Yoga in its Religious Context

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Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:24 am

Hi all,
I'm considering exploring yoga as a way to keep my body light and limber and able to sustain rigorous meditation practice. I find sitting full or half-lotus takes quite a toll on my joints and muscles, which can be a problem if I'm wanting to sit long retreats as a part of my practice.

I'm wondering what you all think of practicing yoga as a Buddhist. I'm sure there are plenty of Buddhist yogis out there, but what is the discussion on its religious context? Is it fair for devoted Buddhists to ignore the Hindu/Vedic/Brahmanic roots of yoga while practicing it?

I once read an article from a Hindu writer expressing disdain for Western yogis who attempt to remove the religious/cultural context of the practice. He found it offensive, reformist and watered-down, a sort of sugar-coated practice. I think he has a point, and I worry I would be doing just that.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts.

:anjali:
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:43 am

Short answer: Go for it! It will do you a lot of good and no harm.
Long answer: Gets complicated and I don't have time just now - sorry. Maybe later.
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:45 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Short answer: Go for it! It will do you a lot of good and no harm.
Long answer: Gets complicated and I don't have time just now - sorry. Maybe later.
:namaste:
Kim


Thank you, Kim. I will probably go for it, but I would very much like to hear the complicated parts when you can find time to tap it out.

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby poto » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:34 am

As far as I'm aware, Tibetan yoga is a complete system of yoga that does not rely on Hindu/Brahmanic philosophy. It is generally considered to be just as valid a yoga system as it's Vedic counterparts.

If you're really curious about the spiritual side of yoga, I'd suggest reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are numerous free versions available on the internet. You can then judge it for yourself. It's been some years since I last read it myself. Personally, the god references did put me off a bit, but overall I enjoyed studying it for the many other parts that I did identify with. Also, as Buddhists I think it benefits us to study other religious philosophies. Even if we disagree with them, I think it helps to develop a deeper understanding of them.

That said, I'm quite fond of my yoga practice and do practice yoga daily. I find it helps keep me healthy and is an aid to my meditation practice.

I've also had problems with full lotus due a knee I dislocated a few years ago. Which reminds me... when I first dislocated my knee, the pain and inability to walk were unpleasant, but what bothered me most was that I couldn't sit and meditate anymore! Eventually, I realized how foolish I was being, thinking that I couldn't meditate just because I wasn't able to cross my legs. In a way, I'm kind of glad that I had that injury, because without it I might still be clinging to sitting in a certain way. My advice would be to just to sit in a position that is comfortable and not worry about how you are sitting.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Oct 10, 2010 11:46 am

Dhammakid wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Short answer: Go for it! It will do you a lot of good and no harm.
Long answer: Gets complicated and I don't have time just now - sorry. Maybe later.
:namaste:
Kim

Thank you, Kim. I will probably go for it, but I would very much like to hear the complicated parts when you can find time to tap it out.

:anjali:
Dhammakid

Okay ... since I volunteered and you asked nicely. :smile:
I just visited the good ol' Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga to refresh my memory and found that there's very little there I don't agree with (though our emphasis as Buddhists is a bit different) so if anything I say here is a bit obscure you'll probably benefit from visiting that page.
So:
• Yoga in the most complete understanding of the term includes aspects which parallel all the aspects of Buddhism, plus the physical side which is what many of us mean when we say 'Yoga' - we should really say 'Hatha Yoga'.
• The Buddha's pre-enlightenment training included many practices which look very like early forms of Yoga.
• Patanjali's Raja Yoga, which is the basis for most or all modern schools, dates from some time after the Buddha (?100 BCE - 500 CE?) and seems to have borrowed quite a bit from Buddhism.
• Hatha Yoga was conceived as a supporting practice for long periods of meditation - which happens to be just what you want it for.

For me it therefore makes absolute sense to use Hatha Yoga as a supporting practice for Buddhist meditation. In terms of your original question about an 'incomplete' or 'watered down' practice, there are no concerns at all, since you will be following the direct equivalent of the complete Ashtanga Yoga practice, just one that is based on a slightly more accurate description (well, we think so!) of our present reality and ultimate goal.
Criticisms of 'watered down' practices are usually directed at people who only want to tone their bodies, maybe with a bit of relaxation thrown in.
Bottom line = short answer in my first response: Go for it.

Just for completeness:
• There's a whole theoretical side of Hatha Yoga to do with energy centres and channels which I reckon is an optional extra but some people take very seriously.
• I have done a little bit of Yoga but I'm currently enjoying Qi Gong more. I like the way it keeps the body moving, because that's a bigger contrast to the sitting-still-at-a-desk that I do too much. YMMV, of course, but it's worth a try if you have a teacher nearby.
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:14 pm

poto wrote:As far as I'm aware, Tibetan yoga is a complete system of yoga that does not rely on Hindu/Brahmanic philosophy. It is generally considered to be just as valid a yoga system as it's Vedic counterparts.

If you're really curious about the spiritual side of yoga, I'd suggest reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are numerous free versions available on the internet. You can then judge it for yourself. It's been some years since I last read it myself. Personally, the god references did put me off a bit, but overall I enjoyed studying it for the many other parts that I did identify with. Also, as Buddhists I think it benefits us to study other religious philosophies. Even if we disagree with them, I think it helps to develop a deeper understanding of them.

That said, I'm quite fond of my yoga practice and do practice yoga daily. I find it helps keep me healthy and is an aid to my meditation practice.

I've also had problems with full lotus due a knee I dislocated a few years ago. Which reminds me... when I first dislocated my knee, the pain and inability to walk were unpleasant, but what bothered me most was that I couldn't sit and meditate anymore! Eventually, I realized how foolish I was being, thinking that I couldn't meditate just because I wasn't able to cross my legs. In a way, I'm kind of glad that I had that injury, because without it I might still be clinging to sitting in a certain way. My advice would be to just to sit in a position that is comfortable and not worry about how you are sitting.


Hi poto,
Thanks for the great advice. I've looked into Tibetan yoga and decided it wasn't for me. Plus, don't you need empowerments to participate in many Tibetan yogas?

It does sound like Hatha Yoga can be a great practice for me, and I'm definitely going to research and read the book you recommended. I'm interested in the spiritual side of yoga only as a way to know and understand the practice's cultural and religious context, but not as a belief system. That's why I was a bit wary of being labeled as a cultural appropriator.

I've considered meditating while sitting in a chair or on the side of my bed instead of lotus posture, but I don't think the discomfort is bad enough to warrant that. I'm probably not suffering as bad you are since you've had an injury and I haven't, but I guess I'll see if it gets worse with time (or better with yoga) and then go from there.

Thanks so much for your comments.

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:18 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Short answer: Go for it! It will do you a lot of good and no harm.
Long answer: Gets complicated and I don't have time just now - sorry. Maybe later.
:namaste:
Kim

Thank you, Kim. I will probably go for it, but I would very much like to hear the complicated parts when you can find time to tap it out.

:anjali:
Dhammakid

Okay ... since I volunteered and you asked nicely. :smile:
I just visited the good ol' Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga to refresh my memory and found that there's very little there I don't agree with (though our emphasis as Buddhists is a bit different) so if anything I say here is a bit obscure you'll probably benefit from visiting that page.
So:
• Yoga in the most complete understanding of the term includes aspects which parallel all the aspects of Buddhism, plus the physical side which is what many of us mean when we say 'Yoga' - we should really say 'Hatha Yoga'.
• The Buddha's pre-enlightenment training included many practices which look very like early forms of Yoga.
• Patanjali's Raja Yoga, which is the basis for most or all modern schools, dates from some time after the Buddha (?100 BCE - 500 CE?) and seems to have borrowed quite a bit from Buddhism.
• Hatha Yoga was conceived as a supporting practice for long periods of meditation - which happens to be just what you want it for.

For me it therefore makes absolute sense to use Hatha Yoga as a supporting practice for Buddhist meditation. In terms of your original question about an 'incomplete' or 'watered down' practice, there are no concerns at all, since you will be following the direct equivalent of the complete Ashtanga Yoga practice, just one that is based on a slightly more accurate description (well, we think so!) of our present reality and ultimate goal.
Criticisms of 'watered down' practices are usually directed at people who only want to tone their bodies, maybe with a bit of relaxation thrown in.
Bottom line = short answer in my first response: Go for it.

Just for completeness:
• There's a whole theoretical side of Hatha Yoga to do with energy centres and channels which I reckon is an optional extra but some people take very seriously.
• I have done a little bit of Yoga but I'm currently enjoying Qi Gong more. I like the way it keeps the body moving, because that's a bigger contrast to the sitting-still-at-a-desk that I do too much. YMMV, of course, but it's worth a try if you have a teacher nearby.
:namaste:
Kim


Hi Kim,
Thanks for your comments. Most of what you're saying is good news to me and solidifies my wanting to practice yoga. I'm happy to hear it's not so far from Buddhist practice after all. Also, I remember while studying Zen that many practitioners believe Bodhidharma created the Shaolin martial arts as a supporting practice for his student monks. Whether that's true or just legend, I take it along the same lines as yoga. Even if the martial arts have been appropriated by other belief systems (Taoism, for example), it's still valuable for those who want to practice seriously.

I've heard of Qi Gong but have never actually seen it practiced. Maybe I'll go on YouTube :smile:

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby poto » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:53 pm

Dhammakid wrote:Hi poto,
Thanks for the great advice. I've looked into Tibetan yoga and decided it wasn't for me. Plus, don't you need empowerments to participate in many Tibetan yogas?

It does sound like Hatha Yoga can be a great practice for me, and I'm definitely going to research and read the book you recommended. I'm interested in the spiritual side of yoga only as a way to know and understand the practice's cultural and religious context, but not as a belief system. That's why I was a bit wary of being labeled as a cultural appropriator.

I've considered meditating while sitting in a chair or on the side of my bed instead of lotus posture, but I don't think the discomfort is bad enough to warrant that. I'm probably not suffering as bad you are since you've had an injury and I haven't, but I guess I'll see if it gets worse with time (or better with yoga) and then go from there.

Thanks so much for your comments.

:anjali:
Dhammakid


I've had posts deleted on other forums for suggesting that empowerments are not necessary to practice many of the Tibetan things. Personally, I normally just do the simplified version of Tibetan yoga found in the 5 rites along with some of the other asanas. The 5 rites are core exercises that are good for my back, which is especially helpful for me and has helped my sitting practice a lot.

Some people will probably say you need to spend 2-3 hours a day doing a 'full course' of yoga, including the kriyas, etc. I don't much like doing the kriyas, and I think 20-30 minutes of yoga a day is enough to get good benefits from the exercises. Honestly I think 2-3 hours of yoga daily crosses the into ascetic practice.

Yoga will definitely help your flexibility and make it easier to get into lotus and maintain it if that is your goal. I know my yoga practice has helped me recover a lot of my flexibility after my injury. Hatha yoga is good, and I'd also recommend it as a good place to start.

Just want to leave you with a few words of caution. I've known a number of people, when they get started with yoga will tend to try to overdo it and injure themselves. The 'no-pain-no-gain' mentality doesn't apply to yoga. You shouldn't force yourself into any positions that you find painful and don't try to hold any pose that causes you pain. If you overstretch something you can easily hurt yourself, especially at first before you're fully aware of your body's limits. So, just try to be cautious and mindful of the body when practicing yoga.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 10:19 pm

Hey poto,
Thanks again for your advice. It is quite helpful.

I know for a fact I don't have 2-3 hours per day to do yoga, and I think you're right about that being a bit extreme and ascetic. Who has that kind of time unless you're rich and/or working from home? Twenty to thirty minutes per day will more than suffice for me.

Thanks so much for the reminder to take it easy when first starting the practice. Even though I can tell myself I know it already, I can see myself trying to overdo it so I can progress faster, instead of taking the practice lightly. I would love to find a teacher but I'm not working, and therefore I'm broke and can't afford classes...

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby BD1 » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:27 pm

Hi Dhammakid,
Yoga Journal has a bunch of video podcasts on itunes that are free, not the same as having someone correct your poses and posture, but they can help and most last around 25 minutes more or less,

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Mon Oct 11, 2010 5:45 pm

BD1 wrote:Hi Dhammakid,
Yoga Journal has a bunch of video podcasts on itunes that are free, not the same as having someone correct your poses and posture, but they can help and most last around 25 minutes more or less,

:namaste:


Ah, this definitely helps me get started. Thanks!

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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:06 am

Dhammakid wrote:Hi all,
I'm considering exploring yoga as a way to keep my body light and limber and able to sustain rigorous meditation practice. I find sitting full or half-lotus takes quite a toll on my joints and muscles, which can be a problem if I'm wanting to sit long retreats as a part of my practice.

I'm wondering what you all think of practicing yoga as a Buddhist. I'm sure there are plenty of Buddhist yogis out there, but what is the discussion on its religious context? Is it fair for devoted Buddhists to ignore the Hindu/Vedic/Brahmanic roots of yoga while practicing it?

I once read an article from a Hindu writer expressing disdain for Western yogis who attempt to remove the religious/cultural context of the practice. He found it offensive, reformist and watered-down, a sort of sugar-coated practice. I think he has a point, and I worry I would be doing just that.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts.

:anjali:
Dhammakid


If one takes the whole system, cf. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, as "astanga yoga", "union in eight limbs", one can probably take the first three limbs at least as a basis, and append them near the beginning of a Buddhist path system. The first three limbs are actions to be enjoined (yama), actions to be restrained (niyama), and postures (asana). Once one starts to go further than this, then one might as well just use the Buddhist system, as it is much more detailed and complete. Many would argue, and I'd also agree to some extent, that some of the basics of the Yoga Sutras are Buddhist anyway.

The removal of the religious aspect usually refers to just doing asana, or maybe some pranayama as well. If one has yama and niyama, then this is a fair religious basis. It is similar to basic Buddhist panca sila (in prescribed and proscribed actions respectively). But if one is then taking up Buddhist right view and the rest of the path, then although it isn't really astanga yoga any more, it is still a religious practice. (So you can ignore any criticisms on that account.)
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:37 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:Hi all,
I'm considering exploring yoga as a way to keep my body light and limber and able to sustain rigorous meditation practice. I find sitting full or half-lotus takes quite a toll on my joints and muscles, which can be a problem if I'm wanting to sit long retreats as a part of my practice.

I'm wondering what you all think of practicing yoga as a Buddhist. I'm sure there are plenty of Buddhist yogis out there, but what is the discussion on its religious context? Is it fair for devoted Buddhists to ignore the Hindu/Vedic/Brahmanic roots of yoga while practicing it?

I once read an article from a Hindu writer expressing disdain for Western yogis who attempt to remove the religious/cultural context of the practice. He found it offensive, reformist and watered-down, a sort of sugar-coated practice. I think he has a point, and I worry I would be doing just that.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts.

:anjali:
Dhammakid


If one takes the whole system, cf. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, as "astanga yoga", "union in eight limbs", one can probably take the first three limbs at least as a basis, and append them near the beginning of a Buddhist path system. The first three limbs are actions to be enjoined (yama), actions to be restrained (niyama), and postures (asana). Once one starts to go further than this, then one might as well just use the Buddhist system, as it is much more detailed and complete. Many would argue, and I'd also agree to some extent, that some of the basics of the Yoga Sutras are Buddhist anyway.

The removal of the religious aspect usually refers to just doing asana, or maybe some pranayama as well. If one has yama and niyama, then this is a fair religious basis. It is similar to basic Buddhist panca sila (in prescribed and proscribed actions respectively). But if one is then taking up Buddhist right view and the rest of the path, then although it isn't really astanga yoga any more, it is still a religious practice. (So you can ignore any criticisms on that account.)


Hi Paññāsikhara,
Thanks so much for the advice! But I'm afraid most of what you have said went waaay over my head...But I'll take a stab at it.

Basically what you're saying is that I should explore the first three portions (limbs) of the practice, as the rest of the practice is better expounded upon by Buddhism. I will definitely do this.

:anjali:
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Prasadachitta » Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:03 am

Hi Dhammakid,
I practice and teach yoga. As far as Im concerned its a Satipattana practice. Mindfulness of postures. Its really quiet effective to watch what happens to you mind as you hold and move between the many postures of yoga.


Metta


Gabe
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Oct 12, 2010 7:23 am

Dhammakid wrote:Basically what you're saying is that I should explore the first three portions (limbs) of the practice, as the rest of the practice is better expounded upon by Buddhism. I will definitely do this.



Yup.
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Re: Yoga in its Religious Context

Postby Dhammakid » Tue Oct 12, 2010 1:46 pm

gabrielbranbury wrote:Hi Dhammakid,
I practice and teach yoga. As far as Im concerned its a Satipattana practice. Mindfulness of postures. Its really quiet effective to watch what happens to you mind as you hold and move between the many postures of yoga.


Metta


Gabe


Thanks, Gabe. That makes sense now that I think about it.

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