In the 5th Century, a Buddhist hermit named Bodhidharma introduced Chan (Zen) Buddhism to the monks of Shaolin Temple. Involving long periods of silent seated meditation, this practice was too rigorous for many of the monks, so Bodhidharma devised a series of exercises to condition the bodies and minds of the monks. These exercises were expounded upon, and added to over many centuries as visiting masters shared their knowledge to the temple monks. The result was Shaolin Chuan, or Shaolin Temple Boxing, a potent form of both martial and meditative practice. Combining stance work, punches, kicks, throws, joint manipulation, meditation, and flexibility training, Shaolin Chuan is the foundation for most if not all East Asian martial arts styles, including Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Judo, and Jiu Jitsu. Though many people practice Shaolin Chuan as a form of self defense, its roots are in the monastic tradition of meditation and non-violence. When properly practiced, the forms facilitate a meditative state and the internalization of the bodies energy, bringing about greater spiritual awareness.
Attributed to the Taoist monk Chang San Feng who lived in the 12th Century, Tai Chi Chuan is an art of moving meditation. It is considered a form of Nei Jia, or Internal Form of martial arts, using the coordination of breath, Qi, focused intent, and body movement to generate physical force as well as preserve health and internal balance. Over many years it has separated into 5 major family styles, namely Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu (Hao), and Sun styles. Each family style has several different variations of the form. The Lao Yang, or Old Yang Family style, is the primary form of Tai Chi Chuan taught at Self Mastery Systems. This form is not commonly seen today, and its lineage can be traced back to Yang Lu Chan, the founder of the Yang Family style of Tai Chi Chuan. Its small frame movements are conducive to physical fitness, mental relaxation, and self defense application.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union.” The English cognate is “yoke.” Although many people associate the term yoga with a physical practice involving asanas – postures, like “downward-facing dog,” “cobra,” or “crescent moon pose” – yoga actually refers to the meditative state arrived at through a practice. There are four general classes of yoga: hatha, karma, jnana, and bhakti. Hatha yoga styles are physical practices. Karma yoga is a spiritual practice of service to others. Jnana yoga is the mental practice of study and knowledge. Bhakti yoga is a practice of worship. Whatever the form of the practice, the experience of spiritual union of self and non-self is arrived at through observing the breath.
At Self Mastery Systems, we offer hatha yoga classes as a form of self discovery and self exploration. Our classes balance flowing through a series of postures with the very important aspect of holding each posture to really feel its effects on the body. Hatha yoga is a method to improve the body’s alignment and posture, breathing, and to instill mental and physical relaxation. Our three yoga teachers each trained in different hatha styles, but all emphasize breathing and bodily alignment in their classes.
Meditation has two meanings. There is the meditative state, which has no words. There are also the techniques that bring us to that state. Techniques of meditation are supplements to the daily activities of life, and the practices are offered as a way to enhance each practitioner’s own experience of life. Practices like yoga, Tai Chi Chuan, Shao Lin, gardening, flower arrangement, calligraphy and many, many others help slow us down so that we may see the beauty in each breath. They have no particular dogma and cannot replace the traditions or practices a person carries with them, these are simple tools of self discovery.
While there are many meditative techniques, each student finds their own path with their own particular tool set. We recognize that many traditions – Western and non-Western, religious and secular – have their own practices and vehicles for introspection. Many students come to Self Mastery Systems with their own meditative techniques and practices. We celebrate the diversity of traditions represented in our school and seek to find the common threads in each of them so that each of us may deepen our own experience of life.