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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 64 of temperament and conditioning and the nature of the pain that you are struggling with. For many people, yoga may be better suited to their nature. Of course, there are multiple philosophies and schools within Buddhism, as there are multiple schools within yoga. That’s part of the delicious confusion that Richard was talking about earlier, in which there are a lot of different practices offered, many of them lifted out of their cultural context. Practitioners really get to see which ones resonate and serve them at a particular time in their spiritual development. Many peo- ple are drawn to a Buddhist tradition because it’s the phi- losophy that makes the most sense to them. They try out the practice, they find it skillful, and they progress. Other people are drawn to different threads of the yogic path. SHAMBHALA SUN: Turning the question around, Buddhism has its own body practices. Many are advanced practices, but the sitting posture itself is a form of asana. So why are many Buddhists doing hatha yoga? RICHARD FREEMAN: I think one of the advantages of “im- porting” hatha yoga into the Buddhist community is that the current state of yoga asana technology arising out of India is very good. It’s just a very wonderful practice. I know the Tibetan system usually requires years of sitting practice before students are allowed to study the tantric yoga practices. A lot of those practices are not taught to large numbers of people, whereas millions of people practice hatha yoga. If they’re shopping around for hatha yoga, I think Bud- dhists should look outside of the Buddhist community for the latest updates, the most efficient information about how to do it. Conversely, the non-Buddhist community—I don’t want to use the word “Hindu” because that’s too confusing a label—should look to the Buddhist community to see how to present the essence of the Vedanta in a very non-sectarian, compassionate way. ANNE CUSHMAN: Hatha yoga was always meant to be prac- ticed in conjunction with the path of meditation. If you look at the earliest hatha yoga texts, they all say that this is not de- signed to be practiced separately; it’s designed explicitly to support the practice of meditation. It’s designed to stabilize the body and open the energy systems, so that there’s more energy and alertness available for meditation. In terms of my own sitting practice, I’ve found it’s more efficient for me to incorporate movement because I can balance WITH YOGA AND MEDITATION so popular now, yoga studios and Buddhist centers are popping up that claim to incorporate both practices. But this blending isn’t always in the students’ best interests. Without proper training, neither meditation instructors who dabble in yoga nor yoga instructors who dabble in medi- tation can show students the full benefits of the practices. Still worse, the yoga teacher who teaches fuddled meditation can per- manently turn students off it, and the meditation instructor who teaches fuddled yoga can land students in physiotherapy. So how can you know if the local yoga instructor has the know-how to teach mediation or if the monk at the weekend retreat really has it to teach asana? Here are some guidelines: RECOGNIZED QUALIFICATIONS Find out what kind of meditation you’re being taught. There is no regulating body that has devised universal standards for medi- tation instructors, but many Buddhist lineages have set ways of granting authority to teach. “If someone is presenting themselves as a teacher within a particular tradition, then they should have gone through the training matrix of their lineage and been autho- rized by an acknowledged lineage holder,” says Frank Jude Boccio, the author of Mindfulness Yoga. On the other hand, if someone is teaching an eclectic mix of meditation styles, they might not have official transmission to teach; in that case, prospective students will have to judge the instructor’s qualifications for themselves. People develop a mature practice at different rates, but that’s what students need—an instructor with a mature practice—and it gen- erally takes at least three to five years to develop one. So ask your teacher how long he or she has been sitting on the cushion. Until recently, yoga was like meditation: there were no national teaching standards. Now, however, the Yoga Alliance has estab- lished basic criteria. It maintains a registry of teacher-training pro- grams that require a set number of hours of learning technique, teaching methodology, anatomy, and philosophy. Although there are excellent yoga instructors who began teaching decades before Yoga Alliance was established, if you are choosing a teacher from the younger generation, try finding one who has completed a registered program. And ask prospective teachers over what pe- riod of time they did their course. Was it a 200-hour program jammed into a couple of weeks or was it spread out over a period of months? It takes time to assimilate the material and you want a teacher who took that time. Yoga Posturers and Dharma Dabblers Buddhism at a yoga center? Yoga at a Buddhist center? ANDREA MILLER on how to make sure they’re qualified.