Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Yoga? Taoism? Buddhism? Meditation? Mindfulness?

My yoga teacher gave me an "assignment" last week when we had to cancel our session because of the weather (power outages, snow, ice, cold).  She asked me how I would define yoga.  I have thought and thought and surprisingly I've come across blog posts discussing that as well.  One blog post that I thought was really weird said that some Christians think that doing yoga will turn them into Hindus.  Go figure.  Anyway, the point is that I haven't a clue.  I'm exploring Daoism and I read Buddhist blogs as well, finding insight from both.  I actually know nothing about Hinduism, but I follow yoga blogs and really learn a lot from them also.  And all of these Eastern philosophies and religions seem to have a commonality but is that just because I come from a Western culture and tradition and so have a hard time differentiating between various Eastern philosophies and religions?  And how does the practice of Mindfulness fit into all this.  Is that unique to just one system of beliefs or thinking or is it a tool used by many?  I know that Daoism has different flavors, as it were, such as religious Daoism and philosophical Daoism, although I'm rather unclear about the difference between the two.  And the blogs I read on Buddhism (which also comes in more flavors than I can follow) seem to indicate a daily life practice which is very similar or at least in tune with what I know about Daoism.  I am especially drawn to Tibetan Buddhism and/or Zen Buddhism.


And what about Yoga--again, there are so many varieties of that practice.  Is Yoga a religion?  I know it is a lot more than a physical workout, although it can be that as well.  I know it is more than just stretching or figuring out how to manage a particular pose or asana.  Again, it seems, from the very little bit that I know, to be a mindfulness practice.  When I am doing my yoga I need to be concentrating totally on what I'm doing.  I need to be fully present, or I won't manage the pose or I'll lose my balance or I'll injure myself.  Is this a form of meditation?  That is another topic I'm wrestling with--what is meditation?  


I keep finding recommended books on all these topics--Daoism, Yoga, Buddhism, Mindfulness, Meditation, etc.  At the moment I've done a lot more collecting of books than reading of them, but I'll get there.  I am trying to deepen my spiritual life as that is the aspect of me (intellectual, emotional, spiritual) which is the most underdeveloped, and I suspect that what will work for me will be a mixture of the above beliefs, but I do need to become more grounded, more aware of what the actual beliefs are before I can pick and chose, so to speak, to find what works for me.


My yoga teacher's question was well timed as it matches my own state of mind and my own confusion.  And I meet with her tomorrow for my next lesson.  At the moment, I have no clue what my answer will be, so if anyone has any insights they wish to share, I'd sure love to hear them.  

3 comments:

  1. Daphne, do you think your yoga teacher intended for you to research so much to find a definition, or do you think she just wants to know what yoga means to you? I think you'll easily come up with your answer if you get out of your head a little and stop working at it so hard. ;-)

    A definition of my own came to me as I read your post, and that was a fun little exercise because I'd never considered it before. I'll share it if you want, but not till your own definition has revealed itself to you. :-)

    It seems to me that Mindfulness as a practice is emphasized chiefly in Buddhism and Hinduism, but as a concept I think it's pretty universal (though usually also universally ignored by most of our society these days!) When BW and I were in the Scottish Highlands, we visited 14th century Cawdor Castle near Inverness, and I was enchanted by the ancestral family crest that hangs above the main castle entrance. Beneath the fairly typical conglomeration of lion and stag and shield and crown and a Latin phrase (that in this case translates to "The pure heart shall sing when dying,") it simply says, in English, "Be Mindfull." I wish I knew the history of the Cawdors adopting that reminder for their family crest!

    For me, mindfulness simply means "being here now," those too-rare moments when our mind isn't replaying the past or fantasizing about the future, but being fully in the present and aware of each present moment. For me meditation is a practice (that takes a variety of forms) that helps still the "monkey mind" that leads us on such merry chases out of the Here/Now, so one can be fully present spiritually and physically.

    You know how I love to share quotes with you! :-) Here are two more that I think go nicely with your post. You've probably read the first one, it's a pretty well-known teaching of the Buddha's called the Kalama Sutra...

    Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.
    Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words.
    Rely not on theory, but on experience.
    Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
    Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
    Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
    Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
    Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
    But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

    ~The Buddha

    And I especially love this one, which I think is the poet's way of saying, "Be Mindful!" :-)

    Every day priests minutely
    examine the Dharma
    and endlessly chant
    complicated sutras.
    They should learn
    how to read the love letters
    sent by the wind and rain,
    the snow and moon.

    ~Ikkyu (1394-1491)

    Have you ever read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh? I love his simplicity.

    Good luck (and have fun) with your yoga assignment!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

    http://www.yogavidya.com/freepdfs.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. Laloofah: Thanks so for the quotes--I've got part of the Buddha quote on a poster, so did know some of that, but the poem was new and just perfect. I'm also starting to explore Thich Nhat Hanh and yes, his simplicity is marvelous. I haven't yet gotten my yoga definition--I thought of it as a linking of mind and body, which is part of it, and then I started looking at a new book I got called Zen Yoga which mentions the 8 limbs of Yoga and I think they are really important. Too often I think that especially in Western cultures, yoga has become simply the poses and some breathing, but I know there is a lot more to it spiritually. I'll be interested to hear what my teacher has to say today, and meanwhile, I'd love to know your definition!

    sfauthor: thanks for your comment and I've bookmarked the link as I didn't know about those yoga books. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you return.

    ReplyDelete