As anyone who has looked into Zen knows, trying to define Zen is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. It instantly wriggles between your palms and slips away. The more you seek it, the harder it is to find.
What is Zen?
Well, Zen is… Sorry, it is not that simple. To say Zen is liberty, fluidity or perfection is a beginning. But to say Zen is the manifestation of the moon at a mountain stream, only leaves us scratching our heads. Zen is right here, right now. Zen is the moment of presence. It’s action without thought. It’s thought and act as one. It’s action before reaction. Zen is Zen. . .though I know that is not useful.
The origins of Zen are based in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Chinese term for Zen is ch’an. In Sanscrit, the ancient language of India, it’s dhyana that may be roughly interpreted as pure human soul. It can be envisioned as the integration of these disparate facets of the self into a complete and divine being. Zen was finally brought to Japan where it had been elaborated and “perfected” by the Japanese samurai. It’s the base of the Bushido code, the way of the warrior. The samurai, who lived their lives in the edge of a sword and may die at any time, were taught to focus on and immerse themselves in the here and now so as to get in touch with the basic core of their being. It helped them develop the powers of concentration, self-control, tranquility and awareness. If they approached every battle as though it were their last, they would be able to own every part of the being at their disposal.
Zen itself has no concept. It’s not meditation. It’s not thinking. It’s not not-thinking. It’s not something you understand. It’s simply something you’re. To practice Zen is to live fully and completely, not in the past or the future, but right here and right now. Zen is, in actuality, the manifestation of the moon at a mountain stream. It doesn’t move, just the water flows by. Zen implies a contemplative, mystical element to the practice of self-discovery. Zen allows, and indeed encourages, a deeper investigation into the individual self.
What is Yoga?
So let us turn now to Yoga. Yoga originated in India. The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root yug significance to join together and direct one’s attention. It’s the union of the human body and mind with our spiritual nature. It’s also the union of the individual with the Universal Spirit. It is both the target and the path to see that goal. At its most basic, Yoga is any practice that may turn its professionals inward to discover and experience their spiritual nature. By doing this they have the ability to impact more than just themselves. When one can bring their own body, mind and soul into health and stability, then they could bring health and harmony to those around them and even to the planet as a whole.
In the West, Yoga is frequently thought of as a purely physical exercise. But, in truth, it’s significantly deeper than that. Occasionally, in the study of yoga, the body was likened to a temple. Yoga teaches how to treat the entire body with reverence so as to provide the spirit or soul a unique place to live and flourish. While this description is very true, it’s woefully inadequate. Yoga is an entire philosophy of living. It’s mental in addition to physical, psychological and spiritual. It teaches ethical discipline and the correct manner of interacting within a society. Additionally, it teaches a way to turn inward and explore the inner core of being. There are lots of unique techniques of practicing Yoga. Some deal mainly with lively physical postures, while some concentrate primarily on breathing exercises. In still others, Yoga techniques are dedicated to chanting, reading or worshiping. Finally, there are a few that focus on deep meditation to help bring a feeling of peace and calmness to everyday life.
The underlying philosophy of Yoga is that of wholeness, wholeness within the person and wholeness in the person’s connection to the world. When there is coordination between the body, mind and soul, wholeness becomes sacred. Not “sacred” in a traditional religious sense, but more of a connection to the divine part of us that exists inside. The conventional Yoga greeting “namaste” literally means “the divine within me greets the divine in you.” Very simply, Yoga is all about harnessing all the many facets of individual presence and creating unity within. On a grander scale, some religious practice or discipline which helps people wake and realize their connection to something bigger and more profound than their personal presence can be considered a sort of Yoga practice.
So that brings us to Zen Yoga. Zen Yoga is a holistic system that combines all parts of your self by meeting the basic needs of bodily health, mental clarity and spiritual peace. It’s a spiritual discipline that’s huge and profound.
It’s Zen and it’s Yoga
The cornerstone of Zen Yoga is calm stretching and breathing exercises of Indian Yogic traditions. It promotes going at your own pace and just doing what’s best for you. Everyone differs. We come in all sizes and shapes. Learning how your body functions is of extreme importance. Zen Yoga can also be based on the energized breathing and shifting doctrine of Chinese Qigong (sometimes written Chi Kung) and Tai Chi. Qigong is the ancient Chinese practice of breathing exercises which fills the body with oxygen-rich energy and blood. Tai Chi is described as moving meditation. Its graceful, flowing movements encourage the flow of energy. Zen Yoga also incorporates the psychological calmness attained through Zen meditation. Learning how to calm the myriad thoughts which are always vying for attention inside the mind enables us to think more clearly and with greater insight. But, most assuredly, Zen Yoga is much more than a set of physical exercises. Through the integration of body, mind and soul Zen Yoga creates flexibility, health, energy and peace of mind.
The speed of modern life is distinguished by feverish social and economic action. We create stress in our everyday lives as our focus is our energy is sapped. Exercise is set on the back burner as we’re so caught up in all the other things which are demanding our attention. Zen Yoga attempts to reverse this flow.
Its benefits include:
• Stress relief
• Increased will power
• Improved concentration
• Improved blood flow and release of toxins and impurities in the body
• Toning and strengthening of muscles
• More restful sleep
Even more important, by bringing into balance appropriate and efficient breathing, movement, and deep relaxation techniques, we can become aware of and learn how to access the pure energy of the world, known as Chi or Prana.
Practicing Zen Yoga isn’t intended to be an aggressive or rigorous physical exercise. Instead, it attempts to challenge you to realize your potential by extending, breathing and moving in your own pace. There are no comparisons with how well other people may do the exercises. If you’re doing your best, that’s the best means of doing it. It’s not a competition. It’s not a contest. It’s only a way to feel better, to be happy and healthy, and to enjoy life to the fullest. Deep within each of us lies the possibility of perfection. This potential is religious in nature and is frequently obstructed or displaced by the issues we face in life. Zen Yoga offers the opportunity to know the spiritual nature and give it the nutrition it needs to grow and flourish. Zen Yoga isn’t about what you can not do. It’s been designed to be available to anyone irrespective of their level of fitness or spiritual improvement. The most crucial challenge comes from inside. Most of us are seeking more from life. Unfortunately, life, itself, frequently gets in the way of our hunt. Zen Yoga provides a chance to get to know self. . .to feel happy, healthy and alive.