Having been doing yoga and zazen on a daily basis, sometimes one after another, I have discovered both practices, although they seem to be very different in form, are very much alike.
Body and mind
One of the most apparent for me similarities between the two is the interconnectedness of body and mind, when they become one. My mind is supposed to be where my body is. In yoga I can simply hurt myself if I let my mind wonder off into the world of stories of the self. In zazen the body is still and seemingly passive but keeping the posture (being aligned, just as in yoga) is very important for the quality of the mind. If I notice that my mind is dull and drifting away, I check the posture and always notice that I am slouching without realising it.
I read somewhere of a Zen teacher who was doing zazen up a tree to prevent himself from falling asleep. Hm…
Both take time to settle into
At first it takes pure discipline to get myself either on the yoga mat or on the cushion. Only after a few weeks do I start appreciating the actual process and even get a longing to get on the mat/cushion whenever I have a chance.
No competition (nothing to attain)
As a beginner in yoga one gets an idea of what a perfect posture can be like, something that one has to strive for and as Erich Shiffmann in his book on yoga writes “…Because of this, there will necessary be a gap between where you are in a posture and where you think you should be. This gap, more often than not, contains a subtle frustration, a conflict, a feeling that where you are is insufficient – or worse, who you are is insufficient – and that if you were truly doing yoga properly and were a “good” or “evolved” person, you would be somewhere other than where you are. In this case this practice will be permeated with the effort of going somewhere else. It will be future-oriented, the present moment being significant only as a stepping stone to the future. And you will miss the present.”
How many times did I get on the cushion in a perfect mood expecting zazen would to be as good as the previous one or maybe even better only to find out thoughts starting to climb over each other, fighting for attention and I would have to postpone perfect zazen till next time. Just as in yoga I have to forget how deep I could enter a certain pose the previous time and be tuned to the way my body responds at the moment, I have to accept the way my mind is when I get on the cushion. This is it. What have we here?
One thing though: during zazen my legs often fall asleep which never happens in yoga. My body longs for yoga but seldom longs for zazen. 😦