At OM Yoga Center we practice a form of yoga called vinyasa, which is a series of flowing movement sequences coordinated with rhythmic breathing. We approach the vinyasa style with great attention to detail, especially regarding alignment, to ensure that students do not get injured and that they get the most benefit out of their practice. An equal element of OM yoga is meditation-in-action, which invites the yogi to observe and become familiar with mental and physical habits, to relax the grip of thought activity, and to kindly abide in the asana. All this while maintaining a sense of vipassana, or clear seeing, which opens the yogi to the world around him or her, creating a healthy balance to the refined inner vision of yoga practice. The flow, precision, and mindfulness of our yoga practice are all supported by Buddhist principles.
Ahimsa and maitri
All of these exercises sit on a soft philosophical bed called ahimsa (non-harming) of yoga and maitri (loving-kindness) of Buddhism. What’s the good of being awake if you can’t let your heart be like your lungs, giving and receiving with every pulse? Mindfulness helps us recognize when we have habits that are harsh and creates a gap between that impulse and the action that usually follows. It creates a space for us to dip into our hearts and come back up with a pearl of kindness.
This is extremely helpful for yoga pracitioners. Since for most of us a major part of our self-identity is tied to the appearance and health of our physicality, our body is an excellent reflective surface for getting to know our habits and applying ahimsa and maitri to what comes up. In the worldless conversation between our body and our mind, everything that happens in all of our relationships—frustration, aggression, love, tenderness, boredom—will arise while doing a basic pose such as downward -facing dog. Yoga and meditation help us recognize our habitual form of effort—too tight or too loose—and naturally lead to a sensitivity regarding the actions of our body, speech, and mind. This is called right action, and it is made up of rhythm, movement, direction, energy, and intention, but never aggression.
Mind/heart training for meditators
When you apply this mind/heart training to the process of doing yoga asanas it becomes a way to understand the whole world in the form of you. It provides the means for working with all of those relationships right there on the yoga mat at the same time that you get more fit. And for us busy people who are both meditators and yogis as well as being moms, CEOs, and joggers, it is helpful to be able to combine practices.
How meditation and yoga work together
Yoga helps Buddhists embody their meditation. As the meditator’s body becomes more mobile, strong, and functional, it becomes a support for meditation practice rather than the more familiar and painful distraction of creaking knees and whining spines. Similarly, the specific focus of Buddhist mindfulness and compassion helps the yogi’s mind become unbiased, wakeful, and connected in whatever physical shape he or she assumes and demonstrates the transient nature of all things, including mastery over body.
Sitting cross-legged at the end of yoga class, I feel elemental. My breath is the wind and my mind is a raft floating on the oceanic tide of prana. The fire in my belly radiates out and makes the sweat on my skin feel like rain and earth mixed together. My heart rests in a big, big space.
Then I get up off the mat and go back to running the yoga center. Hopefully, today I won’t have a life-threatening experience, but still I’m grateful for my practices. Life might not be a bliss cloud, but through the wisdom and compassion of yoga and Buddhism, it has become supremely workable.
This article is excerpted from Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, and is republished with permission from the author.