Thursday, September 15, 2005

Zen and Yoga

temple garden

Last week Gwen and I went to a 3 day zen retreat near Shizuoka city. It was held at a temple called Tokei-in, which is one of the places Shunryu Suzuki taught at before he went to America. I've been into zen since high school and have recently been thinking about how yoga and zen can be used together. After the session, I solidified my ideas a little more and I'll try to express them here.
How Zen and Yoga work together.

1. The basic sitting posture for zazen meditation is full or half lotus. This posture comes from the asana tradition that has been around five thousands years. So basically, Buddha was struggling to become awakened, and one of the things he remembered was this yoga pose he had done once that made him feel very stable and centered. So at their root the two practices are connected.

2. Many of our students say that one of their favorite things about yoga is that, during a pose, their thoughts drop away and they are totally in the moment. This is the same "no-mind" that zen encourages as well.

3. Back when the monks were living in the temples, they had a lot of manual labor to do during the day, which they approached with the same mindfullness as their meditation practice. So they got a daily dose of physical activity which complemented their seated meditation. But now people work in offices at desks all day, getting no physical excercise, and then go home and try to do some more sitting in zazen. I think yoga is a good substitute for the neccessary physical labors of the past. Only sitting will make your mind too squirrely, I think.

4. Sitting in zazen is physically taxing, as it requires long periods of stillness in a difficult posture. I see yoga as a perfect preparation and post-zen activity, to loosen and awaken the body.

There is a big divide in the alternative therapy world between "meditation" and "excercise." I think you need both to be as healthy as you can be. In the global age we have the chance to discover these different schools of thought, I hope we can keep finding ways that they overlap.


Yoga Garden