Saturday, February 21, 2009

Yoga-Zen retreat - feedback

by sangha member Johannes de Villiers,

(click here for retreat pictures)

Zen students are often exasperated when they hear of the mystic acrobatics the uninitiated ascribe to them: "Do you guys levitate while on retreat?" one is sometimes asked. "Can you hover above your body?" "Does meditation make you feel a floaty feeling as if you are dangling from a cosmic cord?"

Fortunately, after a weekend recent retreat, some of our members can answer these questions in the positive. A group of retreatants at the Robertson Dharma Centre spent a large part of Saturday and some of the next morning contorting themselves into yogi-esque postures and worked themselves into a state of blissful semi-weightlessness. One member – retreat co-leader and yoga teacher Brett Wearne – gave a yoga demonstration at the foot of the dharma room altar during which he flew his legs around in a series of hand-stands, did splits while standing on his head and elicited gasps with a few more circus-style maneuvers.

The Yoga and Meditation retreat combined a slightly less formal style of zen practice (five sittings a day and informal meals) with an array of yogic arts (two daily sessions of yoga exercise – mats, straps, blocks and all). The usual morning bows were changed for a session of pranajama breath work. And although not a new chant, retreatants were encouraged to share the merit of their practice through a dedication at the start and finish of each yoga session.

Brett, a sangha member of many years and currently physiotherapist and yoga teacher in Canada, took time off from a South African visit to guide retreatants through the asanas and give handy lectures on the physiology of yoga.

All yoga starts as meditation, our teachers reminded the aspiring yogi's, and as retreatants gasped and sighed on their mediation mats, it was easy to recognise that it is indeed easier to be mindful of your body while you are knotted like a cook sister, and that it is hard to lose track of your breath when you are doing the "bellows breath". Soon we were striving to move with the focused mind of zazen, and to sit with the fluidity of yoga. Moving practice. Breathing practice. It’s all one thing.