July 27, 2012

Yoga Ninjas. ~ Salvatore Celiento

Ninjutsu, yoga and the spiritual path.

You may laugh and wonder what relationship, if any, ninjas (yes ninjas!) have to do with yoga. Granted, it sounds unlikely that a group of people dressed in pajamas jumping around with sticks and swords while learning a combat art would have any interest in cultivating their higher selves. This is, however, exactly the case.

The Japanese kanji 忍, nin, of Ninjutsu signifies perseverance, forbearance, patience and self-restraint. These are values which could certainly be applied to life in general, the practice of physical disciplines, but especially to the spiritual path. In this combat art, our Sensei once noted that spiritual growth is the key and secret to the whole art; of greater import than feats of physical skill. This view also seems to align well with yoga. If you can’t touch your toes, yet through yoga experience a deep sense of connection to yourself, other beings and the natural world, then your practice is good.

Influenced by Japanese esoteric Buddhism and Shinto, Ninjutsu spiritual practices involve working with chakras, mindfulness of body, and Mikkyo; ancient practices found in the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist sects. If that wasn’t enough, traditional stretches called ‘junan taiso’ involve classic asana, such as the camel, cobra, and fish poses – all of which are recommended daily.

Before beginning class, student and teacher bow respectfully to each other and recite the school motto. In the Sakushin dojo the motto reminds us that all experiences we encounter contain within it the key to enlightenment. This is, for those whose karma has led them to seek the highest realizations, the reason we train. Other benefits such as self-protection, a deep sense of community and love, and a trained mind and body are all also encouraged and taught.

While recollecting my Sensei’s teachings, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of gratitude. Thanks to his generosity and the teachings of this art, the course of my life has changed completely. I was on a path of destruction, egotism and utter selfishness. My teachers introduced me to the teachings of Eastern spirituality and their kindness gave birth to a deep desire to overcome these negative traits in myself. Until I reach that goal, I will continue to train, even if my body doesn’t co-operate. As my Sensei once remarked, “If you practice the principles of this art in your daily life—you are training all the time…”

Once, while on this path, I have considered stopping my training. This was driven by my egocentric and narrow view of the world. At other times, I feel I have let my teachers, school and myself down by behaving unethically. On the path to enlightenment, you too may fall many times. Yet, I still remind myself to be kind to myself regardless of my faults. As great sages have pointed out countless times, being kind to yourself is the beginning of love for all beings.

And this leads me to urge you to strive to maintain your practice of yoga and meditation. It is easy for the ego to convince you that it is in your best interests to abandon the spiritual path, and instead return to an easier life. Yes, this path is difficult. Your reward for 忍 (nin) or perseverance however, will be a deep sense of joy, deep communion with others and control in the midst of tempestuous thoughts and emotions. When faced, unarmed, against an expert Samurai carrying a sword capable of cutting you in two, warriors of this art were able to overcome their adversaries. They first overcame their true enemy, the ego, and the rest was easy.

Salvatore Celiento is a qualified counsellor, educator and reiki therapist, obtaining a Bachelor of Social Science (Pastoral Counselling) degree and a Master of Counselling degree from Australian Universities. He completed his Master’s thesis on mindfulness and meditation for people living with schizophrenia and anxiety. Salvatore’s paintings have been published in Offset No. 8; Offset No. 9; the haiku editon of Going Down Swinging No. 30 literary journals and his poetry has been published in Offset No. 10. He has also appeared on Australia wide radio station, Rete Italia. Salvatore facilitates workshops on sexual assault, violence, relationships and masculinity; is a Community Sports Coach and is currently working as a university lecturer. He is studying 9 ryūha of classical Japanese martial arts with the Sakushin dojo and studies Tibetan Buddhism in a traditional manner. www.sakushin.com.au


Editor: Ryan Pinkard

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