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Connecting the Dharma and Sangha Through Yoga

In February 2020, I attended a Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) workshop at the Jodo Shinshu Center where I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. Bob Matsueda and I grew up together at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple (PABT) and it was through this latest encounter that I learned Bob was a yoga instructor.


Bob and I kept in touch over the months, and as PABT began planning virtual events to support our members staying at home during the pandemic, we were excited to be able to host an online yoga seminar taught by Bob titled “Yoga for Health at Any Age and Physical Ability: A Complementary Practice to Buddhism (Self Care & Compassion for the Benefit of All Beings Everywhere).”


Although originally targeted for PABT members, we quickly realized we could easily host the online event for all BCA members. What started out as a modest idea for a handful of members grew to 95 people joining us from across the country.


BCA members and their friends from up and down the West Coast, as well as Denver, Chicago, Virginia, Boston and Grand Rapids, Michigan, all joined in at the initial online yoga session in January. And our attendees represented four generations from teenagers to great-grandparents.


“Yoga, for me, is a practice to create greater openness in the body and mind,” Matsueda said. “My view of yoga is it is not a ‘jiriki’ (self-power) focused practice, but a means to be able to view the world as an unattached observer. I bow my head deeply in appreciation to India and Indian culture for being the birthplace of all Eastern spiritual practices. I would also like to acknowledge other BCA temples/yoga teachers sharing yoga including Berkeley, San Jose, San Francisco, Marin, and Orange County. Special thanks to PABT, Rev. Koyama, and Rick Kawamura for allowing me to share yoga.”


Rev. Dean Koyama, Resident Minister at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, kicked off the morning at the January session with gassho and offered this message: “Yoga and Buddhism are tied together as we endeavor to perfect our mind and improve our body through movement to harness energy and live a healthy and productive life. Yoga is a nondualistic practice which is complementary to Buddhism in that it facilitates awakening to the Nembutsu and the Dharma of Universal Oneness. I’d like to thank Bob for bringing his Dharma-focused yoga classes to everyone.”


It was truly a wonderful morning to see everyone together enjoying a peaceful two hours learning about yoga and its connection to the history and teachings of Buddhism, as well as health and tranquility.


This was my first experience with yoga, and I was curious how it related to Buddhism and meditation. Here’s what I learned:


  • In the Western world, yoga is more of an exercise with a focus on poses;

  • Bob’s Buddhistic approach to yoga is more about finding mental and physical balance, and clearing the mind of chaos;

  • As we age, yoga can help reduce stress, increase blood flow, improve brain health (to avoid memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease), and reduce injury to help us remain active and maintain independence;

  • Traditionally, yoga was meant to soften the body for meditation, so that we can learn to be patient, nurturing, kind and compassionate;

  • We can’t control the world around us, but we can regulate and control how we respond by staying centered and balanced through meditation;

  • Meditation is a way to get your brain to relax, to look inward, and pay more attention to yourself; and

  • With proper mindfulness (breathing and meditation), you release your ego and judgements, and your heart opens up to see the truth.


Buddhist teachings are deeply manifested in yoga, which help facilitate a strong sense of equanimity to allow us all to maintain balance in our minds and in our bodies.


“I am so grateful to the PABT for making these yoga classes available to us all,” said Elaine Ogawa, who joins the yoga classes from the Midwest Buddhist Temple. “Bob’s healthy aging yoga focuses on the importance of strength, balance, flexibility and breathing with ‘no pain.’ I appreciate Bob’s approach, demeanor (and humor!) and that he provides various pose options to adapt to all ages and levels. After each session, I feel so much better both physically and mentally. It is truly a relaxed, friendly, supportive atmosphere.”


Based on the positive feedback from the attendees, PABT is offering three weekly yoga sessions on Saturday mornings with Bob at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. PST.


If anyone is interested, we’d love to have you. Please reach out to join us live on Saturdays. All ages and all abilities are welcome, and the classes are free.


At Bob’s request, a portion of any donation made to PABT on behalf of these yoga sessions will be used to provide food and shelter for those in need in Northern California. For more information, please contact me at rkawamura@berkeley.edu.


The Palo Alto Buddhist Temple would like to thank Bob Matsueda for his generosity in volunteering to lead these classes — none of this would have been possible without him.


In addition to his weekly classes, Matsueda is working on special workshops, which will include guest speakers on Indian Ayurvedic medicine, body massage therapy, and health and nutrition.


He has also pre-planned overseas workshops to Japan for a three-day seminar on Buddhism and yoga, as well as yoga and Ayurveda in Southern India. These are currently on hold until it is safe again to travel. If you’d like to learn more about Bob Matsueda’s yoga practice and any of his free yoga classes, please visit www.bobmatsueda.com.


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