Yoga is not only moving your body into postures. Yoga ist an art of living. In the last weeks I have had the chance to dive deep into this world – in a very intense, at moments also challenging, but also extremely rewarding manner.
Ashutosh Sharma, an Indian Yoga teacher belonging to the Himalayan tradition, was invited by the Yoga Shiatsu Centre to visit Merano for a weekend seminar and a retreat in the mountains. He brought with him a lot of experience with spiritual leaders from his tradition, deep knowledge about our body and the effect of postures on a physical and spiritual level and most of all a suitcase full of simple, practical insights for every day life.
And right after the days with Ashutosh I was to travel to Firenze to write the first part of my exam of my Yoga Teacher Training. One of the questions was: “What is Hatha Yoga?” The word Hatha is composed of the two syllables Ha and Tha. “Ha” stands for the solar energy, the male, the active, inbreath. “Tha” stands for the lunar energy, the female, relaxation, outbreath. Hatha Yoga aims at balancing these two energies – in our body, in our mind and in the universe around us. And according to Yoga you can not separate these entities. Working on one of them will have an effect also on the other areas. Work on your mind and your body will change and also what you perceive around you.
This all sounds very simple in theory. But why is it so difficult for us to put into practice? Even when we are in a peaceful and inspiring setting like a mountain retreat.
In our society, and especially in our Western context, the “Ha” part has much more importance. We define ourselves through what we do and have and not by what we are. So we spend our life being active, wanting to achieve goals and realize projects. We always have a lot of important things to do. The more stressed we are, the more we are admired and envied by our fellow people. Over time, this lets us forget how to really get rest, take breaks that can restore our energy and creativity, how to release tensions in our body and calm our mind. For some people even “relax” becomes a stressful point on their weekly agenda with the idea in their mind that they have to achieve something and be better than others even in a yoga class. That is not Hatha Yoga. This attitude is “Ha”-“Ha” Yoga and it is not balancing our energies, but reinforcing the dominance of the solar, active, competitive, linear, male, directed energy.
So in reality, what we have to do, is to find and recognize the precious “Tha” energy, the capacity to let go, relax, really recharge our batteries to be ready for the next “Ha” cycle. So in “Tha” we breathe out deeply and let go and in “Ha” we breathe in and get active. The breathing process for some people is something completely unconscious and automatic. We cannot not breathe, we would die. So something in us is making sure that we will keep breathing as long as we are in this life even if we don’t think about it or are aware of what we are doing. But what we can do, is compromise the quality of our breath. We are born with natural breathing that we call diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our abdomen from our thorax. When we breathe in, the diaphragm is pushed downwards to leave space for our lungs to expand. Our belly will blow up like a balloon. When we breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back into its position under our ribs and forms a kind of arch that allows the belly to sink in.
What happens in an ever active, stressed, conditioned life, is, that the diaphragm tenses up and changes our breath. We do not breathe in and out properly anymore. Often we breathe in a very superficial way only in our chest region and the air is not allowed to flow freely. We keep our belly in even in outbreath, because it is not accepted to let others see your belly balloon. With this, come a series of problems in our body and it deeply affects our emotional balance. So when we focus on our breath and learn again how to let the diaphragm do its work, we will realise that our posture changes, we will straighten up, that our digestion will work differently and that aches in the neck, shoulders and lumbar region will slowly get better. We will realise that our mind will get calmer. We will be able to perceive our physical and energetic centre that gives us strength and stability. We will bring more balance into our life.
This stability will help us not to get easily disturbed by things that happen around us or that other people do. We will change perspective and instead of seeing problems and bad intentions, we will start seeing opportunities to learn from and grow. We will start seeing the qualities and beauty in and around us and we will stop judging ourselves and others so much for what they do and say. We will see beyond. Our mind will change from a thorn picking mind to a flower picking mind and we will become like a river that finds its way around obstacles by lovingly embracing them and flowing around them. And with this we will learn to let go. To let go of all the little and big dramas we create in our lives when we are not stable, balanced and clear in our minds.
Let’s create some space to dedicate to that powerful instrument that we have been given by nature. Let’s clean our glasses to have a good and clear view. Just sit down and observe your breath. It is our life force. Creating space for it inside and outside will bring more peace, beauty and joy into our hurting, stressed and bleeding world. Let’s start picking beautiful flowers instead of stinging thorns, lets reduce the amount of drama in and around us. And let’s do Hatha Yoga instead of “Haha” Yoga. Enjoy and have a beautiful summer!