Finding a good yoga, taiji, gigong teacher or class in your area

These tips are directed for those interested in Nibbāna, and doing 4-10 hours a day of sitting meditation every day, or as frequently as possible. In other words, you’re interested simply in learning the key health principles that will help make your body pliable and pain free, and not interested in the ultimate aims of those other disciplines in and of themselves.

The real heart of taiji is here (linked thread). I would say, if you find a good teacher, 6 months to 1 year of practice will give you enough of the fundamentals. The rest, like jhana, the success depends on how well you’re able to relax, no further classes can help you with that.

With yoga, I would say 3-6 months of classes should be enough to get the fundamentals, safety precautions.

With both yoga, taiji, qigong, if you take more classes to learn more “stuff”, most of it is superficial and irrelevant to passadhi-bojjhanga. A lot of what they say that sounds like important detail is just arbitrary posture fetishes that differ between lineages. Some details for safety are important, but by far most of the stuff taught is just for theatrics, aesthetics, and totally irrelevant to passadhi-bojjhanga.

I would say in general, with taiji you tend to have more of an audience that is older, with health problems (back pain, knee pain, etc), so a good teacher that can teach you how to relax, show you where you had no idea where you were tense, is really valuable.

Yoga classes, you have the problem with yoga babes, and narcissists doing yoga competitively, and in relation to passadhi-bojjhanga, the vast majority of hatha yoga yogis have no idea what real relaxation is (that can get you into jhana). They have some relaxation while doing postures, but in between postures, and outside the yoga class, they forget all about relaxation. This is where taiji, and passaddhi-bojjhanga is infinitely better. Someone who can do jhana in all four postures, can do “relax” in taiji all the time, it’s a whole different ball game (AN 8.63, AN 3.63).

I don’t mean to be disparaging of yoga, there are genuine spiritual seekers, some who can do 4 jhana quality of samadhi, with genuine attainments, but those spiritual qualities aren’t attributable to the gymnastics portion of yoga. But what you find in a typical yoga class, is kind of like mcmindfulness meditation training courses.

In my own practice, if I were to give a very rough rating of the relative importance of everything with proportionate time spent focusing on that activity, I’d say 90% 8aam (noble eightfold path) + 7sb (awakening factors), 10% yoga type stretching postures.

the heart of taiji quan is relaxing/passadhi-bojjhanga, so you have 100% overlap with 8aam, 7sb, jhana.

For taiji quan, if you learn something like 24 yang, 37 chen man ching, or even no forms and just the famous 8 pieces of brocade, 18 movement senior qigong (expanded from 8 pieces of brocade), that would be more than enough.

The most famous grandmasters, if you look at what they spend most of their time doing daily for their taiji pracctice, most of the time is spent in 4 jhana quality of samadhi doing really simple movement (static standing or sitting posture, or super simple qigong movement with standing or slow walking).

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For both yoga and taiji, look for teachers that are really relaxed in and out of class, and know how to show others how to relax (explicitly, and by example). One of my taiji teachers, a good friend, I also spent lots of time outside of class, and even when he’s driving the car, opening the car door, doing anything, he’s 100% in taiji relax mode with optimal relaxed frame, moving coordinated with whole body effortlessly.

astanga yoga, power yoga, you’re going to get type A personalities, competitive stretchers. One of the dirty secrets of yoga is so many yogis that look like stretchy masters have serious and even debilitating pain, take painkillers, have needed medical help, because of chronically competing to be stretchiest, looking good for the yoga babes in the class.

iyengar yoga, in comparison, they use blocks, straps, different props to do postures safely. Ashtanga (the root teacher had the same teacher as iyengar), they disparage iyengar with their props, while they look cool doing natural and unassisted (with props). I practiced astanga for a few years, and in hind sight, the system is ok if I do it alone, at my own pace, and modify the routine as necessary to compensate for lower back issues. But in a class environment, following their strictly regimented breathing/posture synchronization, coupled with the strenuous nature of the sequence, left me with chronic back pain. If I wasn’t egotistical and deluded from the start, I would have joined the iyengar classes instead with their wimpy looking props to heal my back issues instead of making them worse.

That’s just my experience, and it’s possible for genuine spiritual seekers to have good experience with Astanga. But I know a lot of people were in the same boat as me.

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That’s an interesting statement. I tried to find some information about this on the internet but did not get much results yet, do you have any links to share regarding this? (testimonies, interviews etc)

Isn’t doing 4-10 hours of sitting meditation a day enough?

Probably the thing you need most after all of that is to counteract the effects of all that sitting.

Taking a long brisk walk to work your heart, clear your head, and circulate your blood.

Luckily I went to some good Physical Therapists a while back and learned what to do to counteract sitting for long periods of time.

Stretch out your hips, thighs,knees, butt muscles & neck.

Strengthen your abs and buttocks.

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I meant that more in the context of of Astanga yoga, power yoga, and those type of curriculums, where classes of competitive A-type personalities has a tendency to bring out the competitive juices of yogis to out-stretch one another. This goes for the instructors as well, they feel pressure to visibly demonstrate why they’re teaching if the students are stretchier. I don’t know of any official studies on this, the articles I read were from yogis who also happened to be doctors, or other medical professionals who saw unusually high numbers of yogis coming through the hospital over the years.

Hatha yoga done properly, or even Astanga done in a wise way, is no problem at all. The problem is Astanga and those types of yoga systems tend to bring out ugly human tendencies that can easily lead to injury. I still do Astanga yoga, but that’s after I learned through trial and error how to modify it to be safe. I don’t recommend anyone else learn it though, you’re better off starting and staying with a system that emphasizes safety first right from the beginning and never wavers from that.

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And Iyengar is the safest in your experience?

edit:
Also, were there any poses you think contributed to your chronic back pain that you’d suggest others avoid?

The founders of Iyengar and astanga yoga had the same teacher. Iyengar learned from that teacher when that teacher was older, wiser, and more careful about safety.

I didn’t really take many iyengar classes, but just from browsing their literature and talking to people who did, I could see it’s a much safer and better approach than astanga.

But ultimately it’s pretty much common sense and just requires observing a few principles for good safety. When trying any new pose, move very slowly, if you feel pain or discomfort back off, respect that (temporary) boundary, and explore the edge of that discomfort very carefully.

Using props like straps, a wall, chairs, anything to assist with safety is a good idea, and don’t limit to just things people are teaching, use your own creativity and common sense.

If you look at the basic standard physical therapy exercises for people with back issues, and compare to yoga poses, you can get a good general idea of what type of movements are safer to do, but ultimately from trying the move yourself and feeling whats going on directly is the best guide, just like you can’t rely on what other people say about what food tastes good and nutritious, you have to taste it directly to be sure.

The best way is as the Buddha recommended, to get in a habit of kāya anupassana and kāya-gata-sati all the time, then you don’t have to think of complicated rules and what postures to do and avoid, it will just become an instantaneous reflex of what’s safe and what’s not safe.

Be warm and limber as a precondition to any vigorous exercise or yoga

Yasoja asked me a while back why I do jogging, this is why. Eating a very veganish vegetarian diet, I have the common problem of having a cold body easily. So I do gentle taiji style jogging anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes at a time, as many sessions per day as necessary to get warmed up, or regain warmth and limber body. In cold season, more often, hot season less often.

“gentle taiji jogging” is just something I made up. It can even done on a 30 foot walking meditation path. Basically, just think of a continuum of walking slowly, to walking briskly, to jogging with short steps, with varying tempos of rotational speed (of arms, legs), so that the energy usage feels smooth and easy. There are other very interesting nuances I’ll write about more at another time, but one other great benefit of this, compared to say, walking briskly, is that in the late evening, if you’re getting drowsy, 5 minutes of gentle taiji jogging will ward off drowsiness faster than 20 minutes of brisk walking.

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There’s also hot yoga with it’s variations, the being warm and limber is taken care of by the sauna-like room — it would be hard not to increase body temperature.

I’m curious, Frank, if there’s much evidence in the suttas for body awareness practice. Analayo also teaches this, and I cultivate it in my own practice, but I’m not sure if the suttas really say much about it. The closest we have is the sampajanna instructions, but that’s a very small section and just says comprehension in the four postures. It’s not really clear if the body parts meditation is kinesthetic.

It’s pretty clear in this sutta, concurrently dealing with 16 APS (anapana) with 4 elements, 31 body parts. It would be hard to directly experience these things without tactile kinaesthetic experience.

This is but one of many examples in the EBT.

MN 62: 4 elements contain physical body

atha kho āyasmā rāhulo
Then *** Ven. Rāhula,
sāyanha-samayaṃ
(in the) late-afternoon-time,
paṭisallānā vuṭṭhito
(from his) seclusion (he) emerged,
yena bhagavā ten-upasaṅkami;
**** (to) the-Blessed-One (he) approached;
upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ
having-approached the-Blessed-One,
abhivādetvā ekam-antaṃ nisīdi.
(he) bowed-down, (at) one-side (he) sat.
ekam-antaṃ nisinno kho āyasmā rāhulo
(at) one side sitting *** Venerable Rāhula
bhagavantaṃ etad-avoca —
{said-this} (to) The-Blessed-One -
“kathaṃ bhāvitā nu kho, bhante,
"{Lord}, How (do I) develop ** ***, *****,
ānā-pānas-sati,
in-breathing-(and)-out-breathing-mindfulness,
kathaṃ bahulīkatā
how (do I) pursue (it),
mahap-phalā hoti mahā-nisaṃsā”ti?
{to be} of-great-fruit ****, great-benefit?"

1. Earth-property

“yaṃ kiñci, rāhula,
Any thing, ******,
ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
internal, within oneself,
kakkhaḷaṃ kharigataṃ
(that's) hard, solid,
upādinnaṃ,
& sustained [by craving],
seyyathidaṃ —
such-as :
kesā lomā nakhā dantā taco
head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin,
maṃsaṃ nhāru aṭṭhi aṭṭhimiñjaṃ vakkaṃ
flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys,
hadayaṃ yakanaṃ kilomakaṃ pihakaṃ papphāsaṃ
heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs,
antaṃ antaguṇaṃ udariyaṃ karīsaṃ,
large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, feces,
yaṃ vā pan-aññampi kiñci
(or) whatever ** any-other thing
ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
internal, within oneself,
kakkhaḷaṃ kharigataṃ
that's hard, solid,
upādinnaṃ —
(and) sustained:
ayaṃ vuccati, rāhula,
This (is) called, ******,
ajjhattikā pathavī-dhātu
(the) internal earth-property.

not-self exercise

yā ceva kho pana ajjhattikā pathavī-dhātu
Now both the internal earth property
yā ca bāhirā pathavī-dhātu,
& the external earth property
Pathavī-dhāturevesā. Taṃ
are simply earth property.
‘n’etaṃ mama,
'this (is) {not} mine,
n'eso-'ham-asmi,
this I am {not},
na meso attā’ti
this (is) {not} {my} self.’
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.”
(with)-right-wisdom (one)-must-see-(it)."
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya disvā
(with) right-wisdom, (when one) has-seen (it).
pathavī-dhātuyā nibbindati,
(towards the) earth-property (one) becomes-disenchanted,
pathavī-dhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti”.
(regarding the) earth-property, (from the) mind it-fades-away.

2. Water-property

“katamā ca, rāhula, āpo-dhātu?
"What **, ******, (is the) water-property?
āpo-dhātu siyā ajjhattikā,
(the) water-property can-be internal,
siyā bāhirā.
(it) can-be external.
katamā ca, rāhula, ajjhattikā āpo-dhātu?
"What **, ******, (is the) internal water-property?
yaṃ ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
Anything internal, belonging-to-oneself,
āpo āpogataṃ upādinnaṃ,
that's water, watery, & sustained:
seyyathidaṃ —
such-as-these:
pittaṃ semhaṃ pubbo lohitaṃ sedo medo
bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat,
assu vasā kheḷo siṅghāṇikā lasikā muttaṃ,
tears, oil, saliva, mucus, oil-of-the-joints, urine,
yaṃ vā panaññampi
or anything else
kiñci ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
that's internal, within-oneself,
āpo āpogataṃ upādinnaṃ —
that's water, watery, & sustained:
ayaṃ vuccati, rāhula, ajjhattikā āpo-dhātu.
This (is) called, ******, (the) internal water-property.

not-self exercise

yā ceva kho pana ajjhattikā āpo-dhātu
Now both the internal water-property
yā ca bāhirā āpo-dhātu
& the external water-property
Āpo-dhāturevesā. Taṃ
are simply water-property.
‘n’etaṃ mama,
'this (is) {not} mine,
n'eso-'ham-asmi,
this I am {not},
na meso attā’ti
this (is) {not} {my} self.’
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.”
(with)-right-wisdom (one)-must-see-(it)."
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammappaññāya disvā
(with) right-wisdom, (when one) has-seen (it).
āpo-dhātuyā nibbindati,
(towards the) water-property (one) becomes-disenchanted,
āpo-dhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti.
(regarding the) water-property, (from the) mind it-fades-away.

3. Fire-property

“katamā ca, rāhula, tejo-dhātu?
"{and} what, ******, (is the) fire-property?
tejo-dhātu siyā ajjhattikā,
(The) fire-property may-be-either internal
siyā bāhirā.
or external.
katamā ca, rāhula, ajjhattikā tejo-dhātu?
What **, ****** (is the) internal fire-property?
yaṃ ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
Anything internal, belonging to oneself,
tejo tejogataṃ upādinnaṃ,
(that's) fire, fiery, & sustained:
seyyathidaṃ —
such-as-these:
yena ca san-tappati
that ** (by which) [the body is] warmed,
yena ca jīrīyati
that ** (by which is) aged,
yena ca pariḍayhati
that ** (by which is) consumed with fever;
yena ca asita-pīta-khāyita-sāyitaṃ
that ** (by which is) eaten, drunk, chewed, & savored
sammā pariṇāmaṃ gacchati,
(and) {goes} (through) proper digestion;
yaṃ vā panaññampi kiñci ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
{or} any ** particular thing internal, within-oneself,
tejo tejogataṃ upādinnaṃ —
(that's) fire, fiery, & sustained:
ayaṃ vuccati, rāhula, ajjhattikā tejo-dhātu.
This is-called (The) internal fire-property.

not-self exercise

yā ceva kho pana ajjhattikā tejo-dhātu
Now both (The) internal fire-property
yā ca bāhirā tejo-dhātu
& (The) external fire-property
Tejo-dhāturevesā. Taṃ
are simply fire-property.
‘n’etaṃ mama,
'this (is) {not} mine,
n'eso-'ham-asmi,
this I am {not},
na meso attā’ti
this (is) {not} {my} self.’
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.”
(with)-right-wisdom (one)-must-see-(it)."
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammappaññāya disvā
(with) right-wisdom, (when one) has-seen (it).
tejo-dhātuyā nibbindati,
(towards the) fire-property (one) becomes-disenchanted,
tejo-dhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti.
(regarding the) fire-property, (from the) mind it-fades-away.

4. Wind-property

“katamā ca, rāhula, vāyo-dhātu?
"{And} what, ******, (is the) wind-property?
vāyo-dhātu siyā ajjhattikā,
(the) wind-property may-be-either internal
siyā bāhirā.
or external.
katamā ca, rāhula, ajjhattikā vāyo-dhātu?
{And} what, ******, (is the) internal wind-property?
yaṃ ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
Anything internal, belonging to oneself,
vāyo vāyogataṃ upādinnaṃ,
that's wind, windy, & sustained:
seyyathidaṃ —
such-as-these:
uddhaṅgamā vātā,
up-going winds,
adhogamā vātā,
down-going winds,
kucchisayā vātā,
stomach winds,
koṭṭhāsayā vātā,
intestinal winds,
aṅgam-aṅgā-(a)nusārino vātā,
{winds that} {course through}-parts-[and more]-parts [of the body],
assāso passāso,
in-breathing (and) out-breathing,
iti yaṃ vā panaññampi kiñci ajjhattaṃ paccattaṃ
or anything else internal, within oneself,
vāyo vāyogataṃ upādinnaṃ —
that's wind, windy, & sustained:
ayaṃ vuccati, rāhula, ajjhattikā vāyo-dhātu.
This is called (the) internal wind-property.

not-self exercise

yā ceva kho pana ajjhattikā vāyo-dhātu
Now both (the) internal wind-property
yā ca bāhirā vāyo-dhātu
& (the) external wind-property
Vāyo-dhāturevesā. Taṃ
are simply wind-property.
‘n’etaṃ mama,
'this (is) {not} mine,
n'eso-'ham-asmi,
this I am {not},
na meso attā’ti
this (is) {not} {my} self.’
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammap-paññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.”
(with)-right-wisdom (one)-must-see-(it)."
evametaṃ yathā-bhūtaṃ
Thus as-(it)-actually-is,
sammappaññāya disvā
(with) right-wisdom, (when one) has-seen (it).
vāyo-dhātuyā nibbindati,
(towards the) wind-property (one) becomes-disenchanted,
vāyo-dhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti.
(regarding the) wind-property, (from the) mind it-fades-away.
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I prefer not being dependent on things like having a sauna, heater, even enough firewood for camping.

Suppose you’re on a meditation retreat in the himalayas in a cave, with limited firewood. The more ways you can instantly heat yourself without any external aid, they better off you are.

What methods can you use to heat yourself? Can you provide any resources? It seems possible when I remember the feats if the Iceman:

The Wim Hoff method is just hyperoxygenation (opposite of hyperventilation) + valsalva.

Here’s an article from the NYT about yoga injuries. I had no idea you could cause yourself brain damage from yoga poses.

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Thanks for this, some good food for thoughts in this article.

The article mentions a study that try to highlight the main serious injuries linked to yoga, they would be by order of importance:

  1. lower back
  2. shoulder
  3. knee
  4. neck
  5. stroke

more importantly than the specific type of injury, they all have same basic causes.

  1. fighting against the nervous system’s stretch reflex:
    (this excerpt talks about hamstring, but the same principle extends to other muscle and tissue groups)

https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/long-and-strong

It’s helpful to think of freeing your hamstrings as lengthening them rather than stretching them. “Stretching” is a term better reserved for inanimate objects. It’s true that we often approach our hamstrings as if they had no intelligence of their own, hoping to force them into a new shape just as we might stretch a pair of new shoes. But this approach can only get you so far, because a major factor keeping your hamstrings short is the stretch reflex, a built-in feature of the nervous system that holds muscles at a preset length and causes them to contract when they’re pulled beyond it.

The secret to lengthening hamstrings is to learn safe, effective ways to work with (or around) this reflex so it doesn’t stop your forward bends prematurely. Like a mule, your hamstrings know darn well when they’re being tugged. They sense how far, how fast, and how hard you’re pulling them—and if you overdo it, they resist stubbornly. But like a mule, your hamstrings can be convinced that it’s safe, even pleasurable, to let go and come along on the journey.

  1. greed for fast progress
  2. wanting to look good in front of others

Yasoj, earlier you asked me why I placed qigong/taiji much higher in importance than yoga, this is one of the reasons. When one develops kaaya-passadhi and step 3 of 16 APS (anapana) “entire physical-body (he is) sensitive to”, you have the finely tuned apparatus to practice yoga safely and avoid injury. When you don’t have step 3 of 16 APS, then people tend to have a mentality of “no pain, no gain”, and push through all physical discomfort and pain.

There are other reasons why taiji and qigong are more important than yoga asanas, I’ll get into it another time, but that is one of the most important reasons.

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The problem that I have had was with my knees from sitting in meditation. I hurt my knees doing karate many moons ago with the wrong kicking technique and now cannot sit in meditation for too long, and need a high cushion, keep my legs out or sit on a chair, as the pain then doesn’t help my meditation.

Kicking while locking the knee at the end of the arc of the kick was literally, a bad move!

with metta

Good point, and this is very buddhist - looking at the causes rather than just the results (injuries) :grinning:

I was not aware of this reflex, will look into it, it sounds interesting.

I think I understand the logic, and it makes sense. But wouldn’t doing the EBT practices be sufficient and as efficient as taiji/qigong? (e.g. walking meditation with mindfulness set up on the body + tranquilization of the body formations etc).
In the case of yoga there is maybe the aspect of streching that is not described in the EBTs but seem to be helpful for sitting and feeling good in general in the body; but I was wondering if the benefits of taiji/qigong are not already provided by the standard EBT practices.

Another way to put it would be, what are the main benefits of qigong/taiji that are not provided by standard EBT practices?

(I don’t know much (next to nothing) about these practices so the above thoughts are questions derived from a genuine interest, not assertions of mine!)

At the top of the food chain, 8aam (noble eightfold path) and 7sb (awakening factors). The development of these underlying factors is directly proportional the quality of practice of hatha yoga postures, taiji, and qigong. Getting into 4 jhanas, especially passadhi-bojjhanga is important.

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/relaxing-in-taiji-is-the-same-as-passadhi-sambojjhanga

If you have access to good taiji/qigong teacher or teachings, it’s incredibly helpful.

For example, Ajahn Lee’s “keeping the breath in mind”, IMO is showing taiji/qigong mastery as well as jhana and 16APS (anapana) mastery taught by the EBT. It comes out in the flavor of his writing, and somewhat in the actual nitty gritty details of his breathing meditation instructions. But doing basic taiji quan will make those principles much more clear, and also train the development of samadhi and true relaxation (kāya and citta passadhi-sambojjhanga) continuously, through all postures and moments of living, so that one experiences the bliss of jhana in some partial form all the time.

Following only EBT jhana and 16 APS, or only hatha yoga, I believe most people will have their relaxation compartmentalized to only small segments of the day where they’re doing “formal” sitting or asana practice. Most people also don’t realize how much physical tension they’re carrying constantly, needlessly. The slow , deeply aware and rememberful movement of taiji, when one learns how to use it at the highest level, exposes clearly all the knots, unconscious tensions we unnecessarily carry around.

It would take much more time to even adequately explain the reasons, but I’ll just say this. It’s much easier to get into jhana if you are skilled in relaxing, and good taiji training is so very helpful to learning how to relax not just in formal sitting, but all the time. When one knows how to relax deeply, and becomes aware of energetic blockages, it becomes much easier to relieve, and completely eliminate jhana constipation, those energetic blockages that prevent the physical bliss portion of jhana expressing itself fully.

see SN 54.7 mahā-kappina for example of jhana constipation.

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