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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 61 ing battered by a level of stimulation, agitation, speed, and infor- mation that is unprecedented in the history of the human organ- ism. The hatha yoga practices of working with the body, breath, and energy system can calm down and rebalance that extra agita- tion so we can come back to a more natural and balanced state of being. It’s a question of undoing, rather than doing. We’re doing the yoga practice to return to a more natural and calm state, in which we can rest in seated meditation more easily. PHILLIP MOFFITT: The most detailed explanation that the Buddha gave of how to practice meditation is the Satipatthana Sutra, in which he describes four fundamental ways of devel- oping insight into the true nature of oneself and of the world. They’re called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, and the very first foundation is awareness of body. He describes this as awareness of the body in the body. You’re not observing the body from some distant place—you’re actually feeling all the aspects of the body, whether it’s the ouch of the body, the plea- sure of the body, or the way the body is always changing. The Buddha says there are four basic postures in which we develop awareness of the body: sitting, lying down, walking, and standing. This is the kind of awareness of the body that can come through hatha yoga. Also, insight can arise while you’re doing yoga. You can watch the mind while you are doing your asana; every asana is an opportunity to watch the mind. RICHARD FREEMAN: What is the difference between the body and the mind, ultimately? One of the axioms of yoga is that the mind, or chitta, and the internal breath of energy, prana, are really two ends of the same stick. So all of our sen- sations, feelings, and thought forms actually correspond to fluctuations of our prana. PHILLIP MOFFITT: To do hatha yoga without pranayama— without working with the breath—would not be practicing full awareness of the body. The breath and the body are en- twined and both are reflected in the mind. ANNE CUSHMAN: I can observe in my own practice that thoughts have an immediate impact on the body, which is sometimes quite dramatic, and that working with the body has an immediate effect on what we would call the mind. In the traditional yoga model, the body is seen as increasingly subtle layers, or sheets, that interpenetrate each other, so that the mind and the physical body are actually interpenetrating layers of reality rather than separate entities. SHAMBHALA SUN: We’re having this conversation because a lot of Western practitioners want both a body and a mind practice, and they’re finding it in the combination of hatha yoga and Buddhist meditation. What are the potential prob- lems in combining different traditions like this? RICHARD FREEMAN: Today in the West we are being over- whelmed by the variety of lineages and practices we can choose from. Most of these are imported practices, which means we don’t have particular obligations in terms of our family or cul- ture to favor one over the other. We are in the position to look at all of them and ask, What does it all mean? Can we legitimately borrow from one and then borrow from another? Can we syn- thesize them? At what point is that appropriate? That makes it very challenging for practitioners, yet I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to really get to the bottom of the practice. On the other hand, we always run the risk of becoming watered-down eclectics, using the fact that there are alterna- tive practices and views to avoid going deeply into any one of them. If a practice is legitimate, at a certain point it’s going to make us face things as they are. We’re going to have to face the fact of impermanence and death, and that’s very difficult. Often people will bail out at that moment and jump to a dif- ferent tradition. Then they’ll stay with that one until the same crisis arises, and they’ll jump to a different school. That’s why we need a lot of communication with a good teacher, so that they can check whether we’re avoiding something or actually facing reality. We should never just assume that what we’re doing is the right thing. SHAMBHALA SUN: While yoga is of course an ancient and profound spiritual tradition, it’s now being practiced by mil- lions of people in the West with a wide range of motivations. A recent article in Atlantic Monthly called American yoga the unlikely joining of gym and church. How would you charac- terize the spiritual side of American yoga? Overall, is it more gym or more church? RICHARD FREEMAN: We see everything from utterly ma- terialistic yoga practice, in which people are looking purely to enhance the beauty of their body, all the way across the spectrum to yoga practice as a form of inquiry into reality. It’s my perception that the big fad of yoga is probably weighted a little bit toward the materialistic side, where people are simply looking for some kind of pleasure that works. But I’m also sympathetic to that type of practice. I think people find that On the other hand, we always run the risk of becoming watered-down eclectics, using the fact that there are alternative practices to avoid going deeply into any one of them. — RICHARD FREEMAN