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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 13 Editorial: You Have to Experience It WHEN I WAS NEW TO YOGA, I couldn’t under- stand my teacher’s instructions for the bridge pose. IgotthatIhadtolayonmybackwiththesolesof my feet flat on the floor, and that I had to clasp my hands underneath me and push my hips up. But I couldn’t grasp how, in this position, I was supposed to flex my thighs and relax my gluteus muscles at the same time. These two actions seemed impos- sibly contradictory. “But how?” I would ask my teacher. “Just do it,” she’d say, “just relax your bum.” “Yes, but how? My teacher, though, never had any further ad- vice. She’d only shrug her shoulders and wander off to the next student, leaving me to work it out for myself. And you know what? Over time, I did. I remember later telling a friend that I’d finally fig- ured out how to engage my thighs and relax my gluts simultaneously. “How?” my friend asked. But I only shrugged. “I just relax my bum.” These days I’m still working out physical yoga puz- zles, but I’ve also started (in my rudimentary way) to try to unravel some of the seemingly paradoxical elements of yoga that are beyond the nuts and bolts of muscles and bones. For instance, what does my teacher mean by “practice yoga with effortless effort”? And, in concrete terms, how does that look or feel in a headstand? I could ask her, but I suspect she would only shrug. Once again, “effortless effort” is some- thing that I’ll have to work out on my own. Buddhism, like yoga, is an experiential path. So how to weave these two paths together is also experi- ential, something each practitioner must experience for him- or herself. Practice has signposts, however, and this issue will give you a taste of how others have experienced yoga, Buddhism, and the place where they meet. In “Yoga’s Path to Liberation,” Chip Hartranft compares the experiences of the Buddha and Pa- tanjali, the ancient Indian sage who wrote a semi- nal yogic text. Early yoga took many forms, Har- tranft tells us, but common to almost all of them was the belief that people can shake the mispercep- tions tying them to an unending cycle of birth and death. Sounds strikingly similar to buddhadharma, doesn’t it? Fast forward to the present day, and we see people experiencing yoga and Buddhism in their own ways. For this issue I profiled five well-known yoga teachers who are also Buddhists, detailing how they live and teach their practices. Each of the interviews has stuck with me for different reasons, but right now I’m recalling my conversation with Phillip Moffitt. “There have been great schisms within and be- tween yoga and Buddhism at various times,” he told me. “Yet there have been other times when there has been tremendous intermixing. Yoga and Buddhism are big umbrellas, and through the cen- turies there have been wide interpretations of both of them. As a result, I would point the student to knowing and trusting their own experience.” In this issue, perhaps the most gorgeous glimpse of practitioners knowing and trusting their direct experience is Aaron Huey’s moving photo essay, “The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen in Kabul.” He visited an orphanage there and took photographs of the American Molly Howitt leading the children through a yoga class. I love to sit quietly and look at these images. I love to think about how, despite the difficult lives that these children have had, they can still rest and stretch, and breathe and smile with Howitt. I love, in short, to let their experience inspire my own. — ANDREA MILLER MARVINMOORE JULY 1-17.indd 13 JULY 1-17.indd 13 4/25/08 11:37:48 AM 4/25/08 11:37:48 AM