Zen Yoga fuses the elements of Chinese medicine, Tai Chi, and Qigong breathing to cleanse the mind of thought to create pure energy and flexibility.
Zen yoga, believed to increase vitality and heal stress, has been claimed as a proprietary yoga style by some of its practitioners and schools. There is no ownership of yoga, though, since all types (Hatha, Laughter, Hot Yoga, etc.) are based on classical yoga’s primary movements and breathing. Zen Yoga does differentiate itself by originating not from India but from China. Before Buddhism, there was yoga. Zen monks did Zen Yoga.
Aaron Hoopes has been called the founder of Zen Yoga. He has a background in Chinese martial arts reflected in the progression through levels as the students advance in skill and familiarity. The practice is designed to place the body, mind and spirit in harmony and balance, similar to traditional yoga.
The Zen Concept in Zen Yoga
Zen Yoga’s aim is yoga with an empty mind without competing thoughts. The focus is on the present. Practice is for the here and now, not for health or salvation or to improve the body. These benefits may result from the course but are not a reason to practice. Although all yoga is a mindful practice, Zen-Yoga is genuinely in the moment. The difficulty for westerners is to be goal-less. There are no goals in Zen Yoga. The course is the Presence and is in itself an end goal.
Flexibility and Zen Yoga Poses
The backbone, so to speak, of Zen Yoga is the breathing and stretching and prolonged movement of positions into postures. The practice is promoted to anyone. It is not necessarily heat-producing nor aerobic. It does encourage flexibility, and strength is a by-product of the movement. Breathing itself elongates the spine and gradually focuses the mind.
Pigeon or “Threading the Needle” promotes elongation of the spine by stretching the back, relaxing and aligning the shoulders. Thread the left arm under the outstretched right arm. The left ear is turned down and onto the earth. The left leg is bent, with the knee aligned with the left hip. The right leg is prone, parallel to the floor. The position is held with steady breathing for five minutes before unfolding and repeating on the other side. Advanced modifications (see photo 2) might be raising the right arm and tucking it behind the back at the right hip or pulling the bent right leg up to either hand. Further advancement is catching the foot with both hands in an overhead position.
Inversions such as head or shoulder stands cause the blood to flow from the feet to the head, the opposite of everyday life. Holding the pose for several minutes with deep, steady breathing allows an entrance into a trance-like position, clearing the mind and simultaneously refreshing it with improved circulation.