Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Tensung Dragpa (second from left), a Chimgyud (clan) Manpa (traditional physician), teaching students how to identify medicinal herbs for Lum © Department of Culture of Tibet Autonomous Region, China

Lum Medicinal Bathing of Sowa Rigpa Healthcare in Tibetan Medicine of China

Lum, also called medicinal bathing, is an important part of Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan Medicine) with a long history. In Tibetan, “Lum” indicates the traditional knowledge and practices of bathing in natural hot springs, herbal water, or steam to adjust the balance of mind and body, to ensure health and treat illnesses. Lum medicinal bathing is popular among Tibetan people because of its wide indication, safety, and effectiveness.
Tibetan people, who have lived in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau since ancient times, recognized the importance of bathing for health of mind and body, and combined this living habit with the religious rituals of Bon religion in daily life to form a customary practice with ritual sense. The Tibetan predecessors then developed this living custom in medicine as a method of external treatment. According to the Biography of Yuthog Yontan Gonpo, doctors from the Bon religion already mastered the therapy of bathing.
At the end of the eighth century, Yuthog Yontan Gonpo, a famous Tibetan physician, compiled a classic treatise, Gyud zhi (the Four Tantras). There is a chapter on medicinal bathing in the treatise, with the records “five categories of gypsum rubrum, five sorts of drak-shun (rock liquid), five types of hot springs, and five kinds of medicinal water that can cure all diseases.” When natural hot springs are not available, bathing with Five Medicinal Nectars can be used as an alternative.

The Terdrom Hot Spring with an altitude of 4,590 meters is
a renowned place for Lum and relaxation © Department
of Culture of Tibet Autonomous Region, China

Sowa Rigpa, namely Tibetan Medicine, contains knowledge and practices concerning “to feed and to nourish”. It pays more attention to the people than to the disease, and aims at achieving man’s inner peace and the harmonious coexistence among individuals, society, and nature. Hence, it reflects a positive view on life, health, and illness. The theories of jungwa-nga (five elements) – i.e., sa (earth), chu (water), me (fire), lung (wind), and namkha (space)—and nyepa-sum (three dynamics)—i.e., lung, tripa, and pekan in Tibetan medicine guide the use of Lum Medicinal Bathing.
Tibetan medicine uses the relationship between the five elements to explain the formation of human body, the occurrence of diseases, the function of drugs, as well as the interactions among human body, diseases, and drugs. Lung, tripa, and pekan are three kinds of energy substances to support the activities of life, and also three factors that cause diseases.
In Tibetan medicine, doctors use the diagnostic methods of inspection, inquiry, and pulse taking to diagnose the imbalance of Lung, Tripa, and Pekan in the human body, and choose the appropriate treatment based on syndrome differentiation. There are four kinds of treatment methods, namely diet, daily life, medication, and external treatment. The adjustment of diet and daily lifestyles should be applied first. If they are ineffective, medication and external treatment In Tibetan medicine, doctors use the diagnostic methods of inspection, inquiry, and pulse taking to diagnose the imbalance of Lung, Tripa, and Pekan in the human body, and choose the appropriate treatment based on syndrome differentiation. There are four kinds of treatment methods, namely diet, daily life, medication, and external treatment. The adjustment of diet and daily lifestyles should be applied first. If they are ineffective, medication and external treatment will be used. Lum Medicinal Bathing is an important method of traditional external treatment of Tibetan medicine.
The herbs in the basic recipe, Five Medicinal Nectars, are all genuine local materials in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the collection of the proper parts of herbs should be carried out at the appropriate time and places, which not only determines the effectiveness of herbal medications, but also facilitates a sustainable management of natural resources. During medicinal bathing, the emphasis on nursing at pre-bathing, in-bathing, and post-bathing reflects the different work division of doctor, pharmacist, and nurse, indicating the importance of “man as the key” and achieving the integration of science and humanity.
Lum Medicinal Bathing of Sowa Rigpa has been transmitted over generations through daily life, religious rituals, folkloric activities, and medical practices on account of its safety and accessibility. In the high-altitude of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it plays an important role in improving health conditions, increasing life expectancy, promoting respect for nature and social cohesion, and protecting the ecosystem. Meanwhile, it provides Tibetans with a sense of identity and continuity, reflecting cultural diversity and human creativity.

People are actively involved in the practices of the element during the annual Karma
Dulpa Festival celebrated in the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar
© Department of Culture of Tibet Autonomous Region, China