Monday, April 25, 2011

Mindfulness Yoga: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Well, there have been no other comments or questions regarding my chapter in Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind, so I won't be posting anything more about this chapter unless I hear from any of you.

Look for a post on the next chapter, "The Body of Truth," by Ajahn Amaro Bhikkhu later this week.

in metta,
frank jude


  1. Hi, Frank. I'm obviously VERY late to this dialog. I read all of Michael's compendium of different yoga-Buddhism perspectives awhile back, but I freely admit to not having kept up with your blog here. I always marvel at your ability to be so connected electronically--to say nothing of the actual content of your observations.

    Anyway, I think it would be verging on heretical of us, your virtual community, to let your chapter pass w/o comment.

    I know from your Facebook page that Michael is also following. So first let me say, that, as a follower and proponent of the "Buddhism is yoga" concept (sorry for the simple nomenclature), I found the book as a whole uneven and somewhat lacking in its revelations about this basic postulate. Perhaps that was not its purpose. Not being intimately familiar with your posts on prior chapters, or those yet to come, I'll let that drop for now.

    Re your chapter, it's a good summary of what Buddhism and mindfulness have to offer to the "usual and customary" Western hatha yoga practitioner.

    You asked here if or how we practice FFM in our asana practice and has it made a difference for us. As you already know, it's made a tremendous difference in my own personal asana practice. In your chapter, one of the things I found most useful was your use of particular asana examples as a means to explore sensations and thoughts, e.g., warrior 2 (p 163). I try to use all of this not only in my personal practice but also in my still new (6 mo now) and evolving yoga teaching. For example, just last nite, I used the exploration of adho mukha vrksasana (handstand) and its "practice" pose, urdhva adho muka vrksasana (L pose at the wall), as a tool to talk to yogis about fear in all its parameters, incl felt sense and emotion--and how this practice offers us an opportunity to work with all this in a safe and secure environment so that we can perhaps take this learning beyond our mat. I learned all this from your teachings, and your chapter is an excellent distillation of the integration of FFM and asana.

    So let me close by expressing my appreciation for all your work--in Michael's book, here on this blog, and many places elsewhere--to advance our understanding of the meaning and practice of Buddhism and yoga (not to say that they're different). Without trying to overstate, I always consider you to be a good example of how we can aspire to embody the principles of living as a bodhisattva.



  2. Allen,

    Thank you for your commitment to practice, and to the integrity you bring to your new situation of teaching. And thank you for your support and kind words.

    frank jude

  3. Hey Frank

    ….and here we are at your chapter. I love the opening, so grounding, literally: meditation/yoga – embodied practice and the ‘ocean of yogic teachings’ speaks to me, wide spacious, open.
    Integrated practice, I love the part about the Buddha’s words on the ‘fathom-high body’, again it ‘feels’ so right, so authentic- drawing from direct experience. Where else can we experience anything, it is only within and through this ‘animal’ body that we are.
    Your discussion of the ‘boundaries’ created between different disciplines reminds me of a recent experience while on retreat. I asked the monk leading the retreat, ‘ Why do we do walking meditation and not movement practices, yoga, tai-chi? My thought was that many people, sitting 6 hours a day were experiencing extreme discomfort, that movement might allow them to get in touch with and soften into the tensions arising in their bodies?’ He replied, I think unintentionally, dismissively, ‘If you want to stand on your head, go ahead.’
    Your phrase ‘not practice as preparation but as vocation’ really resonates with me. Aaaaah…….what a joy to feel this ardency for practice. I am truly so grateful that this is my life.
    I really enjoyed the way you wrote this chapter Frank, it reflects a depth of study and reading but then makes it relevant to everyday life. In terms of the book thus far, I notice that I enjoy reading material that can enliven my practice. If it is purely theoretical, grounded in scriptures, history e.t.c, though important in some contexts, not that helpful to a general reader and lay practitioner. I experienced this chapter as striking a good balance.
    When you talk about the third foundation of mindfulness, awareness of mental formations, and feeling pain, having’ clarity about what a grasping mind feels like’. I reflect on this and know that I don’t feel this kind of pain in my head which is usually where one locates the mind. When there is grasping present in my thinking there is tension throughout my body. I fear that readers might understand from this section that we are to attempt to feel the pain of grasping in our heads. What are your thoughts on this? Could this have been expressed in a more embodied way? I feel a bit cheeky questioning your brilliant writing but this is the truth of my experience reading. I guess I’m testing some edges here :0)

    I echo Allen you are very inspiring. I'm very grateful for your work.

  4. Wow! I've never seen this comment before and I've no idea if you'll ever see this response (4 years later!!!), but here goes:

    The Third Foundation is citta-samskara, or mental formation. But the thing is, everything we perceive including the body IS a mental formation. We experience the body as bounded because of mind. When our toe hurts, the pain is really a mental formation. If the nerve from the toe were severed, there'd be no sensation of pain in the two. Conversely, even those with amputations experience 'phantom limb' pain because the pain is in the mind.

    Yes, you don't feel pain in the head if you've hurt your toe, but what I'm talking about when I say it's important to cultivate clarity as to what a grasping mind feels like, I'm talking about the urgency, the contracted feeling felt throughout the body; the mental formation of grasping affects the whole body.

    As you point out, when there is grasping present in your thinking, tension fills your body. The root is in thinking, the citta-samskara. When it becomes clear that the tension in my body is the result of 'tense thinking,' I then have a clearer understanding of the causes and conditions. I can go to the root of the pain.

    Of course this goes both ways: I've often suggested to students that, for instance when driving, if they become aware of their mind filled with anxious thoughts, to do a quick body sweep and I'd be surprised to find they aren't clenching the steering wheel or holding tension somewhere (or throughout) the body. On the other hand, one may become aware of the fact that they are grasping the steering wheel and reflect a moment to note that their mind was caught in distraction.