Monday, July 1, 2013

Mindfulness Yoga by Frank Jude Boccio

Mindfulness Yoga:  The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind by Frank Jude Boccio is a merging of Buddhist teachings on mindfulness (rooted in the practices described by Thich Nhat Hanh) and yoga into a single practice where both inform the other.  The breath and movement, the asana (pose) held as the breath is experienced, all working together to create an experience of being fully in the moment.  There are four separate asana practices, each with a familiarly Buddhist theme with mostly basic poses.  Boccio does put an asterisk beside the more challenging poses so the reader is aware of when to proceed with caution.

Now, I wrote in my blog about the embarrassing, albeit amusing, experience I had at Kripalu.  I bought this book and then told some strange guy that I was devouring it (which I was) only to discover that the stranger was the author.  I had bought the book to read it when I came home my resistance to its temptation was futile.  I only wish I had waited because now I would love to refer back to the things that interested me most about Boccio’s teachings.  He does a wonderful job of showing how the two spiritual practices inform one another.  The Eight Limbs of Yoga.  The Eightfold Path.  How hatha yoga moves with the breath and how the breath grounds a mindfulness meditation practice.  It does not take a great deal of imagination to see the parallels but Boccio manages to make it all seem both obvious and profound while still keeping the more esoteric ideas accessible.

He says that each of the practices in the book “can take anywhere from 45 to over an hour and a half” but I found my practices with the book lasting closer to 2 hours and that was even when I held a pose for the shortest number of breaths.  This is because I only take about 6 breaths when I’m in a meditative state (fewer if I am not doing yoga as well) and holding a pose for 30 breaths lasts a little longer for me especially when the average number of breaths per minute for an adult is 12-18 breaths.  After the second practice, though, I caught on and didn’t hold a pose for 30 breaths when I could choose to hold it for 10.

What I especially loved about this book was the challenge of holding the poses for extended periods of time.  This can be quite boring for some people but for me there is more challenge in holding Mountain Pose than in moving from Mountain to a standing forward bend.  I was able to explore my body along with my breath and feel where and how I held tension to maintain my balance.  The same was true for some of the seated poses.  I could feel how my body fought for balance and where the muscles were reacting in subtle ways.  I was then able to see how I might need to create some balance in the rest of my life, to tone and exercise the muscles that were not working to help reduce the risk of future injury. 

I doubt Boccio intended such a thing but I certainly benefited.  I also enjoyed exploring the breath and how it changes, the way the breath communicates with me, if I will merely slow down and listen, letting me know where I am moving or holding with ease and where I am not.  The author recommends staying with each practice until it is familiar.  I did not do that because I wanted to do one of his practices a week as a complement to my own daily practice.  However, I knew before I even finished the first one that I would be keeping this book so I would be genuinely surprised if I didn’t find myself exploring one of the practices for a week or longer at some future time.

Once again, however, I am wishing that the book had a companion dvd or cd so I could immerse myself in the practice without losing focus.  Referring back to the book is an unwelcome distraction and makes mindfulness a little more difficult (although I suppose if I were “better” I could refer back to the book with mindfulness and return to the practice with mindfulness).   A cd would suffice, truly.  The poses are beautifully photographed and explained in the text.  But because each of the four practices has a different focus (body, feelings, etc.), the intention behind the practice changes and the exploration of each pose changes.  A cd with Boccio saying where to notice a specific point of release or reminding the student to breathe and let the breath be your guru would make the overall experience more immersive.  And maybe, just maybe, it would have kept this student from spending nearly 2.5 hours on a yoga practice when her tummy was clearly saying, “Oy, stop with the asanas already and let’s eat.”   

You will find a long list of other books on yoga and Buddhism on my Reading Challenge pinterest board.  If you want to read along with me or see a book for which you'd like to read a review, tell me.   I'm always curious.  Insatiably so, even.

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