Next in our continuing conversations with Dharma Zephyr members about their practice: Angela Sullivan. Angela has been my yoga teacher since I started practicing yoga and I always have been struck by how meditative her style of yoga is. I asked her about it.
How long have you been practicing yoga and meditation?
I ’ve been practicing yoga twenty-four years.
Yoga always has a meditative aspect, but when I first started yoga I hated the sitting part. I was good on energy, not great on meditation. It took me 10 years of practice to settle enough to sit still.
While your yoga classes always seemed to have a mindfulness component, I’ve noticed in the past year or so that mindfulness is becoming more pronounced. How do you see the relationship between yoga and meditation?
Yoga is moving meditation: it’s the union of the body, the breath, and the mind. The more I practice dharma the more I experience that interconnection.
Lately, the observer has become a more vital piece to my practice: that awareness of where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m moving, is now there all the time. My yoga practice has become much more than just getting the body open and flexible, it’s that awareness of the environment, the sensations, the quality of mind that has become important. That mindful awareness has to be present or yoga is just gymnastics.
How does your yoga affect your meditation practice?
What does yoga bring to meditation? A happy body that’s calm and vibrant, not so uncomfortable and miserable that it’s distracting you.
Do you have any recommendations for how to integrate a body-centered practice like yoga with mindfulness meditation? What would you recommend to students?
To a meditator coming to yoga: Bring mindfulness to the mat. Stay aware of what the mind is doing: do I look as good as my neighbor? This is painful and I don’t like it. What’s for dinner? And so on. Watch the papanca – the mental proliferation.
To a yogi coming to meditation: You already know your body: Use it as the ground of awareness and the object of attention.
We’re all moving towards awakening. The goal of these practices is to use the body as a vehicle for that.
In the retreat that you led last month with Christy and Kathy, many commented afterwards that they really appreciated the yoga aspect.
What do cats and dogs do when they first wake up? They stretch. The yoga feels good and brings the body into balance. Anything that opens and balances the body is beneficial. Even basic movement improves lives. We all come to the practice as we are, and we work from here. (Indicating her heart).
I came to yoga from dance, and brought along an attitude – an internal voice – that was critical and complaining. I thought yoga was about fixing the body, but then I found the practice of yoga nurtured a happier internal voice, and I’ve been following it ever since. But my life is better not only because of the yoga, but because of the insight that Vipassana practice brings. They work together.
Until we’re grounded in the body we can’t really be present. You know the Buddha’s beloved earth-touching Mudra? To me, touching the earth, recognizing that we are of the earth, happens through the body.