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Lions Roar : March 2007
The measure of success in our practice is not how much we can transcend our pain and confusion but how much we can truly connect with our lives, and with the others who share it. become comfortable and familiar. It is entirely possible to step out of these patterns altogether, and through contemplation develop more positive habits that benefit oneself and others. In maitri practice, we start by tuning into somebody we love and wish well. Then, through the power of directing our thoughts and intentions, we try our best to extend that loving feeling toward our indifferent group, then even to our enemies, and then gradually to all beings everywhere. We recognize that none of these categories of friend, enemy, and don’t-care is really solid anyhow. They are all changing year to year, day by day, and even moment to moment. The traditional form that our good wishes takes is con- tained in these four slogans: May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at ease. We bring our loved one to mind, then ourselves, then the neutral person, and then the “enemy” or irritating person. In each case we simply repeat these slogans or contemplate their meaning. In this way we can deliberately cultivate and direct our goodwill and positive intentions toward ourselves and others. CYNDI: There’s good news right off the bat here for yogis, because just the fact that you’ve come to yoga class is an act of kindness toward yourself. Asana practice is an unparalleled method for removing energetic obstructions that make it tough to feel good or to have energy for yourself and others. In yoga the primary activity of the arms is to support the func- tion of the heart and lungs, the heavenly internal organs associ- ated with feelings, vision, and the primary channels of life force, or prana. When our breath and blood are circulating freely, we feel fully alive and more available to ourselves and others. Circulate is what we want our emotions to do, too. A sunken chest, slumped shoulders, and drooping chin inhibit energy flow and wholesome feelings. They’re depressing. The opposite is equally true—if your chest, back, and heart muscles are support- ed, spacious, and mobile, you will breath better and feel cheerful. Loving-kindness asana practice focuses on heart-opening poses. We rotate our shoulders, open our ribs, and do back- bends that release chest muscles and unlock sensation in the heart center. Some of these poses are challenging, but they can be done with curiosity and gentleness. One way I try to make them fun is by creating community. Partnering exercises such as supported backbends or hold- ing shoulders in a group tree pose teach us how to support and be supported by others. When everybody falls over, we laugh! It’s a clear example that if something doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t work. It’s an immediate reminder that our minds and hearts truly extend past the apparent bound- ary of our body. The sense of “other” starts to dissolve. We can experience interdependence right there on the yoga mat. Traditional yoga theory emphasizes ahimsa, or non-harm- ing. By applying maitri to how we work with relationships in yoga class, we grow the seed of ahimsa into an active blos- soming of seeing others and consciously connecting to them. This shows up in our class etiquette: Can I move my mat over to make more space for a latecomer? Can I pass you a tissue? Yoga class becomes a safe haven for practicing kindness with like-minded seekers and gives us the skills to handle what we meet when we walk out the door. WHEN WE STARTED teaching Yoga Body, Buddha Mind six years ago, it appeared to be a somewhat unique offering among both the yoga and Buddhist communities. In general, the yoga community in the West was not familiar with Bud- dhist practice, and Buddhists were not particularly interested in hatha yoga practice. But although yoga is a wonderful method for getting a strong and fluid body, it can also be a way to solidify habits of attach- ment and aversion. And even though you might be able to sit on your meditation cushion for a month, when you try to get up after thirty days—or thirty minutes—it might take just as long for your legs to start working again. That’s why we find that the practices of yoga and Buddhism complement each other so well. Yoga and meditation are not ends in and of themselves. You may not ever put your leg behind your head, but you might find yourself having more patience with your children. You may only have ten minutes a day to practice mindfulness meditation, but you might find that wakeful energy and com- passionate outlook creeping into your staff meetings at work. No matter what your job is, who your family is, what coun- try you live in, or what planet you live on, your body and mind will always be with you. Our identities are all tightly linked with how we feel about our body and our mind—Am I fat? Am I smart? Perhaps this integration of meditation and yoga will inspire you to get to know your body and mind bet- ter—maybe not the body you had when you were twenty or the mind you had when you got that high score on your S AT, but the good body and mind you have right now. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 57