A few years ago, a group of dharma teachers at Spirit Rock Meditation Center began to notice an emerging trend. “We kept hearing reports from all around the country of yoga teachers teaching mindfulness meditation at the beginning or end of their classes, or on daylong retreats,” recalls Phillip Moffitt, “and we wondered, ‘Who’s training these teachers?’”

Spirit Rock moved to fill the gap. Moffitt, a yoga practitioner for thirty-five years as well as a meditation teacher, turned to Anne Cushman, a Tricycle and Yoga Journal contributing editor who has practiced yoga and meditation for more than twenty-five years. Together they created the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training Program, scheduled to begin in October 2007. Expressly for experienced yoga practitioners and teachers, the eighteen-month training is designed to ground participants in the deeper, meditative dimensions of yoga as set out in Patanjali’s classical yoga system, through the integration ofasana (posture) and pranayama (breathwork) with mindfulness meditation techniques taught by the Buddha.

The program’s integrated approach harks back to the way yoga was practiced thousands of years ago. Though yoga and meditation came to the West on separate streams, historically “they’re two branches of the same contemplative tree,” Cushman notes. In Patanjali’s classical yoga, “the practices of asana and pranayama were always imbedded in the context of a meditation practice. They were developed to facilitate the process of moving into the more refined states of meditation the yogis were interested in exploring.” Patanjali’s Eight-limbed Path reflects the influence of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path; together they provide the philosophical and practical underpinnings of the Spirit Rock program.

Central to the training are three ten-day silent meditation retreats organized around intensive yoga practice, sitting and walking meditation, dharma talks, workshops on yogic and Buddhist principles and practices, and private interviews with the teachers. Between retreats, participants will keep up the momentum with daily yoga and meditation practice and study, supported by email check-ins with a “dharma buddy” and phone consultations with the teachers.

For some participants, long periods of meditation may come as something of a culture shock, Cushman notes. “Yogis are used to being present with intense physical sensation, but it will be a new experience to sit with sensation in their body for forty minutes without shifting.”

They’ll have the opportunity to gain far more than a lesson in sitting still, however. “On the retreats they’ll have a deep experience of the integration of these practices,” Cushman says. “They’ll come away with a sense of how to use the tools to feel balanced and present and open-hearted in their daily lives.” Yoga teachers, for their part, will gain the skills and confidence to guide students in developing a deeper practice that engages the mind and heart rather than limiting their focus to perfecting the postures.

Yogis and Buddhists stand to benefit equally. “It will give the yoga community an opportunity to go deeper into the meditative aspects of their own tradition, using tools developed by the Buddha,” Cushman says, “and it will offer the Buddhist community tools of hatha yoga that are powerful in preparing the body for meditation, cultivating body awareness, and dissolving some of the obstacles to embodied presence that arise in the body and nervous system.” In sum, says Moffitt, “we’d like them to come away with an understanding of the first foundation of mindfulness—mindfulness of the body—as a gateway to liberation.”

For more information on the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training Program, visit the Spirit Rock website, spiritrock.org.

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