August 11, 2010

Yoga and Buddhism?

Not so fast.

Let’s examine this wonderful union in some depth, first.

It seems that everywhere I go these days—be it my studio in Berkeley, Richard Freeman’s “Yoga Workshop” in Boulder, or the Telluride Yoga Festival—everyone is talking about the connection between yoga and Buddhism.

Yoga and Buddhism? How natural is this (un-?)holy union that is becoming such a popular talking point, particularly in the yoga world? The yogis—and, to be sure, the Yoga Sutras themselves—have emphasized that yoga is a powerful and perhaps even a necessary support for any genuine religious or spiritual practice. Yet, my own sense is actually that the Buddhist teachings on emptiness or “no-self” are particularly well positioned to be a powerful support for a skillful yoga practice, which might begin to explain the surge of interest in Buddhism amongst yogis.

The question of self might be the deepest fault-line between yoga and Buddhism. While yoga traditionally aims for the union of the yogi’s soul with a Universal Soul, Buddhism insists that nothing in reality has a soul, an essence, self-nature or even meaning—outside of its interdependence with all aspects of reality itself.

Of course, we could take a Universalist position and argue that this interdependence of all aspects of reality is equivalent to the yogic notion of union with the Divine; but in our achievement-oriented world of performative asana in $100 pants, it might be worthwhile to seriously consider Buddhism’s “No Self” on its own terms. We might consider the possibility that, no matter how good my ass looks in prAna, I am ultimately nothing other than a single perspective of an infinitely interpretable experience. To practice yoga with some insight into the teachings of Buddhism means more than stretching with mindfulness and compassion; it might mean nothing less than taking every breath and performing every gesture while seriously doubting that someone is doing something—let alone that this someone is I, rather than, say, you.

Like (probably, almost) everyone, I can mindlessly push myself when I take yoga classes with my own teachers, and I sometimes do revel in the way that my yoga pants look and feel. As a teacher, however, I have a much easier time remembering and re-minding that the motivations behind such concerns are empty, in every sense of the word. Sometimes, in less loving moments, this makes me think it’s true that those who can’t do, teach… but more and more often I find the wisdom and compassion to consider that this is in fact the very meeting point of yoga and Buddhism. When it is so much easier to give to others what we ourselves need most, it is perhaps indeed time to seriously doubt that I am not you. When the benefits of the practice shine through the body, breath and speech of a student, the teacher might actually learn something from the deeply fulfilling experience of observing it. Perhaps it is just so that the teacher’s soul comes into union with the Universal Essence of No Essence.

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Paris Feddersen Sep 3, 2010 12:20am

I saw this on another post and it made me smile

Today’s children would be less spoiled if we could spank grandparents! 🙂

Monica Aug 23, 2010 9:24pm

I am back in berkeley. Barely beginning my semester this Thursday and I am super excited for a new beginning. 🙂 Do you still do RSF classes? I saw the recent photos of your retreat and it looked amazing! Congrats on everything.



Robert Allen Aug 21, 2010 10:00am

I like your writing style and ideas and would love to see more. A great article.

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Shy Sayar

Shy Sayar is a teacher and therapist with over 5000 hours of experience bringing yoga to students of all levels, treating patients, and training yoga teachers around the globe. Shy believes in Teaching People – Not Poses, since the practices of yoga are infinitely adaptable to fit the practitioner’s stages of development, and there is no need to push the body into arbitrary shapes. Instead, his Tantravaya yoga method integrates the classical Eight Limbs of Yoga, equally cultivating the body, breath and mind to bring each practitioner to optimal, holistic health. While the ultimate aim of yoga is to reveal the interconnectedness of all beings as the expression of one eternal life, Shy’s teaching refrains from overstating esoterics and focuses instead on bringing about this awakened consciousness by emphasizing the ease of the breath, the integrity of the musculature at work, and the serenity of the mind.

Shy is the founder and owner of Yoga One Studios in Northern California. He has offered coursework on education and pedagogy, as well as yoga philosophy and classical Indian literature at the University of California, Berkeley. In his yoga teaching, Shy integrates his experience in higher education with skillful attention to different learning styles, making even the most complex teachings approachable to every student. His unique Tantravaya Yoga Therapy method has shown remarkable results in posture correction, pain relief and improved balance, as well as healing emotional trauma and addressing the roots of psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Himself an avid athlete, Shy works with both elite and amateur athletes – including equestrians, runners, climbers, et al. – in order to maximize performance while preventing injury, as well as expediting recovery from injury. He is internationally recognized for offering the highest quality Yoga Teacher Trainings around the world, with exceptional emphasis on the sciences of anatomy and physiology, classical and contemporary theory and philosophy, and the most extensive practical training. He also specializes in teaching anatomy, physiology, diagnostics and therapeutics in teacher training programs worldwide.