On this blog, I’ve classified zen meditation and yoga (which I use here to include its various branches) into one category. But as I study both zen and yoga further, I’m noticing a degree of polarization between practitioners regarding two approaches that I had always considered as complimentary orientations toward mind-body work. From my understanding, these are some of the stereotyped criticisms of a more fluid yogic approach and a more austere zen approach:

Yoga Zen
Lacking rigour, weak Cold, severe, overly disciplined
Indulgeant, narcisstic, magical thinking Empty, absurdist
Trite, sentimental Lacking passion, dry

I began to think about this because of a conversation I had with a yoga teacher in which she spoke of zen meditation negatively. I could hardly recognize her description, as if zen was naught more than an intellectual exercise in emptying out one’s mind and engaging in mental gymnastics. On the other hand, another friend, a zen practitioner, once dismissed yoga meditation as a fluffy new-age feel good waste of time.

This is a divide that mirrors the western division between emotions and rationality. I see it play out in other fields and it is often gendered. Take tarot for example. There are those who lean toward studying the history of the Golden Dawn, reading kabbalistic texts, and dig the Marseilles decks and those who prefer an intuitive approach, cite secondary Jungian texts and can give a damn good reading with “silly” decks that have fairies and cats. Or what about astrology? There are those who read the likes of Lily and Ebertin, prefer to study horary and electional charts and are rigorous and consistent in their methods while others care more about natal charts and personalities, do not have a systematic approach and reach interpretation by a combination of heuristics and personal anecdotes.

You can see that stereotypical criticisms we find in yoga and zen can be found in other fields. More often than not, the analytical approaches are deemed more serious, more “scientifically” valid  and tend to be male dominated.

Mandala from Jung's Red Book

Interestingly, while I come across negative caricatures in people, I have never really encountered them in practice. The mind-body is remarkable in its powers of self deception, but stronger yet are its natural movements toward wholeness, complexity, integration and health. I believe that if you devote yourself earnestly and with discipline, one will naturally be exposed to compensatory processes that will reveal the false division between reason and emotion and be forced to come to terms with your own tendencies and weaknesses. It is only a matter of effort, time and practice.

Additional related reading: Frank Jude Boccio’s Breath and the body: Seven yoga postures to invigorate the meditative mind via Carol Horton.

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