Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Club: "Mindfulness Yoga" by Frank Jude Boccio

Well, it had to happen sooner or later! We’re up to Chapter 11 in Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind and that means we’re up to my contribution to the anthology. Rather than any comment I make now being merely a reiteration of what I’ve written in the essay, I thought I’d fill in a bit  of the ‘back-story’ here and leave it to you, my dear readers (there are some of you, yes?) to respond with any comments or questions. I’d be especially interested in hearing from any of you who have practiced the Four Foundations of Mindfulness through your asana practice. How has it been for you? Do you feel it has made a difference in your practice? Have you had any insights you’d like to share?

Opening Introduction:

It should be obvious that I take the position of Georg Feuerstein, that Buddhism sits firmly within the wider Yoga Tradition he speaks of in his tome entitled, simply enough, The Yoga Tradition. To my mind, it is obvious. But what you may want to know is that I came to this understanding through my own ‘self-study’ of both texts (practice-oriented, history and philosophy texts as well as my own practice and experience) before I had come across Georg’s work. In fact, it was reading his work and finding a wonderfully clear enunciation of my understanding that drew me to study with him at the first and only YREC (Yoga Research and Education Center) Yoga Teacher Training.

It should also be obvious that perhaps it’s a bit of a bête noir of mine, but it really irks me when people talk about “yoga and meditation” as if they were two things, or even “Buddhism and yoga” as if they were two completely different things! To my mind, it only makes sense to differentiate between “Buddhism and Classical Yoga” which is to say, the specific darshana or philosophical viewpoint espoused by Patanjali in the Yoga-Sutra. But buddhadharma, the teachings and practiced taught by the Buddha is nothing if not a fully realized, comprehensive, coherent model of yoga. His Nobel Eightfold Path is as much a yogic path as the Eightfold Path or the Kriya Yoga model found in the Yoga-Sutra.

This is essentially the jist of my opening paragraphs. The other main point I make there is that one of the fundamental principles of all forms of yoga shared by all is the concept of duhkha. Sadly, this concept is badly mis-understood by many in the hatha-yoga camp and has led to much confusion and straw-man parrying. All yoga arises as a response to the existential human situation – impermanence and the mortality that implies. And, all yoga postulates that we – and all phenomena – are not what we, or they, appear to be. Through this mis-perception of how things really are, we fall into duhkha.

I’ve even had a bit of a discussion with John Friend over this, as he has a tendency to put-down Buddhism’s emphasis on duhkha, saying how his path celebrates life and is about sri and “bliss.” To me, he has admitted to over-stating this, and in fact distorting the truth, because he does understand that duhkha is the First Noble Truth. If you stop at that, you are NOT talking buddhadharma, which is nirodha, the cessation of duhkha (the Third Noble Truth).

One other point I express in the essay, I wish to emphasize here, is that “yoga” means “yoking” as much as it does “union.” Those yogis who only talk about yoga as “union,” I believe both distort and miss an essential aspect of yoga as practice, for much of actual practice is the yoking, the restraining or containing of our conditioned reactivity. It is this restraint (a form of tapas) that allows for the freedom to choose a more skillful way to respond to life’s challenging situations.

In fact, neuro-science shows us that the impulse to act precedes our consciousness of the impulse to act by around 0.3 seconds! That means, action is conditioned, and we are unaware of our first beginnings of the impulse to act. There is no absolute, acausal free-will! However, with mindfulness, we create a bit more ‘temporal space,’ about a half second, and in that ‘gap,’ we can inhibit our action. Thus, our free-will is the ability to restrain our conditioned reactivity. This is the yoking of yoga.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Poep sa frank jude


  1. Finally! :-)
    I have read your book and I thought this essay was a wonderful coelescence of the book. And in fact, I understood the book better after reading the essay.
    What I have learned from both readings is that none of it makes complete sense unless you practice it. Reading it is just reading it. Practice by sitting and/or on a yoga mat is what makes it all real.
    And this presentation of mindfulness really makes sense in practice.
    I have to admit I am always verbally making a distiction between yoga and meditation just because it is so hard to talk to others any other way....they'd have to read the book and be practicing to get it!
    Conditioned reactivity....what a gift it is to receive the tools to be able to work to not live in a state of conditioned reactivity. It is life altering.
    And I can't thank you enough for helping me to see these patterns.

  2. Thanks, Susan.

    Yes, reading without practice is kind of like reading a menu and not eating any of the food!


  3. I have been looking forward to reading this chapter! I found helpful the image of using the breath as the yoke. By simply returning focus to my breath early in my sitting meditation, I spontaneously became aware of my whole body without trying/meaning to in a way I had never noticed before. So it seems that by simply focusing on the breath, something greater happens automatically.

    I think I often forget that my intention to pratice should continue after I get off the cushion/mat. While sitting/asana can build momentum for continued mindfulness throughout the day, it is not like taking a pill or going to the gym. So if in this way the breath is a gateway to greater awareness, then eventually upon union there is no longer any yoke (or everything is the yoke)?

    I am wary of the "follow your bliss" movement. I think it is a nice sentiment, but a very western one, and in my life I have caused much duhkha in the pursuit of bliss!