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Lions Roar : July 2009
shamBhaLa sUn JULy 2009 11 That Guilty Feeling LAST YEAR I SPENT several winter months in Mex- ico, a country that tends to evoke pleasant thoughts of fiesta-hued swimsuits and slick coconut oil. I, how- ever, wasn’t living the Mexican dream. Rather, I was in a border town far from the sea and surprisingly cold. With no central heating, the only room in our house remotely warm enough for comfort was the bedroom. But I didn’t enjoy practicing hatha yoga there. My silly reason was that the bedroom was windowless and the concrete walls were the color of a pale, sad cantaloupe. My more practical reason was that it was crammed with suitcases, a keyboard, and a double bed. I could unroll my yoga mat on the free floor space, but only just. My yoga practice petered out. I need to practice, I told myself. I should at least do a few poses a day and I really ought to do more. Fingers wagged in my head. I knew the longer I went without practicing, the harder it would be to get back into it. Nonetheless, guilt failed to get me to the mat. Months passed. Then it was time to start work on last year’s annual yoga issue of the Sun and, finally, in those pages I found the inspiration to get me to a yoga class. That first one left me sore, of course, but by class three the poses began to feel natural again. Stretching up into the wheel, my back arching, I realized that there was never any call for guilt. Practice—whether of medita- tion or yoga or qigong—is not something we should do so we don’t feel bad about ourselves. Practice is something we do because it feeds and centers us. Self- criticism serves no purpose. I know I’m not the only person whose practice has ever gone into a slump. There are all sorts of Bud- dhists out there who haven’t meditated in a dog’s age, and all sorts of yogis who can’t remember the last time they did downward dog. So this year, I’m hoping those who’ve gotten derailed from their practice will find some inspiration in this, the 2009 edition of the Shambhala Sun’s yoga and Buddhism issue. There is, I think, lots in these pages that will inspire you. Shiva Rea, Rodney Yee, Richard Freeman, and Beryl Bender Birch share asanas that prepare you for seated meditation, but are also meditations in and of themselves. All four of these well-known yoga teachers are capable of contorting their bodies into advanced postures, but most of us will find the poses they’ve selected for “Yoga for Meditators” to be as ac- cessible as they are helpful. In the profile I did of yoga teacher Sarah Powers, she’ll inspire you to practice when she explains how yoga and meditation have made it possible for her to better understand herself. Powers’ practice is an innovative combination of yoga, insight meditation, and Chinese medicine. She says bringing her atten- tion to her body has made her more aware of her mind, and bringing her attention to her mind has made her more aware of her body. But, she warns, yoga and meditation aren’t easy—both are physically and mentally grueling. Hard, however, doesn’t mean bad. Just as easy doesn’t mean good. In “Taking Mindfulness to the Mat,” Frank Jude Boccio shows us the benefit of combining yoga prac- tice and Buddhist meditation, as he applies the four foundations of mindfulness to asana. He writes, “The Buddha instructed us to observe the breath, and grad- ually extend our awareness to include the whole body. He said the practitioner should be aware of the move- ments and positions of the body while standing, walk- ing, sitting, lying down, bending over, or stretching. He said nothing is excluded from mindfulness, that no aspect of our lived experience lies outside of practice.” So not even guilt is outside of practice, not even guilt about not practicing. If you feel guilty for not practicing, practice with that feeling. See the guilt as just another thought to recognize as a thought. Then simply let it go and come back to the breath. Come back to your practice. –ANDREA MILLER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS