Willer & ennis western mindfulness, meditation and yoga
By: Renate Willer and Pepper Ennis
The majority of the West has the notion that Buddhism is not a traditional religion. From media analysis, this can be seen in the way Westerners incorporate mindfulness, meditation, and yogapractices into their lives and how they are talked about. In the West, the focus of these practices are their health benefits while in the East they are an important part of religious tradition. The reasons behind the practices are very different and the West has detached itself from the practices’ historical roots.
The WestPeople in the west are obsessed with health. In Western society the focus of mindfulness, meditation and yoga practices is fitness and well-being. These practices are only important for the physical and mental advantages they provide.
The West: Physical Benefits “Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying its health benefits.”• This statistic was found on a popular health website, WebMD. Several of the health benefits that this article argues that one will receive are: decreasing stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue in the muscles; increasing range of motion in the joints; stretching the soft tissues of the body; building strength and endurance of the muscles; and improving posture.• This article really wants to persuade their readers how much physical benefit can come from yoga. It says, “In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga.” http://www.webmd.com/balance/the-health-benefits-of-yoga
The West: Physical BenefitsAnother article, from YogaMax, claims, “Yoga teaches us to take slower and deeper breaths to improve the function of our lungs by increasing the amount ofoxygen to the body. It helps in bringing mobility, flexibility and reduces aches and pains. All ourmuscles, ligaments, tendons are strengthened.It can also help in controlling the weight of ourbody. Yoga improves the circulation of our body. It aids in lowering heart rate.” http://www.yogamax.net/what-is-true-indian-yoga.html
The West: Physical Benefits• Furthermore, in a blog from the Huffington Post, a woman provides for her readers nine yoga poses that will “enhance your immune system, strengthen and awaken your muscles, and pave the path for your most refined listening in any moment of your day.”• The point of this women’s blog is to promote the great health benefits one can obtain from doing yoga. She shows her readers how to do the specific poses to gain the immense benefits. In all three of the articles mentioned, the focus is on the various ways a person can physically benefit from yoga. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-brower/yoga-wellness_b_1092453.html?ref=healthy-living-spirit#undefined
The West: Physical Benefits• This trend has become embedded into our culture. Across YMCA’s in the United States many yoga classes are being offered. Such classes demonstrate poses like: Hundreds of different yoga poses are being taught for physical strength and flexibility
The West: Physical Benefits Yoga is now even taking flight.In this clip, ABC’s Good Morning America discusses the new fad of cocooning.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB9YFlOVe2E (click on link or right click on URL, click “open Hyperlink”) Even Western news shows are motivated to promote the health aspects of yoga
The West: Mental Benefits The mental aspects of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are also very important to Westerners.• First, yoga is deemed important because it connects body and mind. In one article, “9 Yoga Poses to Connect the Body and Mind,” the author defines the quest for fitness, “The ideal is to feel fit both in our bodies and in our emotional • Meditation is also seen as connecting lives.” She believes that yoga, while the mind and body. In Leslie aligning the physical body, also raises Davenport’s blog she says that ten the ability to store and transfer minute meditation nourishes energy between different storage “body, heart and soul.” She also modes. After practicing yoga she says, “ Each entry will address the believes that you become more physical, psychological and spiritual relaxed and open in uncomfortable facets of a unique life challenge.” situations or transitions. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-brower/yoga- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie-davenport/meditation-tips- _b_1097870.html wellness_b_1092453.html?ref=healthy-living- spirit#undefined
The West: Mental Benefits• In addition, Eddie Stern argues that just talking about the physical benefits of yoga do not do it justice. He believes that it takes a lot of mental effort and dedication to receive all of the possible benefits that yoga offers. He says, “There is no physical aspect of yoga that can be excised from the rest of the practice, because yoga, by definition, addresses the mind, and when the mind is addressed, the rest of our organism is altered as well--physical as well as non- physical.” Even though he argues that yoga practices today are flawed, he still sees them as being important in the concept of health. Yoga is about the mind and the body. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eddie-stern/flawed-yoga-studies-_b_1078981.html?ref=healthy-living-spirit
The West: Mental Benefits The mental benefits are widely acknowledged.• A Well Being Ph.D. expert, Robert Puff, declares that “Whether it’s breath meditation, mantra meditation or walking meditation, the mental rhythms we create give us a break from the constant agitation of the ‘monkey mind.’” He also says that meditation overtime will decrease stress and increase relaxation. Meditation creates rhythm.http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meditation- modern-life/201111/meditation-the-move
The West: Mental Benefits Another article reviews studies that show that mindfulness-based therapy has very positive mental effects.• Toho University School of Medicine in Japan found that after 20 minutes of mindful breathing participants “had fewer negative feelings, more of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin in their blood, and more oxygenated hemoglobin in their prefrontal cortex, an area associated with attention and high-level processing.• A similar study at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany found that participants were able to “sustain mindful contact with their breathing, reported less negative thinking, less rumination and fewer of other symptoms of depression.” Many people believe that mindfulness could be a useful tool to prevent depression. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=therapy-in-the-air
The West: Mental Benefits We also found an article talking about meditation in the context of the stressful holiday season.• This article points to meditation as one way to prevent the characteristic stress people feel around the holidays. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie- davenport/meditation-tips-_b_1097870.html
What’s Left Out?• These sources illustrate a very clear picture that what makes yoga, meditation and mindfulness so appealing to Westerners is the physical and mental related benefits.• None of these sources present the historical and religious aspects of these practices. There is no mention that these practices came out of the Buddhist tradition or that they have been modified from their original purpose. The majority of popular media presents meditation, mindfulness and yoga in a way that leaves all of this out. The purpose of these practice for Buddhists is very different from how the West uses them.
BuddhismTraditionally, Buddhists meditate in order to escape from suffering through reaching enlightenment. The Buddha was the first one to use meditation to reach enlightenment. He saw old age, sickness, death and a renunciate. Because of these things that he witnessed he was motivated to find a way out of thecycle of life, death and rebirth. The goal of Buddhism is to escape samsara.
Buddhism• One practice of mediation is to visualize a mandala, death, the body, colors, or Buddha virtue. In these practices one focuses solely on this visualization.• Another practice, called Zen Buddhism, is mind-to-mind transmission of knowledge. Zazen is the most prominent form. This is where you focus on a nonsensical statement (koan) to help you see the emptiness of the world. You’re supposed to destroy your preconceived notions of the world. Buddhists recognize that nothing is permanent in this life. Meditation and yoga help you realize this. These practices are part of the Buddhist religious tradition. They are spiritual practices, not forms of exercise or therapy.
Separation from roots These Buddhist ideas are no longer part of the practices in the West. Even though mindfulness, yoga and meditation have developed from these Buddhist ideas most Westerners have taken them andseparated them from the spirit in which theywere intended. In popular Western media the traditional concepts are not mentioned.
Purposeful Separation Westerners sometimes even make a point not to mention the practices’ Buddhist roots.• In this article, a school has taken specific steps to avoid uproar over teaching yoga in gym class. The development director says “No namaste…No om. No prayer position with the hands. Nothing that anyone could look in and think, this is religious.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/nyregion/in-yoga-classes-at-schools-teachers-avoid-the- spiritual.html?_r=2&ref=religionandbelief
Purposeful Separation Even when words like “om” and “nomaste” are used, they are specifically taught in a non-spiritual way.• At a place called Karma Kids, an instructor says, “I don’t look at it as spiritual.” Furthermore, if a student knows a Buddhist ritual many instructors firmly deny that they taught it to them.• The Little Flower Yoga director says, “I have no idea where she learned a mudra…We never teach mudras. Kids come with ideas from TV.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/nyregion/in-yoga-classes-at-schools-teachers-avoid-the- spiritual.html?_r=2&ref=religionandbelief
The SeparationNot all Westerners are ignorant of • In the article, “How Yoga Won the the original purpose of yoga West,” Ann Louise Bardach is very and meditation. cynical of the West’s take on yoga. She writes, “If you’re• In his blog, Swami Jnaneshvara annoyed that your local gas Bharati declares, “The mere fact station is now a yoga studio, you that one might do a few stretches might blame Vivekananda for with the physical body does not having introduced ‘yoga’ into the in itself mean that one is headed national conversation-though an towards that high union referred exercise cult with expensive to as Yoga.” (The high union accessories was hardly what he refers to recognizing preexisting had in mind.” union between Atman and Brahman). http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/opinion/sunday/h http://www.swamij.com/traditional-yoga.htm ow-yoga-won-the-west.html?_r=2
A Plea to Return In the media, Westerners do not see mindfulness, meditation and yoga as coming from a long religious tradition. Meditation and yoga have a spiritual purpose in Buddhism. Many Westerners have ignored this and manipulated meditation and yoga into totally new practices. Today, mindfulness, yoga and meditation are now being used for health benefits and even in clinical settings.We don’t see this trend stopping unless the media makes a great effort to educate the population on the origin of these well-loved practices.
Citations• “The Health Benefits of Yoga,” WebMD, no date available, (http://www.webmd.com/balance/the-health-benefits-of- yoga).• “What is True Indian Yoga,” YogaMax, no date available, (Inhttp://www.yogamax.net/what-is-true-indian-yoga.html).• Elena Brower, “9 Yoga Poses to Connect the Body and Mind,” Huffington Post, 11/15/2011, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-brower/yoga-wellness_b_1092453.html?ref=healthy-living- spirit#undefined).• “Anti-Gravity Yoga ‘Cocooning’ is Featured on Good Morning America-August 2011”, YouTube, 08/18/2011, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB9YFlOVe2E).• Leslie Davenport, “10-Minute Meditation For a More Peaceful Holiday Season,” Huffington Post, 11/19/2011, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie-davenport/meditation-tips-_b_1097870.html ).• Eddie Stern, “Why Yoga Studies Need to Smarten Up,” Huffington Post, 11/9/2011, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eddie-stern/flawed-yoga-studies-_b_1078981.html?ref=healthy- living-spirit).• Robert Puff, “Meditation for Modern Life,” Psychology Today, 11/4/2011, (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meditation-modern-life/201111/meditation-the-move).• Toni Rodriguez, “Therapy in the Air,” Scientific American, 11/29/2011, (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=therapy-in-the-air).• Lopez, Donald S. Jr. “The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History & Teachings.” Harper Collins Publishers, 2001.• “Little Buddha,” Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 1993.• Mary Billard, “In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual,” New York Times, 10/7/2011, (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/nyregion/in-yoga-classes-at-schools-teachers-avoid-the- spiritual.html?_r=2&ref=religionandbelief).• Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, “Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga,” swamiJ.com, no date available, (http://www.swamij.com/traditional-yoga.htm).• Ann Louise Bardach, “How Yoga Won the West,” New York Times, 10/1/2011, (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/opinion/sunday/how-yoga-won-the-west.html?_r=2).