Tibetan Medicine

Tibetan medicine, known as Sowa Rigpa in the Tibetan language, is an ancient form of natural medicine indigenous to the Tibetan people.

Tibetan medicine is still practiced today throughout Tibet, the Himalayan regions, India, Mongolia, Siberia and in the Western world.

Considered among the most essential of the ten Tibetan subjects of study, Sowa Rigpa has benefited the people of Tibet and its surrounding regions for centuries. This unique knowledge is contained within thousands of texts written in the Tibetan language but principally in the four medical tantras, or rgyud  bzhi. These four medical tantras have been the primary teaching texts for training Tibetan physicians from ancient times to the present.

Shang Shung Institute Tibetan Medicine Programs

For over 30 years, the Shang Shung Institute has offered Traditional Tibetan Medicine training to the western world. Our most noteworthy program is the four year Menpa Certification, directed by Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo. This certification program was first launched in Conway, Massachusetts, then later in Russia, as well as online. This program followed the traditional Tibetan doctor training curriculum of schools in Tibet and India. It culminated in an internship and examinations at the Tso Ngon Tibetan Medical Hospital and College, in the Amdo region of Tibet. From this program, we developed our 750 hour Kunye Massage and External Therapies training. Graduates of this program became licensed or certified Massage Therapists in several states so far. 

The Shang Shung Institute is currently focused on developing this program in more regions. The Kunye training course will be the primary entry point for Traditional Tibetan Medicine training in the West. Later the complete Menpa Certification will be reintroduced as an extension of the Kunye Certification.

The Five Elements

Traditional Tibetan Medicine understands the universe as composed of the five elements. Both the inner and outer dimension are considered to be composed of the five elements. This includes our body, the food we put into it and everything that our body comes into contact with. When the five elements are balanced, we have health. The primary methods for preventing disease and maintaining health are the practice of presence and awareness in our diet and lifestyle choices. In this way we can always keep our five elements balanced.


Once there are imbalances, Tibetan Medicine has three main diagnostic measures including listening, observing and touching. Listening refers primarily to the patient's explanation of their habits, the history of their complaint, its palliative and provoking factors. In this way, the location and division of disease can be clearly understood. By observing the urine, tongue, eyes and other visible signs we can diagnose and classify the disease. It is imperative to ascertain the hot or cold nature of each disease. Finally, by touching the pulses we can understand very precisely which elements are involves and which organs are affected.


With a clear diagnosis the four types of treatment can be applied. For mild conditions the diet and lifestyle can be modified. For more advanced or chronic conditions herbal formulas are given. Lastly, if the disease is acute then external therapies are also applied. Of treatments, herbal medicine is the largest body of knowledge. Over 3,000 shrubs, trees, seeds, flowers, fruits, stones and gems, from both inside Tibet and its neighboring countries, are used in highly sophisticated and complex formulations. Traditional pharmacological methods utilize extremely advanced detoxification procedures to render even gemstones into edible and curative forms. Tibetan pharamicies have very strict guidelines on when and where to harvest, which part of the plant should be used, how to process each ingredient and how to formulate with exacting measure. 

Likewise, the system of external therapies is highly advanced including hundreds of points all over the body in which various applications are applied. These include moxibustion, hot and cold compresses, medicinal baths, massage, acupuncture and bloodletting. The job of a Tibetan doctor(menpa) is to understand which treatment is appropriate to any given pathology. Every case is unique.