By Jon Kabat-Zinn October 2003 Fusing Buddhist techniques of awakening mindfulness with yoga practice can be a profoundly enriching experience, one that might well lead us to the heart of yoga, where we can truly be in touch with and accept things as they are, in the body and in the world Meditation in ActionMindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week programme in which patients attend a two-and-a-half-hour class once a week. Participants come with a wide range of medical conditions, including heart disease, chronic pain, headaches, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and various stress-related disorders. In MBSR classes, heterogeneous groups of adults are exposed to the same intensive training in mindfulness and its applications to daily living. Participants also practice formal meditation techniques at home using guided mindfulness meditation tapes. A day-long silent retreat is held in the sixth week. MBSR is designed to catch people falling through the cracks of the healthcare system, which is really a ‘disease care’ system, and challenge them to do something for themselves as a complement to medicine. The idea is to use meditation and yoga to tap inner resources for healing. Since 1979, 13,000 people have completed MBSR training in the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA. Most participants show clinically relevant reductions in medical and psychological symptoms over the eight weeks of the programme. They also develop a more positive perspective. These improvements are maintained in most from four months to four years, showing that a fairly brief exposure to consciousness disciplines has long-lasting effects on health and quality of life. The Center for Mindfulness (CFM) has developed an MBSR programme for people without health insurance. We worked for four years with the Massachusetts Department of Correction delivering MBSR programmes to inmates and staff. The CFM also offers training in MBSR for healthcare professionals. The MBSR approach has been combined effectively with cognitive therapy for use with people with clinical depression, and a new clinical field—Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy—has been established, which has shown to halve the relapse rate of people with a history of clinical depression who had been successfully treated by cognitive therapy. Mindfulness: moment-to-moment non-judgemental awareness In the late 1970s, Larry Rosenberg (author of Breath by Breath, and Living in the Light of Death) and I taught back-to-back classes in a church. He would teach vipassana (Buddhist practice of mindfulness and insight), and I followed with mindful hatha yoga. The idea was that people take both classes, but most in meditation class didn’t want to do yoga, and vice-versa. We saw both as complementary but different doors into the same room, namely, learning to live wisely. The meditators would have benefited from paying attention to their bodies (which they tended to dismiss as low-level), and the yogis from dropping into stillness. Over the years, my own experiences with mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga and the beauty of combining them into one seamless whole prompted me to experiment with different ways of bringing these ‘ancient consciousness disciplines’ into mainstream settings to explore their effectiveness in transforming health and consciousness. How might they be connected? Yoga had the potential, I thought, to reverse disuse atrophy from sedentary lifestyles, especially for people with chronic illnesses. Since the mind was already known to be a factor in stress-related disorders, and meditation to positively affect autonomic physiological processes like lowering blood pressure and reducing emotional reactivity, training in mindfulness seemed ideal for cultivating intimacy with the https://lifepositive.com/Mind/body and the ways that unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors undermine emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. This led to developing a clinical service known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR combines intensive training in mindfulness meditation based on vipassana and Zen, along with hatha yoga. Many programmes are taught by healthcare workers seeking to deepen the sacred reciprocity of the caregiver/patient relationship, and the need for a participatory medicine, in which the patient takes on responsibility for interior work to tap into inner resources for learning, healing, and transformation, starting from wherever one finds oneself in any moment, grounded in experience rather than the conceptual. Dual Perspective From the Buddhist perspective, hospitals can be seen as dukkha-magnets, drawing people faced with the immediacy of pain, suffering and uncertainty. What better place to make available Buddhist meditation, which is to do with suffering and its end, as an invitation to do something that nobody can do for you? Mindfulness lies at the core of Buddhism. Yet its essence is universal; it is about refining attention and awareness. It is a uniquely powerful vehicle for cultivating deep insight into the ultimate causes of suffering and the possibility of liberation from them. It is appropriate that such practices be readily accessible to people who might derive great benefit from them but are unlikely to ever hear of them through traditional Buddhist institutions. Hatha yoga is another of the great consciousness disciplines on this planet. My first taste came in 1967 at, of all places, a karate school, where it was used for warming up. I fell in love with it instantly. I was training in Zen and the two seemed to complement each other perfectly. That conviction has only deepened over more than 30 years of practice and teaching. The appeal is nothing less than the life-long adventure and discipline of working with one’s body as a door into freedom and wholeness, as per the original meaning of ‘yoga’—the realizing of the non-dual nature of self and world. Yoga of Wholeness Hatha yoga was never about turning one’s body into an elaborate pretzel, although the athleticism that is possible in yoga, if one can steer clear of narcissism, is truly remarkable. Today, we are seeing a marvelous flowering of interest in hatha yoga. Yet, how mindful is it, and is it oriented towards self-understanding, wisdom, and liberation, or is much of it just physical fitness dressed up in spiritual clothing? If yoga is to be meaningful, beginners have to be encouraged to start wherever they are, with gentleness and kindness toward themselves, and be continually reminded that there is really no place they have to get to in any conventional sense. For a yoga of wholeness really has to do with the sincerity of your effort, with how awake you are, and how embodied in the only moment in which you are ever alive, which is now. It is important to realize, at first perhaps conceptually, but ultimately in one’s very bones, that mindful yoga is a lifetime engagement, not to get somewhere else but to be where and as one actually is with this very breath, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. What exactly do I mean by ‘mindful yoga’? It refers to a specific attitude and attentional stance that we bring to our yoga practice. This is in complete accord with the core principles of yoga as both a science of the body and its energies, and as an inquiry, exploration, human development, and ultimately liberation in any and every moment. Hatha yoga’s emphasis on the body through asanas makes it extremely valuable as one critical cornerstone of a comprehensive mindfulness-based https://lifepositive.com/Mind/body approach to reducing stress and enhancing health, well-being, and spiritual development. In mindful yoga, we teach hatha yoga as meditation. The postures (and flowing movements into and out of them) are used as occasions to cultivate a seamless continuity of awareness and discernment, just as in a traditional meditative sitting posture. And although there is exquisite attention paid to the body and body sensations, which are so rich because of the body’s configurations during asana practice, the field of awareness in mindful yoga includes the full spectrum of thoughts, moods, and emotions that are part of the interior landscape. Expanding Awareness Allowing the field of awareness to be inclusive enough to contain our feeling states expands our ability to become intimate with our own hearts and bodies. It allows us to experience the connection between emotions, thoughts, and sensations in the body, often in specific and meaningful locations. It invites us over and over again to observe the arising and passing away of sensations and thoughts and emotions like clouds within the all-embracing sky-like spaciousness of awareness, and to observe our reactions to them. In making a gesture of this magnitude, as we practice yoga in any posture, we may actually experience ourselves as being larger than we think we are, than our feeling states and our thinking mind. We may experience that our essential self is more akin to awareness itself, that we can listen to our thoughts and feelings and come to know them as events in the field of this awareness. We can begin to observe right then and there how easily we are caught in prisons of our own creation through a strong self-identification with our thoughts and feelings, even as we are doing the postures. We can begin to see that we can actually choose not to get caught in identifying with them (or to see it if we do, for we invariably do), or with the body as who we really are. For mindfulness of emotions lies at the heart of what is now known as ‘emotional intelligence’ and a key ingredient in recognizing the wholeness of our being, its beauty in relationship to others and to the world, and its fleeting nature. Exploring the Body In a hospita
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