Hamsa .. the singular mantra that every breathing being is born and dies with.
Ham is our first breath from the womb.
Sah is our final relaxation as we shed the body.
Traditional Yoga relates that Yoga occurs ‘between the breath’, or the natural retention of the breath (kumbhaka). Due to a misunderstanding, many will hold their breath, seeking the elusive sensation of Yoga.
Think on this:
First there is birth and with it, our first breath .. Ham.
Then there is death and with it, our last breath .. Sah.
What occurs between those two is life .. or the retention / kumbhaka.
This is no mystery. Breath naturally falls into three parts: inhale, retention, exhale .. repeat. So lets look at it another way ..
Beginning, Now, End
Morning, Noon, Night
Below, Middle, Above
Child, Adult, Senior
.. and the list can go on.
Poetically, yes, ‘life occurs between breaths’, but from a practical perspective, it means the entirety of our life and the stillness of our life.
Yet another poetic expression is that Hamsa means “goose, swan”, and in Traditional Yoga is a symbol of vitality, purity, divine knowledge, prana, and highest spiritual accomplishment. As a mantra its role is said to encapsulate all the Upanishads (practical wisdom teachings), specifically:
Hamsa = I Am That
Soham = That I Am
So with every breath we are affirming: I Am That, That I Am!
As a Westerner, when I think of ‘swan’ I think of Mother Goose and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. Mother Goose is either an old, wise woman, or a bonnet wearing goose that dispenses wisdom; she is a fertility goddess, a giver of life, wellbeing and nourishment. Likewise, the goose gifted its golden egg – divine aid – only to the most humble. Additionally, in Western mythology, the stork / swan / goose delivers a new born baby, whereas in Traditional Yoga the supreme swan is a degree of highest emancipation. So there again, where East meets West, is the Beginning / Ham, and the End /Sah.
Back to the Middle .. our life is filed with business, working, learning, studying, all on several levels of consciousness. All this amounts to experience, and the more experience we can have during a lifetime – the space between breaths – and approach these experiences in a positive manner, the more capable we are of balancing the instinctive with the intellectual, the better able we are to mold the atoms / Atman (soul) so that it aligns with the spiritual force that is the Absolute Reality.
You see .. the instinctive mind will re-act and resent some experiences, and the intellectual mind will rationalize others, but when we tame the two, we find the middle ground – Raja, Tao, Middle Way – of the superconscious , which is the gateway to our spiritual self.
Ham = instinctive
Sah = intellectual
the Still Quiet Center = our true self
So it is that we should identify with the kumbhaka, the retention, the pause between breaths, for therein lies true Yoga.
Prem and Metta!