What are we uniting when we practice hatha yoga?
One of the first things we learn in Eternal Health Yoga’s primary teacher training program is the meaning of the words “hatha yoga”. Far more than the name of a class, these words indicate the very essence of our practice.
The word hatha can be broken down into two syllables. The first syllable, ha, means “solar”. The second syllable, tha, means “lunar”. The word yoga means “union”. Hatha yoga refers to a practice that unites the seemingly opposing parts of ourselves.
If you think that sounds complicated, or even a bit woo-woo, you’re not alone. It actually is more practical than you might think. Each human being has a unique and very complex personality. Our personalities are shaped by things like our biology, culture, how we were raised, and our past experiences just to name a few! The dilemma we so often face is that those different parts of our personality, sometimes referred to as the ego or small self in the yogic tradition, come into conflict with each other or with the personalities of other people. Yoga is the process through which we bring those things into balance so that we can be at peace.
Yin and Yang energies are in us all.
The Daoist Yin Yang symbol is an excellent representation of a balanced personality. The Yin Yang symbol is a circle with a squiggly line drawn through the center. Half of the circle is black and half of the circle is white. However, there is a white dot in the black half and a black dot in the white half. This shows that the yin and the yang side of the circle each contains a drop of the other.
There are different qualities associated with the two different sides of the Yin Yang. The yang side is what yogis would call the solar side. This is our masculine side. In this context, words like masculinity and femininity are not to be confused with maleness or femaleness. Instead, they refer to qualities within each of us that are expressed to a greater or lesser degree depending on a variety of factors, only one of which is how we were socialized. This solar part of our personality is also associated with light, movement, activity, our Spirit, and all that is conscious.
The yin side of our personality is what yogis would call our lunar side. This is our feminine side. It is associated with dark, stillness, receptivity, our Soul, and all that is unconscious. These parts of our personality are not static, nor are they absolute. Both sides are relative to each other. Each has a lesson to teach us.
Beltane: A Western practice for honoring the union of the masculine and feminine.
Yoga and Daoism are two eastern traditions that seek to balance the polar aspects of our personalities. However, the West has its own practices that celebrate the coming together of the masculine and feminine. Today is Beltane! Beltane is based on an ancient Gaelic fertility festival. It celebrates the union of the God and Goddess that brings about creation. For example, one representation of the God, or the masculine principle, is rain. The Goddess, or feminine principle, represents herself through the fields. The fields receive the rain. The result of this union is an abundant crop!
There is no hierarchy between the God and Goddess, masculine and feminine principles, earth and sky. One needs the other. It is only when the two unite that new life can be created!
Traditionally Beltane marked the beginning of summer when the livestock were driven to summer pastures. Practitioners of the Old Religion prayed their crops would be blessed and performed rituals to appease the Fair Folk, or Faeries as we might call them today. Beltane was celebrated by lighting bonfires, leaving offerings at holy wells, and, of course, dancing around the infamous May Pole!
We honor Beltane when we acknowledge the masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves and allow them to express themselves through us in their own unique way. Whether we are country or urban dwellers, here is a simple Beltane ritual anyone can do to bless the light half of our year.
- Smudge your home, or at least the room you will be performing your ritual in, with a sage stick. Imagine clearing this space of any limiting thoughts and unhelpful beliefs.
- Pour water into a bowl. If possible, choose a bowl that has special meaning to you. Perhaps a bowl of a deceased loved one or a bowl from your finest china you only bring out for guests.
- Light a candle. Walk three circles around your bowl of water in a clockwise direction as a symbol that the ritual has officially begun. If walking is unavailable to you, trace the edge of your bowl with your finger three times in a clockwise direction.
- Pause and think about the things you are most grateful for in this moment. Acknowledge that where we are as we embark on the light half of the year has been brought to us through our tenacity during the dark half of the year.
- Say the following prayer or write one of your own! “I give gratitude for the blessings and the lessons the season of Beltane will bring me and all those I love.”
- Close by walking three counter-clockwise circles around your bowl, snuffing your candle, and rinsing your hands in the water. Then, pour the water outside by a flower, tree, or any outdoors place that feels meaningful to you.
May your Beltane be blessed and bring you abundance this year!