Yoga and Buddhism have much in common and although they are two distinct paths there are lots of places of convergence. In the past 50 years many yoga practitioners in the West are also followers of Buddhist practices and teachings. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, although rooted in the traditions and practice of yoga, is also a very pragmatic approach to life. We do what works. Practices and principles that we know from our experience are helpful to people in their quest to live a more meaningful and authentic life are the ones we like to learn about, teach and apply. Many of the teachings of Buddha inform our work, along with principles of contemporary positive psychology which stem from many different teachers and traditions.
One of the first dharma talks I listened to this year had a focus on the Four Noble Truths – considered one of the core teachings of Buddha. I decided to explore yoga practices to embody the teachings of the Noble Truths as a vehicle for integration into my life.
The first Noble Truth tells us that Dukkha or “suffering” (stress, anxiety, anguish, affliction and so on) is a normal part of life. For many of us – self included – there are times when I go into denial around this self-evident truth. From my yogic teachings it tells me that acceptance of this reality is important if I want to hold any chance of transforming it.
The best way I know to embody the principle of acceptance is to take a deep full breath and let it fall out. The “falling out” breath that we practice in our Phoenix Rising work carries the essence of the metaphysical intention of “so be it”.
Number two on Buddha’s list is that Dukkha has a cause which is related to the idea of “clinging or grasping.” This, in essence, is similar to our definition of stress which is “continuing to see things as they are not, and wanting them to be different while continuing to do the same things.” This again is related to acceptance but upping the ante to the realization that if suffering is happening, it could well be that it is related to something I am doing or the way I am seeing things. (Personal responsibility).
Embodying the principle that “what I do makes a difference” is very quickly learned through practices with a body mindfulness focus. If we can practice for just a few minutes of any style of yoga but with complete and full awareness to what is happening in each moment, it won’t take long before we “get” at a visceral level that we do and can make a difference to the state of our being in any moment – and this transcends our body and physical state to include the mental, emotional, and overall sense of self.
Many now agree on the benefits of a yoga practice for stress reduction, claiming that it causes a state of relaxation. This it does, but I believe the main reason that a mindful yoga practice reduces stress is that in relocates the power for change from the external to the internal state. This is huge for many people who have not experienced the connection between their “way of being” and their embodied stress. So in essence, I believe it is the WAY in which we practice yoga that has the potential to make a difference not WHAT we practice. Just 10 minutes a day doing three or four postures with a mindful present centered focus can make a huge difference in creating an embodied “knowing” of the second Noble Truth.
In my next blog post I’ll talk about some practices for the third and fourth Noble Truths along with the Buddhist Eightfold Path which is the foundation of the fourth truth. In the meantime please leave a comment below about how your practice supports your awareness and acceptance of Dukkha.
If you would like an audio recording of a brief Phoenix Rising Yoga experience incorporating embodied mindfulness simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and you will receive a link.