“Doga”, yoga and meditation for dogs and their owners

Dog-owners and yoga-lovers have finally found a way to bring their two passions together: doga. Yoga classes for dogs and their owners are sprouting all around the United States, combining massage and meditation techniques with gentle canine and human stretching. Ludicrous or blissfully relaxing?

Doga aficionados are adamant: there’s nothing like balancing your cocker spaniel on your belly as you stretch to create a bond between you and your canine companion. The practice stems from an unsaid philosophy shared by many yogis: because dogs are pack animals, they are a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on connection with other living creatures.

Created eight years ago by Florida-born yoga instructor Suzi Teitleman, the popularity of doga classes has skyrocketed in the US, drawing attention from major media outlets like the New York Times and CNN.

But not all yoga afficionados are comfortable with this new development. They fear that doga brings a trivial, fad-like approach to a 2,500 year-old spiritual practice. Teaching doga requires no official certification, so the quality and content of classes vary from veterinary-approved stretches and massages aimed at improving dog’s digestion and heart function, to more dubious courses where dogs are trained into executing poses in exchange for treats.

Instructors vary in their approach to doga – some say it requires the same physical effort and concentration as traditional yoga, while others adopt a more laid-back approach. Brenda Bryan, a Seattle-based yoga and doga instructor who has recently written a book on the subject, told the New York Times her classes are loosely-structured and filled with humour, the essential being that humans and dogs alike leave with a smile.

“My first dog came to yoga naturally”

Suzi Teitleman is a Florida-based yoga instructor and owner of three dogs. She began practicing Doga in 2001 and founded the first doga classes in 2002.

Practicing and teaching Doga wasn’t part of a plan, it was just the organic expression of my lifestyle after I adopted my first dog, Coali, right after the 9/11 attacks (I was living in New York City at the time). I have practiced yoga all my life and did yoga movements at my home every day, and Coali would come lie under me or next to me on the mat, he felt my calmness and wanted to participate. So I began doing some movements with him, and gradually developed what is now called doga. I started giving doga classes in addition to yoga in New York City in 2002, then continued in Jacksonville, Florida after I moved back there four years ago.

Each dog reacts to doga in a different way. My first dog came to it naturally. Other dogs may need more training. I’ve tought classes where a dog won’t stop barking: in those cases his owner will calm him down or just leave the class, there’s no use in forcing a dog to participate. Like for humans, it’s a lifelong practice – some of my dogs weren’t comfortable with all the poses or stretches at first, now they spontaneously follow me when I go to my yoga room, they love it.

I certainly never expected Doga to spread the way it did. I did many teacher training courses, but now there are more doga teachers and classes around the US than I can keep track of. For me, doga is very much an extension of traditional yoga: you flow from pose to pose, work on breathing and concentration, except that your dog is with you and you include him in the exercise. I never use treats to train dogs to do yoga poses: just a lot of love, praise and patience. I know some people don’t quite practice it in that way, but that’s OK – every yoga teacher is different.

I think more and more people realise that dogs are natural yoga partners: they love to stretch, to be in contact with their owners, to participate in whatever their owners are doing. Doing movements together also makes yoga fun for both the dog and the owner – and yoga should be fun.

The Observers (France)

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From incarceration to meditation in Missouri

It was a routine business conference for the judge: Agendas. Handshakes. Business cards.

But then something kind of mystical happened.

David Mason was approached by a man wearing a crisp suit with a neatly pointed kerchief in his breast pocket. In a measured Indian accent, the man said he, too, was a lawyer and knew all about the judge and his enlightened views on criminal rehabilitation. He wanted to tell him about the power of meditation in prisons.

The man was Farrokh Anklesaria. He was a direct student of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and he’d been sent around the world by him to bring meditation to convicts. He’d been to Switzerland, Senegal, Kenya, Brazil and Sri Lanka. And by a mixture of circumstances — and perhaps karma — he had landed in Missouri.

Anklesaria, a native of Mumbai who chose meditation over his family’s legacy in law, hadn’t had much luck in other parts of the country. He had heard that Mason was a proponent of alternative sentencing, and he wanted his help to start a meditation program for criminal offenders in Missouri.

“I thought he was crazy at first,” recalled Mason, a circuit judge in St. Louis.

That was 14 years ago. With the backing of Mason and other judges ranging from the circuit court to the federal bench and the Missouri Supreme Court, Anklesaria has become the region’s guru for training parolees in meditation.

His nonprofit Enlightened Sentencing Project provides 20 weeks of instruction in Transcendental Stress Management for parolees who have committed a gamut of crimes, including drunken driving, assault and theft.

Numerous studies point to the health benefits of Transcendental Meditation, including one by the National Institutes of Health that indicates regular meditation decreases high blood pressure and depression. Other studies find merits in meditation programs done in prisons — places that Anklesaria calls “areas of concentrated stress.” But no one has formally studied Anklesaria’s program. He’s calculated that of the hundreds who have completed the program, just 6 percent have returned to crime.

His students meet downtown in a musty meeting room at the Centenary United Methodist Church. After several yoga poses on mats, participants silently chant a private mantra in a circle of frayed wingback chairs and worn couches.

“The experience is one of very, very deep physiological rest,” said Anklesaria, now a resident of Ferguson, Mo.

He said the practice enables clients to conquer the anxiety that leads many to addictions, depression or rage — things that can drive them back to crime.

Meditation works, he said, because it makes no attempt to counsel the offenders.

“This is the magic,” he said. “No matter how much he or she has sunk down in the mud and dust of his environment, once he has started on this path, the process itself will cleanse him of his stress.” One of his clients, Clark Moore, was facing seven years in prison for domestic assault because he blew the terms of his sentencing for fighting. He said St. Louis Circuit Judge Philip Heagney gave him a choice: probation with meditation or go to jail. Moore said he had no self-control. But meditation is changing that.

When a relative recently stole money from him, he said he kept his temper.

“I just called it a loss,” he said minutes after he and 16 other participants sat so still in their chairs meditating the room filled with the hushed whoosh of lungs inhaling and exhaling.

Graduate Mark Edwards — a man who said he had kidnapped his child in a raging custody dispute — said he now meditates twice daily and three times on nights when he works as a disc jockey at local clubs. It rids him of his anger and chronic headaches, he said.

“With me being so mad, I was either going to get killed or get sent to jail,” he said.

Donations support the program. Anklesaria, who earns about $30,000 a year from it, gets no local, state or federal funding, though several judges said he should.

Henry Autrey, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, said repeat offenders plagued his former bench in the St. Louis circuit court. When he began referring parolees to Enlightened Sentencing he didn’t expect much. But then they started passing drug tests. The offenders also did a better job grooming themselves and most had “an apparent sense of calm in their eyes,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch and observe when you hear people talking about their experiences who are calm, straightforward, plain-talking and plain-thinking without any confusion,” he said. “Months before, they would have never been in a position to do anything like that.”

Washington Post

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New superintendent praises unique Oakland school

KCBS: A unique Oakland elementary school is getting some high marks from the new district superintendent.

This comes as school district officials contemplate deeper cuts in education.

Students at Lafayette Elementary School in West Oakland begin each day with meditation and yoga. Principal Karen Haynes likes to take a holistic approach to education. “We start with the mind and the body and spirit and if you lay that foundation first then everything else falls into place,” she explained.

Peace signs adorn the hallways and classroom doors.

KCBS’ Dave Padilla reports (audio)

As he toured this unique school, new superintendent Tony Smith was thinking about the cuts he will have to make in education. “Leading into the upcoming year we’ll need to reduce next year’s budget by $25 million,” he explained.

Smith called Lafayette Elementary a community school that brings parents, children and volunteers together to make programs work, perhaps serving as a new model in the age of deep budget cuts.

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Workplace yoga and meditation can lower feelings of stress Twenty minutes per day of guided workplace meditation and yoga combined with six weekly group sessions can lower feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improve sleep quality in sedentary office employees, a pilot study suggests. The study offered participants a modified version of what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program established in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing that is now in wide use around the world. Read more here.

In this context, mindfulness refers in part to one’s heightened awareness of an external stressor as the first step toward relaxing in a way that can minimize the effects of that stress on the body.

While the traditional MBSR program practice takes up an hour per day for eight weeks supplemented by lengthy weekly sessions and a full-day retreat, the modified version developed at Ohio State University for this study was designed for office-based workers wearing professional attire.

The results of the pilot study are published in a recent issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Participants attended one-hour weekly group meetings during lunch and practiced 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desks. After six weeks, program participants reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention.

“Because chronic stress is associated with chronic disease, I am focusing on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to disease,” said Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical allied medicine at Ohio State.

“My interest is to see whether or not we can get people to reduce their health care utilization because they’re less stressed. I want to deliver something low cost at the work site, something practical that can be sustained, that can help reduce health care costs,” Klatt said.

Klatt and colleagues are building on these preliminary findings and continuing to study the broader impact of the intervention in various populations, such as cancer survivors, intensive-care nurses and inner-city schoolchildren. In addition to gathering self-reported data from research participants, the scientists plan to collect biological samples to determine whether the intervention can lead to lower levels of stress hormones.

For the pilot study, the researchers recruited 48 adult office workers with body mass index scores lower than 30 who exercised less than 30 minutes on most days of the week. Half were randomized to the intervention and half were wait-listed to receive the intervention later. Forty-two people completed the study.

Those who received the intervention participated in weekly one-hour group sessions during which breathing, relaxation and gentle yoga movement were designed to coax participants toward a meditative state. Participants also discussed work-related stress. As part of the pursuit of mindfulness, they were coached to contemplate a specific topic in each session that explored their response to a specific type of stress over the past week.

“It doesn’t matter what the stress is, but how you change the way you perceive the stress,” Klatt noted. “I like to describe mindfulness as changing the way you see what’s already there. It’s a tool that teaches people to become aware of their options. If they can’t change the external events in their life, they can instead change the way they view the stress, which can make a difference in how they experience their day-to-day life.”

The weekly sessions were supplemented by 20 minutes each day of movement and meditation guided by verbal cues and music provided on compact discs that Klatt designed and recorded. The entire intervention lasted six weeks.

The study analyzed participants’ responses to the intervention using data from established research questionnaires that measured perceived stress, or the degree to which situations in life are considered stressful; a number of components of sleep quality; and what is called mindful attention awareness, which refers to how often a person is paying attention to and is aware of what is occurring in the present.

All participants completed the questionnaires before and after the intervention. Twenty-two adults completed the intervention. Their pre- and post-test results were compared to those reported by the 20 control participants.

Mindful attention awareness increased significantly and perceived stress decreased significantly among the intervention group when compared to the control group’s responses. Overall sleep quality increased in both groups, but three of seven components of sleep were more affected in the intervention group.

On average, mindfulness increased by about 9.7 percent and perceived stress decreased by about 11 percent among the group that experienced the intervention. These participants also reported that it took them less time to fall asleep, they had fewer sleep disturbances and they experienced less daytime dysfunction than did members of the non-intervention group.

The researchers also took saliva samples to test for the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone, but found no significant changes in average daily levels of the hormone over time for participants in both groups. Klatt said the design of this part of the pilot study could have affected the result, and the sample collection technique will be changed in subsequent studies.

Klatt said mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has been studied widely and determined to be useful in lowering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain. But the time commitment required in the program makes it impractical for busy working professionals, and adding a stress-reduction class outside of work could add stress to these people, she said.

So Klatt set out to develop what she calls a “low dose” of the program that is suitable for the workplace and still offers stress-reduction benefits. She specifically scheduled weekly sessions during lunch to avoid interfering with work time or home time, and combined movement with verbal prompts and music that are cues for participants to relax.

“As I’ve been working on the program, I heard so many of the participants say they wish they had learned this earlier,” Klatt said.

Because the low-dose program remains a work-in-progress that is still under investigation, it is not available for public use, Klatt noted.

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“Your Breathing Body” by Reginald A. Ray

“Your Breathing Body” by Reginald A. Ray

When Reginald Ray speaks of “touching enlightenment with the body”, he isn’t just saying that we can touch enlightenment with our bodies. What he really means is that there is no other way to do so. Sunada just finished her first pass through his 20-disc meditation CD series, Your Breathing Body, and gives it her ringing endorsement.

I first encountered Reginald Ray’s approach to meditation when I read his most recent book, Touching Enlightenment (excerpted elsewhere on this site), and attended one of his retreats on the same subject. As a yoga practitioner and a kinesthetic learner, I immediately took to it like a fish to water. And so I decided to invest in his CD series, Your Breathing Body – and I have to say I’m hooked.

Title: Your Breathing Body
Author: Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D.
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN Vol 1: 978-1-59179-659-6
ISBN Vol 2: 978-1-59179-662-6
Available from: Sounds True or

In one sense, we could say that Ray’s perspective is unique. While many meditation teachers speak of working with the body, Ray goes so far as to say that the body is the only gateway through which we can find our most authentic core being and its ultimate connection to all of reality. But that doesn’t mean this is some minor, sideline approach. Ray argues that a somatic tradition has always been embedded in the core of the Buddha’s teachings, but somehow got lost in its translation to our Western culture. So this represents Ray’s efforts to bring meditation back to its intended roots.

Why the big emphasis on the body? Ray explains by taking us back to our prehistoric origins. When we were a hunter-gatherer species, we had to rely on our more intuitive, bodily cognitive functions in order to survive. Sensing predators in the wild, finding prey for the hunt, surviving the vagaries of nature – all this required that we lived rooted in our senses, keenly attuned to our environs. It was also a life in harmonious balance – our bodies and our sense of self were holistically embedded in our larger reality around us.

Ray argues that a somatic tradition has always been embedded in the core of the Buddha’s teachings, but somehow got lost in its translation to our Western culture.

But when we evolved into an agrarian species, our lifestyle changed to one of controlling, planning, and organizing – a more cerebral and disengaged approach to our world. This evolution has continued at a steady pace to the height of disembodiment that we find in our technological society today.

In our modern way of life, we mostly deal with our world through concepts and abstractions and much less, if at all, through experiencing it directly. In fact our society rewards those who are most adept at this kind of thinking and controlling. But of course, neither our bodies nor our world conform to our small-minded plans and desires. Such a view is bound to lead to suffering. And it’s this realization that gave rise to the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths.

The path back to balance is through somatic awareness. And Ray suggests that our capacity for that awareness is still very much in our genetic makeup. Your Breathing Body is like a complete graduate program in reawakening our natural capacity for awareness. It’s a two-box set, each containing ten CDs. You can buy each box individually, or buy them together as a discounted pair. (If you buy the latter from the publisher, Sounds True, they throw in his Touching Enlightenment book as a bonus.)

In total it’s a goldmine of over 20 hours of in-depth teachings and guided meditations that go deeply into the subtleties of perceiving through the body. Many of the practices are based on Tibetan Yoga. If you’re a yoga practitioner, the emphasis on working with the breath and prana (a more subtle form of bodily energy based on the breath) will be familiar territory.

And Ray suggests that our capacity for somatic awareness is still very much in our genetic makeup.

I especially appreciated the very solid foundation and orderly progression of this series. Ray spends a lot of time teaching how to find one’s optimal posture, and then starts us on what are called the Ten Points and Earth Breathing Practices. These are in effect very detailed and extensive body scan and relaxation meditations.

But he leads us much further. It’s not just about bringing our awareness into our bodies. What happens is that by fully relaxing and continually letting go to our present experience, we start peeling away more layers of tension and holding. That holding, we begin to see, is not just physical. As our awareness goes more deeply inward, we find further emotional and psychological layers to release, such as doubt or fear.

When we peel everything away, what’s left is a core of spaciousness, freedom and openness – the place from which all our most pure and authentic impulses arise. This is how we begin to explore who we really are and what’s our unique place in this world. And isn’t this what we took up a spiritual practice for?

My approach in working with this series was to go slowly through all the discs over the period of several months. Ray says that some practices will resonate for us better than others, and that it’s good to follow our instincts to explore those more fully. So I spent longer on some discs than others. I’m now starting on a second pass, and I’m still gleaning insights from it. It’s a mark of an excellent teacher that Ray’s talks can be so clear and inspiring on the first pass, and still have more to give on repeated listening.

When we peel everything away, what’s left is a core of spaciousness, freedom and openness—the place from which all our most pure and authentic impulses arise.

What level meditator should you be to use this series? While he does start from the basics with an extensive talk and guided practice on posture, I don’t think it’s intended for complete beginners. I personally think that embracing these practices requires some degree of stillness and concentration off the bat.

But if you do have experience with breath-oriented/samatha meditations, dive right in! Even if you think you already know all about posture, I would encourage you to start from the beginning. He offers helpful perspectives that are often overlooked by other teachers. Overall, there’s enough depth and richness to keep you going for months, if not years.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Dr. Reginald Ray — he has been practicing for over 40 years and is a master teacher in the Tibetan lineage of Chögyam Trungpa. He is also an academic by training, and has been on the faculty of Naropa University since the beginning. He brings all that depth, knowledge, and clarity of thought to his teaching. I find him a great model of what someone well-grounded in his body should be: he has a warm, inviting, and down-to-earth way of speaking that makes you feel like he’s sitting right there talking to you personally.

So as you’ve probably gathered by now, I found Your Breathing Body to be excellent all around. It’s not only brought more depth and focus to my meditation practice, it’s helped me gain a perspective on my life that I’m sure will continue to unfold with discoveries well into the future. I highly recommend it.

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A Room of One’s OM

Yoga Journal: A growing number of yogis have created a dedicated space for practicing yoga and meditation at home. A few have built a true studio space; some have converted an extra bedroom; and others have created a soothing sanctuary in the corner of a room. Regardless of the approach, making physical space at home for your practice can have a profound effect on your life. Read more here.

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Yoga for happier pupils

Gulf Daily News: SPECIAL needs children have taken up yoga and meditation in a bid to relieve stress and make them happier. More than 15 youngsters from the RIA Centre, Adliya, have just concluded a five-day course led by the Art of Living, which also focused on improving self-esteem and their learning abilities. Read more here.

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Mixing meditation, yoga, and money management

Brent KesselUS News and World Report: Brent Kessel, cofounder of investment firm Abacus Portfolios, isn’t your typical money manager. He wakes up around 5 a.m. to meditate for 45 minutes and then practices yoga for an hour and a half before making his way to his desk. In his new book, It’s Not About the Money: Unlock Your Money Type to Achieve Spiritual and Financial Abundance, Kessel, 40, combines his wealth management expertise with his yoga and meditation practice to encourage readers to solve their financial problems by turning inward. U.S. News interviewed Kessel about his unique background and approach to personal finance. Read more here.

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Cultivating inner space

Tom Fox, National Catholic Reporter: My own contemplative prayer efforts have been sporadic and date back some 40 years.

Like many others of my generation, I was influenced by the writings of Trappist Fr. Thomas Merton, who encouraged contemplative prayer. I felt a special affinity to the monk who was both a pacifist and Vietnam War objector.

Like Merton, I traveled to Asia in the 1960s. I flew to Vietnam in June 1966 after graduating from college to work as a civilian volunteer with war victims. After finishing two years with International Voluntary Services, a nonprofit organization, I took up writing and worked as a Vietnam War correspondent.

It was in 1969 that I encountered an American teacher of transcendental meditation who was passing through Saigon. I signed up along with my fiancée, Kim Hoa, a Vietnamese social worker, to study transcendental meditation. We spent several evenings in training and those lessons ended in a candle ceremony in which he gave us mantras.

Another entry point into meditation came a few months earlier when I traveled to Paris and met Thich Nhat Hanh, who was a member of the Vietnamese Buddhist peace delegation. We spent several afternoons discussing the war, Buddhism and his meditation practices. Some years later, I took part in a retreat he led at his monastery in Plum Village, France, where he has lived in exile for 40 years.

During the retreat, we would eat our meals in silence, chewing each morsel of food from our vegetarian plates 50 times before swallowing. We would take slow and deliberate “meditation” walks, conscious of our breathing with each step. If a bell, any bell, sounded in the distance, we would stop anything we were doing to pause and reflect for one minute.

From Asia I have learned that mind, body and spirit are intimately connected; the health of one influences the others. I believe regular exercise uplifts the spirit and sets the stage for good meditation practices. I still meditate, though not consistently. I go to yoga lessons several times a week. They allow a different form of meditation.

In India, the practice of yoga is connected to religious beliefs; outside, it varies considerably depending on the instructor and the studio. Any yoga is physically rewarding and can lead to a relaxed body and mind. My favorite yoga comes when I find an instructor who appreciates its spiritual dimension and conducts classes accordingly. Good instructors know how to create sacred space.

In recent months, through speaking with various spiritual gurus from different religious traditions, interviewing them for NCR podcasts (www.ncr, I have found that all take time to cultivate “inner space.” It is fascinating how common Eastern meditation practices have become in the West, including, and even especially, among Christians. A few prominent examples of people who have learned some meditation techniques from the East include Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Fr. Robert E. Kennedy, Beatrice Bruteau, Fr. Edward Hays, Sr. Pascaline Coff, Fr. Richard Rohr and Br. David Steindl-Rast. Each has, at times, blended Eastern meditation practices into their Western Christian traditions.

We have come a long way in a short time. Visionary East-West bridge builders, including Merton and Frs. Bede Griffiths, Anthony de Mello and Raimundo Panikkar, would be astonished to find so many Christians having learned from Eastern practices.

While dogma continues to separate religions, meditation draws them together. In meditation we discover that all faiths seek insight, wisdom, peace and life in the Spirit.

Read archive of original article.

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Seeing Eye to Eye

Stephen Cope, Yoga Journal: When it comes to practicing mindfulness, the yoga and Buddhist traditions have much in common.

Not long ago, I was flying from Boston to San Francisco late at night. As the plane roared down the runway, the young woman sitting next to me appeared to be meditating. Given the restraints of air travel, she had adopted a remarkably good posture–eyes closed, sitting with her hands palms-up on her thighs. She sat that way for a good 30 minutes.

Later, as the flight attendant began to serve snacks, my seatmate introduced herself as Beverly. She had just been on a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, a well-known New England center for vipassana meditation. I told her that I was a yoga teacher and I had done many different kinds of meditation, including vipassana. We dived into a long conversation about yoga and meditation, and after a while she stopped for a moment, clearly thinking hard about something. “Can I ask you a question?” she asked, furrowing her brow. “If you teach yoga, how can you be doing vipassana without getting confused? I thought yogis taught samadhi practice and Buddhists taught the insight practices.”…

Indeed, Beverly was voicing an interesting and persistent misunderstanding that the yoga meditation traditions teach only what she referred to as samadhi–by this she meant concentration practices–and that the Buddhist traditions primarily stress insight, or vipassana, practice. This misperception is often flavored with the view that samadhi is really about “blissing out,” while insight is about the more serious business of seeing clearly. I have noticed that this confusion has become a stumbling block–especially for the many yoga students who are learning the deeper practices of meditation almost exclusively from Buddhist teachers.

The word samadhi has different meanings in the yoga and Buddhist lexicons. To Buddhists, it usually refers to a whole spectrum of concentrated mind states. (The Buddha said, “I teach only sila, samadhi, and panna”–ethical practice, concentration, and insight.) To yogis, on the other hand, samadhi frequently refers to advanced stages of practice–stages that may, in fact, include much of what the Buddha referred to as both samadhi and panna. In classic yoga, of course, samadhi is the eighth and final limb of the eight-limbed (ashtanga) path.

This confusion has led to the misperception that the classic meditation traditions in yoga–those based on Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra–rely exclusively on concentration techniques for enlightenment. This is not so. There are many views about the role of meditation–not only between practitioners of Buddhism and yoga, but also within each of those wide-ranging traditions. But my seatmate and I were in luck: She practiced a form derived from Theravadan Buddhism (based on the Pali Canon), and I practiced a form derived from classic yoga. As it turns out, both are part of the same classic meditation tradition; each relies on sophisticated methods of training in both concentration and insight.
It All Starts with Concentration

In each of these classic paths, practice begins with the cultivation of the mind’s natural capacity for concentration. This capacity reveals itself all the time in daily life. For example, while on a recent vacation in Florida, I was lying on a beach reading a book. My body and mind were already relaxed–an important precondition for attentional training. I lifted my eyes for a moment, and they drifted to a tiny red granite rock that was just in front of my towel. I was fascinated by its color and shape. My attention sank into the rock and examined it. The rock held my attention for a couple of delightful minutes of spontaneous samadhi.

Several curious things happen when one’s attention sinks into something in this fashion: The stream of thoughts in the mind narrows; external, distracting sensory input is tuned out (I was no longer aware of the sun burning my skin); brain waves lengthen; feelings of oneness with the object arise; a peaceful and calm mind state emerges. These experiences happen to us more frequently than we think. At the symphony, the mind gets locked onto a beautiful violin line in a Bach concerto. At dinner, we find a morsel of food particularly remarkable. Both of these experiences involve a natural emergence of one-pointed attention.

It turns out that this natural capacity for attention can be highly trained. The mind can learn to aim at an object, stay on it, penetrate it, and know it. The object can be either internal, like the breath or a body sensation, or external, such as an icon or a candle. As concentration develops on the object, the mind becomes still and absorbed in the object.

The side effects of this highly concentrated state are quite delightful and can include equanimity, contentment, and–sometimes–rapture and bliss. These concentration experiences are, in fact, sometimes even referred to as “the experiences of delight.” In Buddhism, they are highly cultivated in a series of concentration stages called the jhanas (absorptions). In the classic yoga tradition, a similar, but not identical, series of stages is identified in the development of the final three limbs of the path–dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi.

As our concentration matures through these stages, we are trained to sustain attention on the object without lapses for longer periods of time. Our uninterrupted concentration now becomes powerful–like a laser beam–and we see only the “bare” qualities of the object, beyond categorization and discriminatory thinking.

At these deepest levels of the training, another remarkable result emerges: The mind becomes secluded from the pull of distressing emotions and is temporarily free of craving, clinging, and aversion. In Western psychological terms, we might say the mind is completely secluded from conflict. As a result, concentration techniques provide a much-needed haven for the mind.

Insight: Exploring the Steady Mind

Through the practice of concentration, the mind becomes a highly attuned instrument. And as the mind matures in steadiness, something extraordinary begins to happen: This concentrated mind develops the capacity to explore itself. It becomes capable of systematically examining the ways in which all phenomena–thoughts, feelings, and sensations–arise and pass away into the stream of consciousness. Mental phenomena previously too fleeting to be noticed begin to fall within perceptual range. In effect, the mind may begin to take itself as its own object.

The rudiments of this subtle investigative mind are perhaps not so common in everyday life as the rudiments of a concentrated one. Nonetheless, anyone who has entered a contemplative mode may have experienced them. Sitting in church, at prayer, we are suddenly aware of the ways in which other thoughts intrude. Or, resting quietly under a tree, we watch as a wave of difficult feeling moves through the stream of consciousness like a dark storm cloud and then drifts away.

It turns out that this investigative capacity of the mind can be systematically developed and trained. And this training, as you might imagine, depends on an altogether different attention strategy: Rather than narrowing the stream of attention, we learn to methodically widen it and observe the endless fluctuation of thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations.

Through insight practices, the meditator learns to attend to as many mental and physical events as possible exactly as they arise, moment to moment. The meditator sees precisely how the world of ordinary experience and the Self are actually constructed. (“I have seen the builder of the house,” said the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment.)

This type of training is known as insight training, and though it has been well developed in the Buddhist meditation traditions in America, it has not been quite understood in the yoga traditions as they’ve been transmitted to us. This explains our misperception–and Beverly’s–that insight practice does not exist in the yoga tradition.

The question of why the insight series of Patanjali‘s program remains neglected in actual practice–at least in America–is a fascinating subject for another time. (Yet it’s undeniable that his program does depend on the development of insight—as the conclusions of Books Three and Four of his Yoga Sutra make clear.)

Once Patanjali lays out the training in concentration–dharana, dhyana, and samadhi–he instructs the practitioner to use the resultant attention skills to explore all phenomena in the created world, including the mind itself. The yogi learns to use the “perfect discipline” (samyama) of concentrated mind to explore the entire field of mind and matter. Indeed, much of the third book of the Yoga Sutra, which is widely believed to be just about the attainment of supernormal powers, actually contains Patanjali‘s instructions for a systematic exploration of the field of experience.

Moments of insight can be more than a little terrifying. Some Buddhist traditions will even refer to these as “the experiences of terror” because, as we begin examining experience closely, we discover that the world is not at all as it appears to be. Insight practices in both traditions effectively deconstruct our ordinary way of seeing ourselves and the world. Learning to bear this moment-to-moment reality can be fragmenting and can cause considerable anxiety. As a result, we need a regular return to concentration and calm. In order for our practice to proceed successfully, we must develop a systematic interplay between the experiences of delight and the experiences of terror.
Reaching a Clearer View of Reality

At the conclusion of these meditation paths, meditators in both traditions see thousands of discrete events arising and passing away in each millisecond. Patanjali describes the most momentary vision of phenomena that he believes humanly possible–dharma megha samadhi, in which they are seen as a rainstorm in which each separate raindrop is perceived.

Meditators in both traditions see how all phenomena (including the Self) simply arise and pass away due to causes and conditions. Buddhists discover the so-called three marks of existence, which consist of suffering (duhkha), no self (anatman), and impermanence (anicca). Yogis discover the similar “four erroneous beliefs”: the belief in the permanence of objects, the belief in the ultimate reality of the body, the belief that our state of suffering is really happiness, and the belief that our bodies, minds, and feelings comprise who and what we really are.

Some aspects of the views at the end of the paths are not identical. Yogis discover that behind this “shower” of phenomena lies an abiding pure awareness (purusha)–unborn and unchanging–while Buddhist meditators see pure discontinuity and momentariness, an emptiness that gives rise to form.

Nonetheless, it does seem apparent to me that what is truly freeing in both traditions is much more similar than either tradition seems to realize. In the final stages, meditators in both traditions see that the world of ordinary experience and the Self are actually constructions, compounds in nature rather than “real things” in and of themselves.

The great classic meditation traditions are interested in two outcomes: helping the practitioner end suffering and helping her see reality more clearly. Both traditions discovered that these dual goals are intimately connected, and that only the strategy of methodically training both concentration and insight can accomplish these astonishing end states. It is for this reason that both traditions are valued as authentic and complete paths toward liberation.

Stephen Cope is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and senior scholar in residence at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health located n Lenox, Massachusetts. He is the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam, 1999) and The Complete Path of Yoga: A Seeker’s Companion to the Yogasutra (Bantam, available in 2004).

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