Friday, August 17, 2012

Lack of Integration in Yoga and Zen Practice

Another, more serious but more subtle, symptom of our current trouble with yoga is that a large number of people are attending classes for years without developing an authentic, personal relationship to the practice. When I work with such students in my office and ask them to do a foundational asana like Downward Facing Dog or Triangle, there is a pervasive sense of strain, rather than ease and enjoyment. My eyes and hands—my whole embodied sense—tells me that these supposedly intermediate students are arranging their bodies as they think they “should,” rather than experiencing the internal dynamics of the asana for themselves. They imitate rather than inhabit the pose. While such students undoubtedly experience myriad benefits from their asana practices—improved fitness and strength, greater flexibility, improved concentration and self-esteem—they are not only risking injury but also missing out on the deeper opportunity and the challenge that can make yoga something more than the hippest form of exercise, relaxation, or psuedo-spiritual consumerism.

The above is a quote from an article on the website of Lisa Nash, a chiropractor who also practices the Feldenkreis method and teaches yoga. She brings up many excellent points in her article, ones that I have written about in the past. But I zeroed in on this lack of inhabiting the body, because I think it applies not only to yoga practitioners, but also to a lot of folks in the convert Buddhist world.

A lot of people seem to be doing what I'd call "intellectual zazen." Intellectual zazen is meditation isn't the "dropping off body and mind" Zen Master Dogen spoke of. It's willfully ignoring the body while fixating on the mind. You're sitting there all hunched up, knees filling up with pain, back inflamed, trying to let go of your thoughts. You think "If I can just let go of this thinking, I'll be ok." All the while, your body is telling you, "Hey, dude! Get a clue! You can't even feel the placement of your limbs. How can you claim to be present?"

Body/Mind splitting is old as the hills. However, the ways in which modern society is structured tends to exasperate the divisions. Jobs are often either almost all head, or all physical activity. "Labor saving devices" have stripped us of basic skills like cooking and handwriting that involve the body more. Those with more financial resources outsource much of the physical labor in their lives, while those in poverty tend to have little time or energy to develop their minds.

And so, our spiritual practices are suffering. We think we are waking up, becoming liberated, but more often than not, we've simply ramped up one side or the other.

Without integration, there's no awakening.

1 comment:

Was Once said...

It points to the importance of "arriving in your body" queues(or guidance) at the beginning of practice. The teachers that do this, get a better overall response to the positive effects of yoga from their students.