Embodying the Dharma: Yoga Practice for Buddhist Teachings

Wisdom   |   September 23, 2018  |    Krtajña Kerby

By Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy


Yoga and Buddhism have much in common; although they are two distinct paths, there are many places of convergence. In the past 50 years many Yoga practitioners in the West have also become followers of Buddhist  teachings and practices. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, although rooted in the traditions and practice of Yoga, is also a very pragmatic approach to life. We do what works. Practices and principles that we know from experience are helpful to people in their quest to live a more meaningful and authentic life are the ones we like to learn about, teach, and apply. Many of Buddha’s teachings inform our work, along with principles of contemporary positive psychology, which stem from many different teachers and traditions.

One of the first dharma talks I listened to this year had a focus on the Four Noble Truths—considered one of the core teachings of Buddha. I decided to explore Yoga practices to embody the teachings of the Noble Truths as a vehicle for integration into my life.

The first Noble Truth tells us that dukkha or “suffering” (stress, anxiety, anguish, affliction, and so on) is a normal part of life. For many of us – myself included – there are times when we deny this self-evident truth. Yogic teachings tell me that acceptance of this reality of suffering is important if I want to hold any chance of transforming it. The best way I know to embody the principle of acceptance is to take a deep full breath and let it fall out. The “falling out” breath that we practice in our Phoenix Rising work carries the essence of the metaphysical intention of “so be it”.

Buddha’s second Noble Truth is that dukkha has a cause, and that cause is related to the idea of “clinging or grasping.” This, in essence, is similar to our definition of stress, which is “continuing to see things as they are not, and wanting them to be different while continuing to do the same things.” This is also related to acceptance, but it ups the ante. It brings us to the realization that if suffering is happening, it could well be that it is related to something we are doing or the way we are seeing things. It lends a sense of personal responsibility for our condition.

Embodying the principle that “what I do makes a difference” is very quickly learned through practices with a body-mindfulness focus. If we can practice for just a few minutes any style of Yoga with complete and full awareness to what is happening in each moment, it won’t take long before we understand on a visceral level that we do and can make a difference to the state of our being in any moment—this transcends the body and includes the mental, emotional, and overall sense of self.

Many now agree on the benefits of a Yoga practice for stress reduction, claiming that it causes a state of relaxation. This it does, but I believe the main reason that a mindful Yoga practice reduces stress is that it relocates the power for change from the external to the internal state. This is huge for many people who have not experienced the connection between their “way of being” and their embodied stress. So in essence, I believe it is the way we practice Yoga that has the potential to make a difference, not what we practice. Just taking 10 minutes a day to do three or four postures with a mindful, present-centered focus can make a huge difference in creating an embodied “knowing” of the second Noble Truth.

In my next blog post I’ll talk about some practices for the third and fourth Noble Truths along with the Buddhist Eightfold Path which is the foundation of the fourth truth.

If you would like an audio recording of a brief Phoenix Rising Yoga experience incorporating embodied mindfulness simply email [email protected] to receive a link.

This article was originally published on the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy blog.

Want to learn more?

Join Michael Lee for an exploration of aspects of Yoga and the Buddha’s teachings that focus on the process of creating change in human behavior during Catalyst for Change: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Neuroscience on November 16–18.

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