About this series:
The tradition of Buddhist Yoga is vast and wonderful. It is profound in its insights that we can discover for our own and others’ benefit, and rich in its variety of skillful methods that we can use to put it into practice. This seven-part serialization aims to present the key points of Buddhist Yoga in a way that Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike will find helpful and applicable to their own practices of yoga and meditation.
We will begin by looking at what the phrase “Buddhist Yoga” means, so that as we proceed to explore the practice of Buddhist Yoga, we will be well-equipped with a clear understanding of what Buddhist Yoga is all about. In the subsequent three pieces, we will examine the three qualities of mental outlook that form Buddhist Yoga’s foundation: renunciation, compassionate bodhichitta, and the profound view of the true nature of reality.
In the fifth piece, we will be ready to learn how to apply the principles of Buddhist Yoga in physical exercise and dance. Then, we will see how we can practice Buddhist Yoga when our bodies are afflicted by illness, and learn why the great masters have taught that being sick is actually a more conducive condition for practice than being healthy. In the last piece, we will explore how to practice Buddhist Yoga in the activities of daily life, so that no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can live fully and joyously as yogis and yoginis.
~ Ari and Rose
PART V: Buddhist Yoga: Joining with Naturalness
Buddhist Yogic Exercise
In this fifth of seven pieces on Buddhist Yoga, we will focus on Buddhist Yogic Exercise.
One of the methods to realize the fruition of Buddhist Yoga is yogic exercise. While there are many forms of yogic exercise, this presentation is based on teachings given by Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. In Khenpo Rinpoche’s system, the actual exercises are best learnt under the direct guidance of an instructor, but the key points on how to work with the body and mind can be applied to all kinds of movement.
In yogic exercise, we have the opportunity to work with the mind and body in motion but still within the context of a formal practice. It may initially be more challenging for us to meditate while moving but movement also helps dispel mind’s dullness and agitation, two of the main obstacles in meditation. In this way, movement can be an excellent support for meditation.
Also, because we are continually moving in our daily lives, yogic exercise helps us develop the ability to bring that practice mind into our daily activities. We learn how to join with naturalness in all life circumstances, up to and including the point of death.
Intention: Renunciation; Bodhichitta; View
Recalling a Buddhist Yoga practitioner’s three qualities of mind guides our intention when we practice yogic exercise. First, while exercise may beautify our bodies, enhance their health, and lengthen our lives, we renounce clinging to the body as truly existent. Whatever the body’s condition, it cannot provide lasting happiness. Ultimately, the body is unreliable; however we try to preserve it, most of us will experience sickness and the gradual aging of the body, and all of us will finally relinquish the body in death. So, we are motivated to practice in order to help ourselves relinquish our clinging to the body and to realize its true nature.
Second, we generate the mind of bodhichitta. The aim of all Buddhist Yoga practices is not merely to benefit ourselves but to benefit all beings. So we begin our practice by making the wish that all beings be free of ordinary sickness and suffering, and also free of the ultimate sickness of clinging to the self and appearances as truly existent; that they too join with naturalness.
Finally, we practice with the motivation to realize the truth of the view, as succinctly expressed by Khenpo Rinpoche in the following verse:
The nature of the body is appearance-emptiness, like a rainbow.
The nature of the mind is luminosity-emptiness, like a water-moon.
The nature of feelings is bliss-emptiness, inexpressible.
While remembering these three views,
Move and move while resting in the unmoving state.
The Key Points of Yogic Exercise
The most profound way to apply the mind during any activity is to focus on the true nature of reality. The mind’s true nature, non-dual awareness, the union of luminosity-emptiness, is like a vast ocean in which thoughts and feelings are like waves inseparable from that nature. Therefore, we do not need to reject or subdue thoughts; we can let them naturally dissolve back into luminous awareness, just as waves dissolve back into the ocean. Simply rest the mind in luminosity-emptiness; when a thought arises look directly at its essence, and relax in its true nature, luminosity-emptiness.
This is an excellent method to help us release our habitual thought patterns, so we can join with the naturalness of the way things actually are. But we also have a variety of other techniques to help us do this while specifically working with the body in yogic exercise.
At the beginning of the exercise session, mentally focus on the energy point four finger widths below the navel, deep in the center of the body. By focusing on this point, prana (the subtle energy in the body) and mind gather there in the body’s core center, rather than being scattered in many directions. This clarifies one’s practice and makes it effortlessly energetic.
Try to maintain awareness on this point throughout the session. It is fine to move your attention to other parts of the body, but also maintain some connection with this point as the source of movement and awareness.
When moving, whether slowly or quickly, generate internal vigor and strength. Move in a relaxed and natural way, but let your movements have inner strength coming from the central core of the body. Moving in this way energizes our practice, brings clarity to the mind, and helps protect us from physical injury.
In actual fact, the body is constantly moving—every part of the body is in constant motion, changing all the time. In its coarse state, the cells of the body are always moving back and forth; and in the subtle state, prana is always moving through the nadis (subtle channels).
While we move our bodies in exercise, we can feel that we are joining our external motion with our body’s continual internal movement. So rather than revving something up and struggling to move the body, just relax and join the body’s natural flow of movement.
By joining with the body’s natural movement and energy in this way, we can transcend our notions of tiredness and lethargy. There is no place such tiredness can actually be located because the body’s atoms themselves do not have the thought of being tired, and those atoms do not even truly exist.
This is the main point to remember about the body: it is not truly existent. We recall our certainty that this body is not made of matter; it is appearance-emptiness like a rainbow; it is purely the energy and play of luminosity-emptiness, like a body in a dream when we know we are dreaming. Then as we move, instead of feeling we are heaving around a body of muscle, bones, and blood, the body feels naturally light and luminous.
Not only are our own bodies appearance-emptiness; so are the bodies of others, as well as the surrounding environment. Neither our own bodies nor any of the outer appearances we perceive are made of the tiniest atoms, so no dividing line between these objects actually exists. As you move your body, dissolve fixation on the duality of your own body here and the surrounding environment out there; melt into space.
As we dissolve our reference points in this way, we also challenge our habitual views of spatial location. Ordinarily, we think we are on the top of the planet, right-side up. But directions as well are dualistic concepts that do not truly exist in non-dual awareness.
This can be particularly useful to remember when we do inverted postures. Such postures can be very challenging, in part because we are so attached to looking at the world the right-side up. In inversions, seeing the world in such a different way can make us disoriented and nauseous. But when we work with dissolving our attachment to the concepts of direction, we find that inverted postures feel increasingly comfortable and natural.
We can work like this with dimensionality as well, and transcend the dualistic concepts of big and small. As described in The Vimalakirti Sutra, highly advanced practitioners who directly realize the true nature of reality are able to place a great mountain into a mustard seed without decreasing the size of the mountain or increasing the size of the seed. As you move, dissolve your notions of size. Increase the size of your body so that it feels like a mountain filling space. Then decrease it so that it feels like a grain of sand in the vastness of space.
As we soften our dualistic concepts—matter and mind, self and other, up and down, big and small—the body and the environment reveal a gentler quality. Experience is much softer than when we are clinging to ourselves, objects, and ideas with heavy conceptuality. This is because we are closer to experiencing things as they actually are. Our experience is like waves on the ocean of non-dual awareness, luminosity-emptiness. We dive into the ocean, relax, and move within the waves of luminosity. This is joining with naturalness.
 The moon’s reflection on the surface of a pool of water is luminous while at the same time empty of inherent nature. In this way, it is an example for mind’s true nature, the union of luminosity-emptiness.
 Unpublished Tibetan verse by Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated by Rose Taylor.
Ari Goldfield’s Harvard Law School training led him to a six-month unillustrious career in corporate law before he set off for Asia to study Tibetan and find his Buddhist teacher. He went on to travel the world for thirteen years with his teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, acting as Rinpoche’s translator and secretary. Rose Taylor Goldfield grew up in a Dharma household, where she learned meditation at a very young age, and progressed through the practice and study lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She received her masters from Naropa University in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies with Tibetan language. Ari and Rose translate and teach Buddhist philosophy, meditation, yogic exercise, and dance in their local San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. They are spiritual directors of the Wisdom Sun community. You can explore more about them and their offerings on their website.