Since the 1980s, when I first stayed in an ashram in India I have been doing yoga exercises. My first teacher was Sister Stephanie in the Catholic ashram Shantivanam in Tamil Nadu. She was keeping a vow of silence for five years for most of the time I was there, so instruction was simply by example.
It was at the same ashram that I began meditation, which I was doing fairly intensively at that time, around 6 hours a day sitting practice, and I found the yoga exercises a useful way of keeping the meditation going, so I would do around one and a half hours in the morning, and an hour in the evening.
I continued that practice up and till I ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1995, when it was much more difficult to maintain. For one thing I was living in a small room in a dormitary of rooms, so it was not possible to do much yoga inside and there was no privacy outside.
But also robes are somewhat encumbering and not suitable to some of the movements, and the culture in the monasteries at the time regarded yoga as an outside practice (this has changed now and many monks do yoga, even in the strict monasteries).
Anyway, my practice at that time simplified greatly, but I still kept it up and as I lived in different places there was sometimes more and sometimes less opportunity for practice according to conditions.
Then in 2004 I went down with TB (tuberculosis) while I was living in a mountain monastery in Sri Lanka. For six months, while I was taking the very heavy and difficult antibiotic treatment it was not possible to do any yoga at all, and when I was able to do some exercises again, they were even more restricted than previously, as I could no longer lie on the floor (or lie down at all) without risking heavy and prolonged coughing.
So I developed a kind of simplified, standing-only type of yoga for myself, which had two aims, one of which was to exercise my lungs, where a very delicate balance needed to be achieved because of the problem of irritation leading to coughing; and also to exercise my back which had become very stiff owing to lack of exercise, and generally stretch my limbs.
Recently I attended a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, and while looking for material to post here I came across his 10 Mindful Movements, which are very similar to the practices I had developed myself, but with some new movements, which seemed quite useful to include, so I have once again expanded my practice somewhat.
The movements, as one might expect, are very gentle and mindful. They are also closely tied to the breathing, and maintaining a balance in the body. I am finding them useful for my own practice and so wanted to share them with others.
Here I am embedding a 30-minute video lesson produced by Plum Village which explains the practice, first there is an introducton by Thay, then Brother Michael explains and demonstrates the movements, which is followed by the same set of movements led by Thay himself.
if this video is no longer available please leave a comment so I can update the page
Here I give a description of the movements for reference:
1. Raise arms from side to 90 degrees. This is done four times, as are all the exercises described here. When raising the arms breath in, when lowering them breath out and smile.
2. Raise arms from the side up to the sky, palms facing each other, but apart, straight out from the shoulders. When raising the arms breath in, when lowering them breath out and smile.
3. Start with the tips of the fingers on the shoulders, and the arms extended to the sides. Draw them out like a flower opening in the morning. When opening the arms breath in, when closing them breath out and smile.
4. Place hands together at the front, raise them up and draw a circle round, then down again to meet at the front. While raising the hands breath in, while lowering breath out. The second time reverse the direction.
5. From a position touching the floor, raise the hands to the sky then back to the floor. Raising breathing in, lowering breathing out. This is similar to 2 but starts at the ground.
6. Place heels together, but forming a V-shape, with the toes pointing out, raise up on the heels, then come down to a squat.
7. Draw a circle with the head, breathing in on the first raising part of the circle, breathing out on the lowering part of the circle. Then reverse the direction.
8. Raise the foot with toes pointing down on the in-breath, pointing it forward on the out-breath, alternatively right and left leg.
9. Draw a circle with the foot, toes pointing down as though drawing on the floor. In-breathing on the first half of the circle, out-breathing on the second, alternating the legs.
10. Left foot pointing forward, right perpendicular, left hand on hip, stretch the right arm to the sky and do this four times. Then the same with the positions reversed.
The whole practice takes around 15 minutes and I would recommend doing it twice a day.