In physical yoga practice, we focus on alignment in our postures and connection to our breath, in order to cultivate tranquility of body, mind and spirit. As a Yoga Therapist on the island of O'ahu, I am reminded of the alignment and connection between yoga and the spirit of aloha that is so important here. The word 'aloha' has many uses of course, as both a greeting and a goodbye, a celebration and an acknowledgment. But it is the spirit within aloha that is most important and that connects it deeply to the practice of yoga. By practicing the spirit of aloha and the spirit of yoga, we can increase our connection to self and to the world around us.
The first part of aloha (alo) means 'to be with.' The second part (ha) means 'the breath.' To be with one's own breath is the foundation of yoga and meditation practice. And to recognize that as human beings we are all interconnected through breath, is the first step to fostering a consciousness of unity.
To practice yoga and meditation in its authentic form and in the spirit of aloha means that we pay attention to our breath and to its exchange with those around us. We recognize that we are all connected at this most intimate level of life, and we sense the interplay of being both human and Divine. As we practice living from that place of shared breath, we see that what we think or say affects everyone around us, for better or worse. In this unified state we know that helping our neighbor helps us as well, and hurting another through word or deed hurts us in kind. This is especially significant on a small island with limited resources, thousands of miles from any other land.
To recognize the significance of the Yoga of Aloha takes us to the deepest implications of the purpose of all Yoga practices as outlined by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali over 2,500 years ago. In this classic text it is explained that the fundamental reason for doing any Yoga practice is to realize our true spiritual nature. Through asana (postures), pranayama (breathing and energy control) and meditation we learn to focus our awareness on the Self within and release attachments to external desires and possessions. By doing this with consistency and devotion, we can experience the unification of our individual consciousness with Universal Consciousness, the animating principle behind all life. In this state of expanded perception, we feel ultimate peace and great love. We recognize the Divine nature of our true Self, and know that we share this essence of being with all who share the breath of life.
The ancient Hawaiian salutation of greeting one another through a close physical exchange of breath parallels the yogic teaching of oneness of all creation. Although today aloha is offered simply with a warm smile, its deeper meaning persists. One does not have to be in Hawai'i to practice the Yoga of Aloha.
By focusing on the rhythmic exchange of our breath and its connection to all life around us, we begin to feel more aligned with our fellow human beings. As we maximize our capacity to breath deeply and consciously, we relieve daily stress, clear our minds, and open our hearts. Through this breathing meditation we create harmony in our bodies and minds as well as with those around us. By recognizing that what you give, I receive, and what I give, you receive, we build a bridge of commonality between us and we live the true spirit of yoga and of aloha.
Photo credit Jennie Lee
Click to read more about the meaning of Aloha Spirit.