At the core of satiyoga are ethics, body, breath and mind. These four work like deep and intertwined roots rather than being separate areas to focus on. They grow and extend and support each other through exploration of the lived experience of our breath, our bodies, our thoughts, our values, each nourished from below by key teachings in early yogic and Buddhist teachings.
Or we could regard them as four elements – the primary building blocks of satiyoga, like earth, air, water and fire were for the ancient world, as the periodic table is to our own.
However we characterize them, they are the foundation for sati yoga practice.
Sati yoga radically places ethics at the top of the list, Understanding ethics in its widest sense: ethos from the Greek – is character. How do I shape this character of ‘me’? become the person I aspire to be? What values do I hold dear? how do I flourish in my life and how do I bring these values and qualities into my community and the larger society? Ethics is a topic we discuss and tease out both in class or on retreat or within the sangha . Key early Buddhist teachings and the yamas of Patanjali help can guide us, but the question of what is the best way to live fully awake in the face of the multiple crises of climate, environmental and inequality. Sati yoga practice incline us towards an ethical path. Georg Feueurstein’s exhortation is never more relevant:
“The time has come to live Yoga with as much heartiness and genuineness as we can possibily muster. If yoga practitioners won’t respond to this unique and perilous crisis, who will?” Georg Feuerstein (2007)
Posture practice (asana) is often what most people think is yoga. While these practices are extremely important, and safe and intelligent allignment is crucial, sati yoga departs from many approaches in that we’re interested in doing the postures not as an end in themselves, but as a means of developing our awareness. Discernment, curiosity, kindness are qualities we cultivate through the physical pracitice. Satiyoga is qualitative- rather than quantitative. We’re not concerned with how much, how far, how many times but what is the felt-sense of the experience of what is taking place. Our lived experience as physical beings is both enhanced and deepened.
We begin with the breath. Awareness and cultivation of the breath (and being able to see the difference) are fundamental to the the Sati yoga approach.
Mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati) fosters an understanding of the relationship between breath, body, and natural responses. We learn how to let the breath be, to just observe. This ancient practice is an anchor for the mind in meditation.It can also be applied to physical practice, observing the body breathing. We can also engage with the breath- skillfully shaping it to respond to our physical and mental/emotional needs as in pranayama and some asana practice. Ususally the work initially is freeing the breath – unconstricted natural breathing is crucial to our health and well-being.
Yoga is, essentially, mind training. The various ethical, physical and meditative practices offered by yoga are all aimed at fostering a peaceful mind that possesses enough balance not to be swayed by attachment and aversion, and enough clarity to investigate reality at is. It’s only when we are free from greed, hatred and ignorance that we are free to make informed choices and respond creatively and appropriately to life, rather than react blindly to it. Sati yoga takes an open and accessible approach to meditation- one that welcomes beginners as well as experienced practitioners. We explore through the four postures of meditation of the Buddha Samatha (concentration) and Vipasana (wisdom) practices, paying particular attention to the practice of Anapanasati, (mindfulness of breathing) and Metta Bhavana, (loving kindness).