herbs
  • Study of over 100 herbs, their qualities, therapeutic functions, and usage
  • More formulas and combinations of herbs
  • Divisions of herbs into groups
  • Mixing herbs for decoctions
  • Powdering and processing substances
  • Practical training in making pills, medicinal butters, wines, decoctions, oils, etc.
  • External therapy: Tibetan copper cupping, various herbal compresses


2.3 Pathology 1: Three Humors

Here the study of the Upadesha Tantra begins. The study of pathology commences with the three humors, the dynamic trinity of energies that make all life possible. In Tibetan Medicine, the 3 humors are the foundation of all imbalances and pathology of body energy and mind.

  • Causes and conditions of pathology
  • Pathology of 3 humors 
  • Pathology of wind, bile, and phlegm- an in-depth study of causes, divisions, symptoms, and analysis
  • Clinical practice- how to analyze and promote wellness within the three humors
  • External therapy: more depth on moxabustion techniques, herbal bath therapy
  • Additional study: More in-depth acupoint study.


Optional Training in Tibet

This trip is conducted every August, circumstances permitting. It is open to TTM students of IATTM internationally from the second year of training on. Training will be in the Amdo region, at the Traditional Tibetan Medicine hospital in Xining, and the rural clinic in Malo.

Topics include:
  • External therapy training in a traditional clinical setting
  • Herbal bath therapy at the most famous herbal bath center in Tibet
  • Herbal study in the mountains of Eastern Tibet, on identifying, gathering, and using plant medicines. (Around 80 herbs will be studied in their native habitat.)


LEVEL 3: Upadesha Tantra I

3.1 Pathology 2- Hot and Cold
3.2 Pathology 3- Internal Organs and Sense Orifices
3.3 Pathology 4- Sorig Psychology and Common Diseases

The third level and fourth levels of training go deeper into the Upadesha Tantra. From here on, all training modules will be on analysis and application of therapy for specific conditions. There will be specific herbal formulations and external therapies introduced for each section, related to the subject being covered.


3.1 Hot and Cold Conditions

After the three humors, the next big category of pathology is divided into hot and cold. This is a general view, but there is great depth as well. According to TTM, there is a specific group of pathologies encompassing fevers, infections and inflammation, called tshawa. Tshawa conditions have the ability to spread rapidly and can be life-threatening, therefore Tshawa studies hold an important place in the study of pathology.
Many slowly developing chronic diseases are caused by cold. They need to be studied with a focus on prevention.

  • General study of hot-natured conditions
  • 6 states of Tsawa
  • 4 types of Tsawa
  • Introduction to cold-natured conditons
  • Indigestion 
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Constipation
  • Degenerative conditions
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Edema
  • External therapy: more acupoint therapy


3.2 Pathology of the Six Hollow, Five Solid, and Five Sense Organs

The body functions and lives thanks to our internal organs. The hollow organs are the channels bringing nutrition, vitality to the solid organs, where solid organs maintain the balance of hollow organs. Together, they connect to the sense organs. This whole system is interconnected together, known in Tibetan as dreljyor- the system of connecting and attaching. Solid connects to hollow and the sense organs. Thus they are studied together. The interplay between them is all based on the five element dynamics.

The five sensory organ pathology includes basic pathology of head and neck diseases- originally called ‘upper body diseases’.

Also introduced are cleansing therapies, more commonly known as ‘Panchakarma’ or ‘Shodhana’ treatments from Ayurvedic medicine. They are a way to directly expel imbalanced humors from the body, especially through the hollow organs’ pathways.

  • Imbalances of 5 solid organs
  • imbalances of 6 hollow organs
  • Imbalances of 5 sense organs
  • Cleansing therapies


3.3 Sorig Psychology and Common Imbalances

Basic psychological issues are related to the pathology of the three humors, as our mind is strongly connected to our inner energy. The mind and body are inseparably linked. The study of the mind, its structure and functions helps us to understand and facilitate healing.
The Tibetan science of mind is well known from Buddhism, and its profound systems of cultivation. Here, the perspective will be medical, addressing mental issues from the physical, energetic, and spiritual perspective. This will include training on the nature of mind, thoughts, emotions and emotional blockages. More serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia are often believed to be connected to supernatural influences, where certain spiritual healing practices are used.
This course will also include treatments for some common conditions. They are traditionally linked and studied together.

  • Study of mind and energy
  • Emotions, emotional wounds and traumas
  • Study of the causes and symptoms of mental disturbances
  • Therapies- diet, lifestyle, herbs, external therapies
  • Connection to provocations
  • Spiritual healing
  • Throat and respiratory tract issues 
  • Srin (lit. ‘tiny beings’)- parasites, worms, bacterial infestations in different parts of the body. 
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Difficult urination
  • Joint problems
  • Chuser- (lit. ‘yellow fluids‘) lymphatics, blood serum, and joint fluid disorders
  • ‘White Channels’ including neurological disorders like numbness, tingling, trembling, etc.
  • Dermatology, cuts and burns


LEVEL 4- Upadesha Tantra II

4.1 Pathology 5: Gynecology and Pediatrics, Infertility and Aphrodisiacs
4.2 Pathology 6: Traumatology

4.3 Pathology 7: Neoplastic Diseases and Toxicology

A continuation of previous year, we go into the causes, types, symptoms, and observation of specific conditions. This is accompanied by further clinical training, and therapies for each of the respective topics. Finally, the student will research and present a thesis.

4.1 Gynecology and Pediatrics, Infertility and Aphrodisiacs

In Tibetan medicine, gynecology and pediatrics are an important part of the whole body of work. We all have our origins in birth, and much of our vitality and constitution is determined by pre-natal influences. Thus, there is a special reverence for proper pregnancy health in the medical tradition. This course includes a study of various women’s and children’s conditions, as well as fertility and rejuvenation treatment.

  • Infertility
  • Pregnancy, obstetrics and post-partum
  • Pediatric imbalances
  • Childhood psychological and spiritual healing
  • Gynecological conditions
  • General and specific care of Women’s health
  • Complications of delivery
  • Common women’s issues from menstrual and sexual imbalances to psychological issues.
  • Infertility and treatment of issues for both men and women.
  • Opening sexual blockages and increasing vitality.
  • Specific therapiess for women
  • Children’s massage and therapies


4.2 Traumatology

In Tibetan Medicine, traumatology is a huge study. In ancient times, and in Tibetan medicine hospitals today in Asia, it is used to treat all types of injuries- from simple falls to battlefield medicine. When the conquering Mongolians translated the Four Tantras into the Mongolian language, they used these principles in treating their battle wounds. Currently in the West, we have modern hospitals and don’t need to learn treatment of severe, life-threatening injuries directly. Our program will focus on common injuries, restorative and practical Sorig sports medicine.
There will be internal and external herbal applications for various injuries. Externally, various herbal bandages, compresses, plasters, and tinctures will be introduced.

  • Injuries to the head, neck, trunk, limbs
  • Injuries to tendons, muscles, bones, vital points


4.3: Neoplastic Imbalances and Toxicology

Since human history, oncology has been a life-threatening condition. In Tibetan Medicine, for over a millennium there have been distinctions between benign and malignant tumors; with an extensive teaching on the causes, symptoms, natural ways of treatment, and prevention. As in any medical system, there is no cure for cancer- yet Tibetan Medicine offers a different understanding and a very helpful system of complementary support.
In olden times, we were exposed to many toxic substances. In nature there are toxic plants, heavy minerals, animal bites and stings, etc. There are also many formulated, man-made poisonous substances. Today, there are many sources of toxicity: food, chemical drugs, environmental exposure, etc.. Sowa Rigpa identifies various types, stages, and support of many types of poisons and toxins.

  • Neoplastic diseases
  • Oncology
  • Treatment of toxins
  • Chemicals
  • Poisonous bites
  • Other types of toxins
Individual Thesis

A simple thesis or article comprising 50-100 pages of doctrinal or clinical research. This helps the students to deepen their research and studies in TIbetan Medicine. Good quality articles may also be published by Sorig Publications. As there are not many materials currently in English, this will serve as a benefit to future generations of students.


Advanced Training in Tibet

Upon finishing this program with The Sorig Institute, the student will have training in the essence of Traditional Tibetan Medicine. There will be plenty of tools to be of benefit to many people, and help to alleviate suffering in their body, energy, and mind. Still, the science is vast as the ocean, and there is so much still to learn. We then offer further training opportunities in Tibet, where the student can choose to specialize their training and dive deeper into the living tradition of Tibetan medicine.

Possible specialties include:
  • Training in the Five Action Therapies – appropriate use of medicines for purging, diuresis, etc
  • Supervised Clinical practice at traditional Tibetan hospitals and clinics
  • External therapies
  • Compounding and formulating herbal medicines

And much more…

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or call +1 (206) 822-9320

Contact Us

The Sorig Institute
500 Upper Road
San Rafael, CA 94903, USA
+1 (206) 822-9320
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