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Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances

I'd like to have a discussion about this topic.  Here is what I think:

While I admit that the way the mainstream McYoga populace practices Asana is not inherently spiritual, I have found that it certainly can be.  Doing strenuous, daily yoga has helped me feel more "at home" in my body, in a way that other disciplines such as grappling, weight lifting, and tennis, have not.  This comfort translates well to Thai Buddhist bodywork techniques such as "watch the stillness" and "watch the flow," that I've been working with.  

Ultimately, there seems to be subtle ways that the hindrances manifest on a purely physical level.  They can only be eliminated at this level, and I suspect this has to do with energetic currents.  There seems to be something about the way Hatha Yoga combines flexibility, strength, mental patience, mind-muscle-connection, and mindfulness, that helps to act on these currents, especially when paired with bodily awareness in daily life.  

Discussion questions:

1)  Has anyone else had similar experiences with bodywork, in general, or with Hatha Yoga specifically?

2)  Do you agree or disagree with my ideas, and why?

3)  Do you think there is anything special about practices such as Hatha Yoga or Tai Chi in enhancing spiritual qualities and reducing hindrances?  For instance, are these forms of movement more conducive than Gymnastics would be, if it were practiced mindfully?

Thanks in advance for participation!

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/5/16 11:46 PM as a reply to Noah.
"Ultimately, there seems to be subtle ways that the hindrances manifest on a purely physical level."

I've been thinking this too. 

https://youtu.be/e9AHh9MvgyQ

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/6/16 3:29 AM as a reply to Noah.
Well most professional yoga teachers I have met seem to be emotionally healthier than the general population --- even those that do only the asanas and are not interested in meditation or pranayama.

About energy currents: As my practice improves, I start to notice how the way to get an asana right is not necessarily by analysing logically the alignment of this or that joint, but by paying attention to how "energy" flows through the limbs, and optimising this flow of prana, sukha, the intensity / carity of the sambhogakaya... however you want to call "that".

I also practice gymnastics regularly and, while there are definitely similarities between bodyweight training and yoga asanas, I do not notice anything of the kind energetically.

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/6/16 4:31 AM as a reply to neko.
Nicky:
neko:
Well most professional yoga teachers I have met seem to be emotionally healthier than the general population --- even those that do only the asanas and are not interested in meditation or pranayama.



My experience is otherwise. 

Interesting! Did you notice any patterns you would like to share?

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/6/16 5:17 AM as a reply to Noah.
Hi Noah 

Thanks for asking. 

Imo, there is alot of 'suppression' & 'redirection' of hindrances happening in asana practise (rather than 'elimination' of hindrances). Since asana is not part of the 8 fold path (which eliminates hindrances using wisdom, morality & samadhi), from a Buddhist perspective, asana would not be considered of having any special effectiveness here. 

Further, strenuous daily yoga can actuallly reconfigure the natural neurological pathways & breathing patterns, being detrimental to samatha-vipassana (which ordinary exercise, such as walking, running, tennis, etc, do not). Some pictures of asana pracitioners show abnormally bulging chests & eyes. Some very famous yoga teachers were renowned for their anger & short-temperedness. 

In the old book called 'Light on Yoga' by BKS Iyengar, there is a warning in the introduction about the dangers of wrong pranayama practise. However, these dangers & symptoms can also occur in strong asana practise (attached below). 





In Light on Yoga, Mr Iyengar is certainly practising in a strenuous manner. Imo, it is not wise to immitate his visible energeticness of body & mind (here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/225782031/2-Light-On-Yoga-by-Iyengar-B-K-S-pdf) 

Due to certain circumstances, I have met many yoga teachers in my life and would often take them to visit masseurs I knew to assist them with their physical ailments. Even today, my local yoga teacher, who practises the most strenuous method (Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga of K. Pattabhi Jois) sees the local massure for her ailments.

Physical or sporty Western men, in particular, need to be careful because often their joints & lower spine simply do not have the flexibility, extension & leverage to assume the postures & muscle movements often taught by more slender & naturally flexible Indian or female yoga teachers. 

Asana practise is certainly stimulating, uplifting, calming, spiritually inward & fun. However, in my experience, it needs to be done relatively gently rather than strenuously.

With metta

emoticon

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/6/16 5:31 AM as a reply to neko.
neko:
Did you notice any patterns you would like to share?

I am not sure a detailed reply to this question would accord with good speech. emoticon

Generally, I have seen not real change in general behaviour by people seriously engaged in doing only asana

They still smoke, take drugs, have bad relationships, sexual affairs, get divorced, etc. 

That is why the whole yoga path is comprised of 8 limbs, of which moral ethics & dietary purity is the foundation.

 emoticon

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/6/16 5:59 AM as a reply to Nicky.
I like this photo because the body & neck remains elongated with nice open energy channels.  



Although we may be able to assume a more extreme version of the posture (below), if there is not the natural extension in our neck, hip joints and lower spine, we may actually cause 'blockage' of energy channels rather than open harmonizing. 



This is why, imo, gentleness is the key. 

With metta emoticon

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/7/16 1:28 PM as a reply to Noah.
Noah:
[...] Doing strenuous, daily yoga has helped me feel more "at home" in my body, in a way that other disciplines such as grappling, weight lifting, and tennis, have not.  [...]

Ultimately, there seems to be subtle ways that the hindrances manifest on a purely physical level. [...]


Jack Willis, who was an expert in one type of bodywork, namely Reichian therapy, in his book of the same name cautioned against (IIRC) low repetition, low speed weight or resistance training, saying that it hindered the intermediary goal of Reichian therapy, that is, the dismantling of muscular armoring (meaning chronic muscular tension or unresponsiveness), and thus the ultimate goals that he stated the therapy as having, that is, increased bodily awareness, the freeing of emotions and the changing of character. His book didn't go into detail on why specifically that type of weight training would be the most counterproductive, so I wonder whether he just wasn't aware that there are different types of weight training and just made a blanket association between clumsy meatheads and muscular armoring, or whether there really is a difference, in regards to the muscular armoring produced, between low-rep and quick lifting like olympic lifting, low-rep and slow lifting like powerlifting, moderate rep but (usually) slow lifting like bodybuilding training, a mixed system like strongman training, and others. I do know, for example, that powerlifters are notorious for their lack of mobility, but whether that is a result of their training modality, or whether that sport just attracts people that are more muscularly armored than average, I don't know.

I do know from my own experience that the low rep, low speed training makes my body stiffer, and that hypertrophy training often produces soreness (DOMS). The stiffness I find is best alleviated by (semi-)dynamic stretching like asanas, while the soreness by just training more of the same that caused the soreness in the first place. I also find that purely static stretching actually just makes me stiffer in many places.

Elliot Hulse, a strongman and proponent of bioenergetics, another type of bodywork, in one of his youtube videos talks about how, by weight training, the growth of the larger muscles of the body can put pressure and eventually numb the smaller muscles and some nerves, if not countered by regular stretching and other bodywork, which then leads to being a unfeeling and thus unathletic meathead.

Also, there are the goals of each activity to consider: Grappling and tennis are usually done in a far more competitive spirit than is yoga. In sports the body is pushed to the limit, to which it on some levels responds by growing its capacity of the same activity, and in other ways by trying to protect itself from further abuse by, for example, causing soreness and stiffness in the muscles and thus trying to dissuade the person from repeating such activity. Stiffness, as I understand it, is really a condition imposed by the nervous system, and not by the muscle fibers themselves.

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/7/16 4:58 PM as a reply to Sakari.
Sakari:
Grappling and tennis are usually done in a far more competitive spirit than is yoga. In sports the body is pushed to the limit, to which it on some levels responds by growing its capacity of the same activity, and in other ways by trying to protect itself from further abuse by, for example, causing soreness and stiffness in the muscles and thus trying to dissuade the person from repeating such activity. Stiffness, as I understand it, is really a condition imposed by the nervous system, and not by the muscle fibers themselves.


This may be true but there is a difference between yoga & ordinary exercise. 

Ordinary exercise actively uses the physical body & the breathing in an ordinary way. The breath or 'prana' circulates in the body freely, without significant mental awareness affecting the breathing. The breathing retains is automatic nature based on the autonomic nervous system. 

In yoga, postures are held in a static manner. The mind is strongly applied to the body & breathing and the 'prana' can get pushed & directed into the parts of the body in an abnormal way. The mind can develop some conscious control or influence over the breathing & autonomic nevous system.

If a yoga posture is held for a very long time, the body & nervious system will begin to 'tremble' (which is dangerous). This does not occur in ordinary exercise, of which the results of over-exercise are fatigue. If a yoga posture is held in a forceful way, the breathing will become more powerful & can push into tight inflexible joints, causing damage.

Because yoga postures are static & use the non-static power of breathing, it is not merely something just 'physical'. 


 

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/8/16 4:57 AM as a reply to Pål.
Pål:
"Ultimately, there seems to be subtle ways that the hindrances manifest on a purely physical level."

I've been thinking this too. 

https://youtu.be/e9AHh9MvgyQ

Thanks for linking that video, Pal.  I hadn't seen it in awhile.  It makes me wonder about the different types of energies that can exist within the body.  Shinzen seems to be talking about kundalini there, which I consider to be a "positive" thing.  In contrast, my practice recently has been in dealing with an energy that I would consider to be a "negative" thing.  Looked at from a certain vantage point, it is all just energy...

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/8/16 5:02 AM as a reply to neko.
neko:
Well most professional yoga teachers I have met seem to be emotionally healthier than the general population --- even those that do only the asanas and are not interested in meditation or pranayama.

About energy currents: As my practice improves, I start to notice how the way to get an asana right is not necessarily by analysing logically the alignment of this or that joint, but by paying attention to how "energy" flows through the limbs, and optimising this flow of prana, sukha, the intensity / carity of the sambhogakaya... however you want to call "that".

I also practice gymnastics regularly and, while there are definitely similarities between bodyweight training and yoga asanas, I do not notice anything of the kind energetically.

I am just starting to meet yoga teachers, and am curious about their average, inner state myself.

In terms of energy flow, I don't think I'm on that level of sensitivity yet.  I've just gotten my endurance to the point where I can always do every pose to the fullest without 'crashing.'  I expect that as I feel secure in the fitness aspect, some of these subtler elements will come into play during the classes.

Interesting to hear about the gymnastics.  I will take that as evidence for my argument that yoga is spiritual after all. :p

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/8/16 5:07 AM as a reply to Nicky.
Nicky:
Hi Noah 

Thanks for asking. 

Imo, there is alot of 'suppression' & 'redirection' of hindrances happening in asana practise (rather than 'elimination' of hindrances). Since asana is not part of the 8 fold path (which eliminates hindrances using wisdom, morality & samadhi), from a Buddhist perspective, asana would not be considered of having any special effectiveness here. 


Hi Nicky,

What you've said about strain causing harm makes sense.

In terms of the distinction between the relative reduction of hindrance and the ultimate elimination of it, I have been discovering that there is not such a fine line between these two, for me.  Within the past few years I've had some inner openings that have remained permanent, yet a ton of hindrance remained.  More recently, I've been using habit formation and anapana to slowly curb it, which is working awesomely.  I used to think only plateaud shifts could bring big freedom, but now value the relative reduction as well.  

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/8/16 5:11 AM as a reply to Sakari.
[quote=Sakari
]Jack Willis, who was an expert in one type of bodywork, namely Reichian therapy, in his book of the same name cautioned against (IIRC) low repetition, low speed weight or resistance training, saying that it hindered the intermediary goal of Reichian therapy, that is, the dismantling of muscular armoring (meaning chronic muscular tension or unresponsiveness), and thus the ultimate goals that he stated the therapy as having, that is, increased bodily awareness, the freeing of emotions and the changing of character. 

I like the idea of muscle armoring, and am interested in Reichian therapy in general.  That actually is the kind of stuff I'm talking about (I think) with watching the stillness and flow.  How am I subtly holding tension in my body?  What kind of energy is it?  Can I stop it?  I love these ideas.  

RE: Hatha Yoga, Bodywork and the Hindrances
Answer
5/15/16 12:26 PM as a reply to Noah.
I think I mostly agree with you.

I've always required a lot of mental and physical stimulation and have engaged in a number of intense physical activities over the years in attempts to get those needs met. Start with gymnastics as a little kid, went on to practice martial arts, dance, weight training, etc. over the years. I've been practicing asana daily for almost a decade now but it's really only been the last couple years that I've started to make the connections with vipassana. 

I dislike led classes and the whole McYoga scene, to be honest, and up until this year have learned almost exclusively from books and online resources. But this past year I started going to Mysore Ashtanga classes and am loving them. Everybody does their own thing and instruction is individualized, mostly in the form of hands on physical adjustments and pithy, concrete instructions like "engage your serratus more." I've also been getting more into pranayama and finding it quite useful and enjoyable. 

You make the statement, "If gymnastics were practiced mindfully." In my experience, gymnastics was absolutely an exercise in mindfulness, because if you aren't mindful even a small mistake can leave you seriously injured. But it is attention tuned into a particular sensory bandwidth and at high velocity, right? It is very much like martial arts practice in this respect. You must filter out extraneous stimuli in order to focus the senses both externally (the floor, the balance beam, the dynamic sparring partner) and internally on conscious proprioception and kinaesthetics, etc. Some part of the mind is doing all sorts of classical mechanics calculations, not to mention strategizing on the fly in the case of martial arts. There's so much going on! And it is primarily the sympathetic nervous system that is activated.

I think the primary reason asana is superior (if you do it right) is that your senses are focused entirely inward and you maintain receptivity to emotions and a lot of other subtle sensations that tend to get lost or filtered out in most other physical disciplines. Not only that, but the postures themselves can give rise to a lot of difficult emotions (consider deep backbends where breathing is restricted), which gives one the opportunity to observe them carefully and notice any aversion one might have toward them. This intense focus inward, particularly on the breath, can help open up all sorts of sensations (many of them quite pleasurable) to use for vipassana. And when concentration is very good, there are moments when the sense of the body as a solid thing dissolves. 

Also, from a purely practical perspective, fewer injuries in asana. I've already racked up quite a few over the years, and asana is both a good way to practice nonviolence toward my body and rehab the violence that has already been done. You can get a lot of the same benefits from tai chi or bagua zhang, but I think asana is a much better form of physical therapy. And a daily practice is excellent discipline. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it's extremely pleasurable, but you keep getting back on the mat no matter how you feel.

Interesting discussion, thanks for posting. Sorry for the rambling, been thinking about this stuff a lot lately.