Comparative study of Yoga and Buddhism from Sraddhagita

Sraddhagita is a Buddhist yoga practitioner of many years experience and teachers and lives in London.

I am going to compare Buddhism and yoga in terms of the body and practice.

To do this I will look at the Sattipatthana Sutta which is about the four foundations of mindfulness, the first one being the body and I will look at the body in yoga in terms of the asanas.
Mindfulness in Buddhism is seen as a distinct spiritual faculty and the defining quality of all Buddhist practice according to Sangharakshita in "Living with Awareness". The Buddha's method starts by encouraging us to develop awareness of the aspect of our experience that is closest to us which is the body, so this is the first foundation of mindfulness:
"Here Bhikkus, a Bhikku abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put aside covetousness and grief for the world".
Being aware of our body though is not as easy as it may sound so the Buddha went on the recommend an awareness of something even closer and fundamental which is the breath.   
"And how, Bhikkus, does a Bhikku abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a Bhikku, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out."
It is hard to focus on the body as a whole because it is a complex thing with all sorts of processes and sensations going on at the same time. One way of establishing a broader awareness of the body is to begin by focusing on the breath, through a practice called the mindfulness of breathing. The breath is simple, direct and available to us at any moment, giving us information and acting as an anchor which can ground our experience. It is something we can get interested and absorbed in and on the basis of this awareness can broaden to include bodily sensations, the whole of our body and then move on to the other foundations of mindfulness. Through practicing the mindfulness of breathing meditation, the awareness that we build up starts to affect our lives. As we start to calm and integrate our experience, that same kind of awareness begins to flow in to whatever we are doing, lying down on the sofa, walking to the tube, talking to a friend or eating lunch.  When we notice and take an interest in our experience, other people and the world around us, we start to become more aware of everything. That is what we are ultimately trying to do, pay attention to everything because then we can start to reflect on reality. If we do this we start to see the preciousness of our breath, body and life. Buddhism sees  the body as precious, birth is precious because it gives us an opportunity to practice. At the same time everything including us is precarious, changing and impermanent. Tsongkapa evokes this beautifully with these words:
" The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem, cherish your body, it is yours this one time only. The human form is won with difficulty, it is easy to lose. All worldly things are brief like lightening in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being …...."
Through an awareness of the body and breath, each moment is potentially a moment of awareness where experience can become vivid and bright. We can see beauty in the ordinary, our body and breath are more alive to and in tune with the life around us: in the texture of a wall; the faces of people walking past; the breeze on our skin and the scent of jasmine in our garden.  To do this we need to turn towards our experience, rather than resisting, ignoring or pushing it away. If our awareness is divided and we are not really present, but looking at our phone while walking, we can easily miss the life that is in front of us and the friend who just passed by because we are too busy reading a text. 
Mealtimes are a good opportunity to practice mindfulness of the body through an awareness of the food we are eating. From a Buddhist perspective eating is about sustaining ourselves and keeping the body healthy. It's not about indulging in neurotic craving or over eating. This doesn't mean we can't enjoy our food though! We can appreciate the skill and care of the cook by being aware of the colours, flavours and textures.  We can deepen our experience if we don't try to combine it with business and if we take our time rather than rushing to finish. Our awareness can be enhanced by paying attention to the environment, creating an atmosphere by using a tablecloth, candlelight and a vase of winter foliage. 
Mindfulness of the body also includes the bodies of others … "in this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally and internally and externally". Contemplating the body externally points us to the importance of being aware of bodies other than our own. This would mean treating the bodies of others with the same care and attention as we would our own body. It means taking an interest and being glad and appreciative of the qualities of others. Ultimately it means seeing that we are all in the same boat as human beings. This softens the sense of separation which manifests as the ego and builds connection and a sense of solidarity. The Metta Bhavana practice is key to us being able to empathize and imaginatively step into another person's shoes. We can make someone a cup of tea, carry an elderly person's shopping for them, smile at the person serving us in a shop and take care of our friends and relatives by helping them and being kind. 
In terms of yoga, well I am going to focus on asanas but the whole practice of yoga can be seen in the much broader context of developing consciousness.
Yoga is very beneficial to the overall health of the body: it improves strength and flexibility. Both of these qualities are necessary to boost our immune system and improve our metabolism.  Yoga also unblocks and awakens energy which increases our vitality.  it gives us a way to connect with our body and return to a more fully embodied state. Yoga strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system allowing the body and mind to rest and rejuvenate especially through inversions, twists and back bends and it also calms the body and mind through an awareness of the breath. 
Through practicing yoga, one can train the mind to be aware and present. Balancing poses require our moment to moment awareness which means being present and focused but without getting tight or tense. By balancing on one foot, we naturally drop any unnecessary thought and our awareness becomes calm, deep and still.
Yoga helps us to breathe better, it improves our posture and creates more space in the body so we can breathe more freely. This helps our circulation and metabolism. Poor posture, shallow breathing and tensions held in the body are often the result of anxiety and they cause further anxiety. This may be habitual and a way that the body has learnt to protect itself. Working with diaphragmatic breathing and the breath generally in yoga can start to have an effect on these habits gradually encouraging more ease and relaxation in the body. This also improves our posture which in turn affects our breathing in a positive way.
The Buddhist attitude to the body is not about health, it is much broader and comprehensive. It is more about addressing and overcoming suffering (even if we do yoga for 20 years we still suffer).  It is about transformation and liberation from clinging not just for ourselves but for all beings. The health of our body is a byproduct to this. 
Yoga is more about cultivating a healthy body and it gives us a rich variety of asanas to do this. It is also designed to develop a clear and still mind and to prepare oneself for higher states of development so it can be practiced with liberation in mind but this is not necessarily part of yoga practice and the body. 
In Buddhism the process of liberation can't be separated from the body as it is about complete and full liberation. This is where the two traditions differ but they can be brought together through awareness in its fullest sense as revealed in the Sattipatthana sutta which is key to the practice of mindfulness from mindfulness of the body right through to full awakening through the Bodhiyangas. This is what Bodhi yoga is attempting to do and it is why I decided to train to teach with them.