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  • Julie Lifton

How Does Hatha Help Us Now

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Ha = Sun

Tha = Moon

Hatha = Sun + Moon

Yoga = Union

When the world feels out of balance, as it does now, it helps to turn to what works to find inner balance in the face of it all. And, some of us are reckoning with the fact that Black Americans, for many generations, since being forced to set foot in this country, have been aggressively excluded from knowing the world to be in balance.

This is not to say that within the experience of exclusion people haven’t found ways to create balance and steadiness. It just means that some of us are born expecting it, while too many have to overcome the destabilizing forces of racism, (and classism, sexism, homophobia, the list goes on) to find inner balance, in spite of the many attempts to strip human beings of such a basic birthright.

This reckoning has happened many times before in my lifetime. Yet, something feels different this time. It is my deepest hope and dream that this time those of us born easy in the world are listening harder and working harder so that those born into a harder place can take the reins. And the reign!

Yoga is the most effective tool I know that helps me to listen, learn, and stay present without slipping into cynicism (President Obama has continually cautioned us not to lose hope and slip into cynicism).

There are centuries of practitioners and scholars before us who have leaned on yoga to restore balance and well-being. To quote the late Satchidananda Saraswati who came to this country from India in 1966:

What is the cause of the crisis and lawlessness present throughout the world? It is lack of union between the body, mind and soul. We need to change our hearts. This is the work of Yoga, which means the holistic union of the body, mind and soul with our heart by means of love, without regard for caste, high or low, gender, creed, color, or country…. One who uses the body and mind properly in time and space, with proper motive for the common welfare of humankind, is a yogi and is practicing Yoga, whether he or she knows it or not. There is no choice between using and not using the mind. There is only the choice between proper and improper use, between unselfish and selfish purpose. One who uses the mind to unite humanity's heart, not only to create unity between the East and the West, but to experience that unity with all existence--he or she is a yogi.

Hatha = Sun + Moon

Yoga = Union

We often associate this pair of opposites with masculine and feminine aspects of the self, like yin and yang. It is that, and so much more. Ha means heat, the physical power, and strength in approach; and Tha means coolness, flexibility, and an effortless approach. Hatha yoga is the physical practice of yoga in which the mind, the body, and the spirit are drawn together in one time, place, and effortless effort.

The Ha is within the Tha, the Tha is within the Ha. One cannot exist without the other. Therefore, together they create a whole. The literal translation of yoga is “to yoke”, yoking together the sun and the moon as a farmer yokes together a pair of oxen. The union of these opposites is accomplished through the practice of hatha yoga.

This is not something that we create, it is something we gain access to, through the practices of the 8 limbs of yoga. Again, Swami Satchidananda:

Yoga means union, union of the individual "I-am" with the cosmic "I-Am." The union between the mind, body and spirit. This union is eternal. You do not have to create it. You cannot create it, because it always exists. You have to feel it. How? Not by an emotional feeling of the thinking mind, but by feeling the original mind, the silent mind with which you are born.

Through our practice we begin the process of reclaiming this sense of union. We get a glimpse into the pure light within us, within every one of us.

There is a word in Sanskrit that puts a name on our presumptions, judgements, and prejudices resulting from our education and past experience. The word is Vasana, meaning the colorations of the mind. Our minds are dyed with the colors we’ve been steeped in. In our yoga practice we spend an hour and a half in the intentional practice of not succumbing to the vasanas. We spend an hour and a half in the intentional practice of compassion toward our bodies and minds which are the products of many years of habit and use. Instead we offer ourselves the opportunity to create new grooves in the mind/body, new synapses and ways to bring our disparate bits of self back to the loving, abiding life force we came from.

Let us set aside time between protests, letter-writing, petition-signing and anything else we’re doing, and in the midst of any crisis, to check in with ourselves, to re-balance and nourish our hearts. It is my sincere belief that it will make us better activists, and better at everything we do.

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