The term ‘cross-training’ is used frequently in the West. Sometimes it refers to cross-training an employee but more often than not it is in relation to increasing athletic performance. A standard definition is:
In fitness and sports, cross-training is the practice of combining exercises to work different parts of the body, and is used to avoid under or over-working certain muscle groups.
In the West, fitness cross-training is associated with the popular physical or impact type exercises. So, for example, if you are a runner you might also benefit from lifting weights. Within mixed martial arts, cross-training involves learning different martial arts systems so that you are prepared for anything in combat. I did this type of training extensively when I was younger.
What is interesting is the Taoists have been cross-training for thousands of years, finding connections between movement arts, healing and ultimately meditation. In these series of posts I want to talk about Taoist Cross-Training because it can accelerate your path in energy arts and meditation . . .
The Original Purpose of Yoga – Preparing the Body for Meditation
The purpose of both classic Indian hatha yoga and Taoist yoga was to give a person the ability to sit for extended periods of time so that eventually when they practice meditation their body didn’t distort. So, the essence of yoga is a cross-training exercise for meditation. Both the Taoists and the Indian tradition approached yoga as a foundation for meditation, not as the main practice itself.
In the West, I know a lot of people do yoga for health and fitness, much like running or aerobics, which is all good. Classically though, in the East, yoga’s key purpose was intimately linked to meditation.
Now, in meditation the body should not lean to the left or the right because this interrupts the energy channels of the body. This then interrupts the flow of energy or chi (prana in the Indian tradition), which also is not often talked about in Western yoga classes. Your spine should be straight and not twisting all over the place. In other words – you’re balanced.
Every real meditation tradition has very specific ways of teaching how these alignments are done. Learning this can not be underestimated because when a person is able to do that, the body’s in a very neutral state. Then you can focus on what your mind is doing within meditation. If your body is comfortable when you meditate it becomes dramatically easier for your mind to start going inside and inhabit your body.
When the body is in a fairly balanced position the energy runs through the system normally as opposed to becoming distorted. When the body is distorted it results in all sorts of kinks that simply arise from the stress of the body. Often distortions bring up all sorts of emotional, mental and psychic discomforts or unbalancing points.
The rub is many people think their meditation needs to resolve these unbalancing points, whereas the fact is if they were just sitting up straight comfortably they wouldn’t get them in the first place.
If you prepare the body with yoga to sit better then you don’t have to go through all of this senseless misery. When the body is aligned properly you can more easily go into the deeper levels of the mind which is one of the points of meditation.
It’s a bit like the world of today with modern computers. What you require is a stable computer or a stable platform for all your software to run on. Otherwise your programs run too slow, they freeze up, or you have impaired functionality.
So, one reason to take up a yoga practice would be if you really want to get the most from your meditation. It is also a great place to learn how to breathe properly and learn about the alignments in the body in a sitting posture.
Bridging Yoga and Meditation
The whole process of classic hatha yoga and longevity breathing yoga (Taoist Yoga) is to get the breathing going well while deepening the posture and alignments, thereby enabling your mind to completely enter your body. After your mind enters your body then you can start learning how to move your chi throughout your body.
As that happens the energy channels of your body begin to open up. In Longevity Breathing Yoga, this is first done with breathing techniques. Later, you can open your body directly with chi techniques utilizing the 16 neigung.
Your mind starts to have the ability to enter every place in your body. Whenever you bump into something in mediation, you are used to moving directly into it in an extremely unified fashion. All of you gets involved.
So, for example, as you start going into things that relate to your emotions or your general thinking processes or your psychic sensitivities or your karma, then your entire body gets behind what you’re doing. Even when something very shocking or previously traumatizing, or even an extreme blockage starts arising in your mind, these experiences have a way of moving through your body without getting stuck somewhere.
If something arises and it gets stuck somewhere, what do people often do when they sit and meditate? Well most often they squirm. They become incredibly distracted, space out and become disassociated to whatever that emotion was that was available for them to work with. Another common variation when this happens is that people feel things that may have been hidden beneath the surface of the mind, and that are incredibly destabilizing. They may start having visions that have nothing more to do with them than the fact they are encountering how their energy is blocked.
As this happens delusions can occur, and though all of this process is beneficial, they’re not encountering and seeing genuine blockages. These are simply sideshows to the main event.
My Experience with Pranayama in India
Not having the energies move through the system naturally is a classic cause of people getting sick and of people becoming mentally unstable. I know that there were times when I did my first really intensive pranayama in India where this occurred to me.
At that time I hadn’t been taught about how, if you’re really doing chi (qi) work, how you should look at your emotions and your mind and your psychic sphere. I was just getting all this stuff blown up inside of me. Let’s just say that I had a few emotional outbursts and at the time they were pretty rough.
Once I started practicing the whole Taoist meditation method, I started getting how to make these energy flows smooth. That made the practice a lot better and it also meant that I didn’t get sick from the practices I was doing.
And this same pattern I went through is quite common with lots of people who learn all sorts of energy practices without understanding this. This is also true for hatha yoga practitioners where many people will get sick from practice. They may describe it as karmic blockages and everything, but much of this is an inability to pass energy cleanly and smoothly through their body.
I mean if you were constipated for a month don’t be surprised if your intestines start giving you a lot of trouble. The purpose of doing Taoist Longevity Breathing Yoga in relation to meditation is that it gives your body the ability to be balanced. It opens all sorts of things in your body from the inside that would stop you from being able to sit in a balanced fashion.
A Relaxed and Gentle Approach to Yoga
Some people are able to sit in a half lotus or a full lotus. They can force their body to stay in these positions for long periods of time. Often, however, the body in these positions is very tense and causes other, larger problems.
So, how do you open your insides so that your body can sit comfortably? How do you open up so that when you’re sitting properly all these postures don’t pull you apart on the inside?
Let’s give some real practical examples of the importance of being relaxed rather than tense. If your tissues inside your ribs are not stretched enough on the sides, the ribs are going to cause you to stretch and tilt to one side. If the energy inside you is not moving properly through your internal organs then something might cause your spine to displace, or your neck to kink.
If the chi (qi) is not moving smoothly through your armpits down your arm, then that place through your armpit through your arm will cause your body to lilt from one side to the other. All of these will then cause you to have experiences which, as you’re meditating will seem very strong, but could simply have be avoided if you first open up the energy inside your body.
You don’t have to go through all of this. In fact, meditation is not a very good place to work these things out—it simply takes too long. There are better ways to do it.
It’s like a person who keeps on having terrible car accidents in a wintry place because they were never taken out into a parking lot and taught how to drive on ice. It’s not a problem to drive on ice, but you do kind of have to know how to do it.
In essence, if you are going to practice meditation I would encourage you to cross-train with an art such as Yoga or Qigong or Tai Chi so that you can get your breathing, alignments and posture online first. You will save yourself years of heartache.
The Deepening of Yoga for Meditation Purposes
When you’re talking about how you move from your yoga practice to meditation, first you are evening out your body within all the different asana postures. The way you’re moving energy inside your body is very specifically geared towards opening up your body from the inside out.
Within longevity breathing yoga you will learn internal practices used to open up your body. At each stage you will be able to open up more of your body, resolving issues that would otherwise prevent your body from becoming quiet, still and focused in meditation. The goal at the end of any practice is to enable your body to be still and focused inside itself so that you can carry this with you when you rise from meditation into daily life.
Again, all of this is leading towards learning how to bring your body to a smooth and strong configuration for meditation. Many people who do more meditation than you can imagine will go on for years before they actually learn how to sit without it being a problem. In fact, I’ve met people who’ve meditated for 5, 10 or 20 years and they are still not comfortable sitting.
To summarize, traditionally in hatha yoga the asanas were taught before any meditation work was taught so a person could sit comfortably. That is also the main reasons to practice Longevity Breathing Yoga, the Taoist system.
So, you can see that cross-training is embedded in both hatha Yoga and Taoist yoga systems. My experience has been that it is an extremely valuable thing for people to learn some kind of system that helps with alignments, breathing and posture if they are serious about the deeper spiritual work in meditation—it enables a practitioner to leapfrog over many of the difficulties that people face when doing their meditation practice.