I have to confess, I’m not a yoga guy. Believe me. I’ve wanted to be. But like most people the demands on my time in this hectic culture of “doing, doing, doing” has forced me to choose between Downward Dog and my already meager meditation practice. What I didn’t know until last weekend was that I didn’t have to.
I have to admit as well, that I have a certain prejudice against the purely physical focus of what I typically perceive as being “Yoga”. The hot-core-power-yoga-for-fitness-and-a-tight-tushy craze that has swept the nation over the past few years has not been all that alluring to me. But still, I thought, yoga has to be more than that.
So when I heard that Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Anyen Rinpoche, was teaming up with yoga instructor, David Jewett, for a Yoga of Body and Mind Weekend workshop, I was more than a little curious. In fact, I was ready to dust off the old yoga mat and do the Double Pigeon with the best of them.
In the East-Meets-West subculture of spiritual practitioners there seem to be two types of people: those who do yoga and those who meditate. And never the twain shall meet, right? Wrong. What I learned over this weekend was that this need not be the case at all. In fact, the yogas of body and mind are integral components of a complete spiritual path.
Rinpoche dove right into it. Within the first ten minutes he explained that there are actually three types of Yoga: those of the body (the asanas), the speech (the breath) and the mind. Most Buddhist practitioners, myself included, focus solely on the sitting practice, the mind aspect, twisting our legs into knots with no preparation or love for our tender muscles and limbs. As a result we wind up with stabbing pains in our knees and hips instead of a calm and focused mind. After a couple of decades of this we may have developed a mean shamatha practice, but the object of our concentration can all too often be nothing more than stiff joints and chronic arthritis.
David, owner of Santosha Yoga in Ottawa, Canada, took over from there.
“What I find is that if I sit for a few minutes first thing in the morning, then get up to do some asanas, followed by another period of sitting makes for a more fluid and focused practice,” Jewett said.
He then showed us a few asanas and began to outline how we could integrate the three aspects of yoga into a single session.
“We can combine breath, movement, mantra, and mindfulness all into one fluid practice,” David said.
For the rest of the weekend we followed that program. Long slow sessions of a forgiving combination of Yin and Ashtanga yoga got us into a deep groove. We held gentle poses, worked with the breath and inwardly recited the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung until our bodies and minds were really flowing as one. The meditation periods that followed each physical session were like sitting a lake of clear glass. One student even commented that from her vantage point in the back of the hall, she had never seen so many calm, relaxed, yet perfectly poised practitioners in her twenty years of sitting.
So it’s been a week since the workshop and I’ve only missed one day of the meditation/yoga/meditation combo. I don’t know how long it will last. It’s certainly not too hard to keep up with now that I’m on sabbatical. All I know is that it is making a difference in my practice already and if there’s any way possible I can keep this up, I’m going to try my best to ride this wave for many years to come.