Frank Jude Boccio moderates an online discussion wherein you can raise your own questions about yoga and Buddhism to him, and he’ll respond.
In this Shambhala Sun Audio clip, you’ll meet Frank Jude and hear his thoughts on why yoga, Buddhism, and the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness go hand in hand. Just click this player to listen:
Have a question about Buddhism and yoga? Leave it here as a comment!
Sandra Day says
Frank, thanks for taking our questions. I've never gone far into yoga, and now I wish to, as a Buddhist yogi. What's a good path for a 46 year old woman like me, who doesn't suffer from aches and pains exactly, but from being too busy and lazy? I know I won't devote more than 15 minutes a day to yoga practice; and I wish to stay within the hatha yoga tradition.
Should I take a course, or watch a DVD to go back to the basic asanas, and just go from there? Thanks for any advice you could give.
Thanks for writing. If I may, I'd like to suggest you first look into that voice that says you are 'too busy and lazy' to start and commit to a daily practice. All forms of self-construction are a form of 'conceit' that the Buddha calls us to investigate. Such constructions, built upon unquestioned thought patterns, are empty of any inherent reality. But if we do not question and investigate them, we take them as 'gospel truth!'
That said, there's nothing wrong or lacking in starting with a 15 minute yoga practice. Like meditation, it is consistency, not so much quantity, that counts. If you've not ever taken a yoga class, it is best to learn from a teacher. This way, you can learn proper alignment that will benefit your bodymind, and prevent injury.
If you are familiar with basic hatha-yoga asanas, then a short sequence including a standing posture or two (such as Warrior One and Two and Triangle), a gentle back-bending posture or two (such as Cobra and Locust), a spinal twise (Half Lord of the Fishes) and a forward bend or two can be a good basic sequence. Over time, you may substitute variations, perhaps expanding your practice over time to 30 minutes or more.
Alternatively, 15 minutes of Sun Salutations, starting with basic Salutations, then adding in Warrior One and Two, Triangle, Extended Side Stretch and Half Moon can be a very good preparation for sitting meditation.
I hope you give yourself the time and opportunity to explore for yourself, and not be too quick to assume yourself to be too 'lazy or busy.' Meditation is the practice of befriending oneself. Asana practice is one form of practice that can allow you to explore your reactivity, and cultivate the capacity for bearing witness to your inner and outer experience. Let go of any particular 'aim' and let go into the process and enjoy yourself.
Elly Hudgins says
When I meditate I feel like my internal system is not used to this rigid posture, so it complains, loudly (belly grumbles). Are there particular yoga positions I can do to deal with this?
Thanks for writing. If I understand you correctly, you are not speaking of having any pains in the body. If all that is happening is that your belly grumbles, there's really no problem with that. It is a phenomenom often heard on retreats! One possible cause is actually that the body is relaxing. When it relaxes, peristalsis may increase.
A greater concern that arises when reading your question is your reference to "this rigid posture." The meditation posture most certainly should NOT be "rigid." Patanjali, the great sage of Classical Yoga, defines asana as needing to be stable and easeful, and not requiring great effort to maintain. Asana is a Sanskrit word that originally referred to the seat a yogi took in meditation, and then came to mean the posture the yogi took while meditating.
When you take your seat for sitting meditation, be sure you have the proper height under your buttocks so that you can maintain the natural curvature of the spine. Many times, when students hear the instruction to "keep a straight spine," they take a very rigid posture, but a "straight" spine is simply one that is upright and not slouched. But the curves of the spine must be supported. A pillow allows the pelvis to gently tilt forward, helping to maintain the all-important lumbar curve, while lowering the knees to the floor and relazing the groins and inner thighs. If tension is felt in any of these areas, make adjustments as needed.
Relax into the posture, without slouching. It may be beneficial to have a yoga/meditation teacher take a look at your posture to see if there are any adjustments you can make so that you can sit comfortably and stably.
Alex Horne says
I don't really understand what the fourth foundation of mindfulness is and how it's different from the other three. Are you able to give me a bit more on this?
Thanks for writing. It's a really good question, and one that often arises. The Third Foundation, citta-samskara, often translated 'mental formations,' refers to the activities of what we would refer to as "mind." This includes perceptions, thoughts, emotions, etc.
The Fourth Foundation, dharma, is translated variously as "objects of mind," "phenomena," or simply left as Dharma. As "objects of mind," the confusion with how it's different from the Third Foundation arises. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that ALL the previous objects of mindfulness — from the breath, posture and movements of the body, through sensations and feelings, emotions, thoughts and perceptions — are, after all, "objects of mind." So we can look back at them, but this time, penetrating their phenomenal characteristics.
For instance, when observing our experience of eating a chocolate bar, from the perspective of the First Foundation we may pay attention to touching it, lifting it slowly to our mouth, taking a bite, chewing etc. From the perspective of the Second Foundation, we focus in on the sensations and particularly the feeling tone of pleasure (assuming one likes chocolate!). From the perspective of the Third Foundation, we can observe all the mental reflections that may arise: "Hmmm, this is good chocolate. I wonder where I can get more. This is a small piece; it's not enough. I want more." From the perspective of the Fourth Foundation, as I suggest in my article and book, it may be easier to take the approach offered in the Anapana-sati Sutta and focus on the impermanence of the chocolate bar AND of all the experiences that arise while eating it. We see the ever-changing nature of the pleasure and the thoughts that are provoked by eating the chocolate. Through a deep penetrating investigation of impermanence, we begin to have insight into "emptiness" which is basically the empty nature of phenomena. This is the not-Self teaching of the Buddha: no where do we experience anything that is permanent, unchanging, independent and autonomous. When this is understood — not merely intellectually, but deeply, intuitively — with what Buddhism calls wisdom, clear comprehension etc. then there is the ceasing of craving and grasping leading to equanimity and freedom.
Finally, a brief look at the Fourth Foundation as taught in the Satipatthana-Sutta: here what we are offered are aspects of the Buddha's Dharma. Included are the Five Hindrances, The Five Skandhas, the Eighteen Realms, the Seven Factors of Awakening and the Four Noble Truths. However, this is not an intellectual exercise and we are not contemplating these Dharma teachings as Dharma Teachings per se. We are using these aspects of Dharma as categories of experience with which we investigate our lived experience. We see — through investigation of these phenomena — when they are present as well as when they are not present in our experience. We see their characteristics of impermanence, their interdependent nature (the flip-side of their empty nature) and again, the ceasing of grasping and craving that leads to liberation is the result.
As I mention in my article, in a typical hatha-yoga class, I find the simpler approach of directly observing impermanence of all phenomena that arise to be a more skillful approach than working with the categories of Dharma. However, in my own practice and with my independent students, working with these categories of experience can profoundly deepen our investigatiive skills, including concentration.
I hope this has helped to clarify the sometimes subtle distinctions.