Breath and the Body

Seven yoga postures to invigorate the meditative mind from Frank Jude Boccio.

Frank Jude Boccio; Illustrations Timothy Collins

Corpse Pose

Timothy  CollinsLie on your back with your feet between twelve and eighteen inches apart, arms at your sides a few inches away from the torso with the palms up. Surrender the full weight of the body to gravity. Let the earth fully support the body. This is one of the four major meditation postures taught by the Buddha.

Spend some time resting your awareness on your breath, wherever it is that you feel it in the body. Letting go of any tendency to manipulate it, simply know an in-breath as an in-breath, an out-breath as an out-breath. Working with the first foundation, open to the breath and its various qualities: deep or shallow, fast or slow, rough or smooth, even or uneven. Scan the body. Is it fully released or still holding tension? When the mind wanders, gently, free of irritation and judgment, bring it back to the breath and the body.

Reclining Pigeon

Timothy  CollinsFrom Corpse, bring both feet in near the buttocks, hip-width apart. Cross your right leg over your left, placing the outer right shin (just above the ankle) onto your left thigh. Then, bringing your left knee into your chest, reach between your legs with your right arm and around the outside of your left leg with your left arm and clasp your hands either just below your left knee or behind the knee on the back of your left thigh. Notice if you held or restricted your breath as you moved into this stretch, and continue to let the breath flow naturally.

Depending on the degree of openness in your hips, you may feel stretching sensations in your right hip. You may also sense some resistance to the sensations manifesting as tensing of the surrounding muscles. See if you can release this tension, and observe how the sensations change as you maintain the stretch. Begin to establish mindfulness of the body (the breath, the body’s movements and position), feelings (sensations that you may be experiencing as pleasant or unpleasant), mental formations (the resistance and aversion behind the muscle tensing), and objects of mind. Keep in mind that all phenomena are objects of mind: this means that we can focus our mindfulness not just on the body, sensations, and mental formations, but also on the impermanent, nonself nature of these sensations and mental formations; this focus will lead to—perhaps—the cessation of the clinging identification with the experience, the letting go of aversion, and a state of equanimity.

When you do the stretch to the other side, be aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, comparing and judging in the mind. Since we are not perfectly symmetrical beings, you may find that one hip provokes stronger sensations and reactivity than the other. One of my students once remarked that her left side was “the evil twin” of the right. It is just this setting apart in the mind that we try to avoid. Can we stay with the bare sensation, maybe even see the difference from one side to the other, without getting caught in judging or picking and choosing?


Timothy  CollinsComing onto your hands and feet, position your hands straight under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. As you exhale, round your back, pressing your spine up toward the ceiling, tilting the pelvis backward, scooping the tailbone between your legs. Let the head tilt forward so you are gazing back toward your thighs. On the inhalation, tilt the pelvis forward, opening your belly toward the floor and letting your spine move into the torso, creating a gentle backbend. Both the crown of your head and your tailbone reach up toward the ceiling. Be careful not to reach upward with your chin, which compresses the back of the neck.

Timothy  TreadwellAs you continue to coordinate the movement with your breath, let the duration of the breath determine your pace. Notice how once you have gone back and forth several times, the natural tendency of the mind is to wander. This is our common reaction to repetition. It is as if our mind assumes that having done it already, it knows all about it and needn’t pay attention. This “knowing mind” is often the biggest obstacle to intimacy, whether with the experiences of our life or with others. Thinking we know, we stop listening and seeing. Keep the “don’t know mind,” and grow in understanding and intimacy. Keep remembering to come back to the breath, the very thread that keeps body and mind connected.

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