The Space Between

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!

Yogini Devi

 

Wild Standing

Tadasana or Samasthiti?  All too often I read that they are the “same”.

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Yoga Journal – which is more an Iyengar tradition magazine than a Yoga one – tells its readers that these two standing positions are identical.  This mis-education then radiates throughout Yoga circles, perpetuating itself.

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To plum the difference, lets look at the Sanskrit meanings of each word:

-Tada + asana.  Tada means, “at that time, at that moment”, it then suggests,’upright, straight, unmoved’.  Asana means, “sitting down, to sit down” (though most often rendered as “pose”).  Combined the two parts amount to “upright in the moment”, or “unmoved at this time”.  Mostly however, the word is given as “Mountain Pose”.

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To attain Tadasana one:

-Balances over the arches of the feet,

-Firms the thighs and slightly tucks in the tailbone, balancing the hips over the arch of the feet.

-Lifts the chest to balance the heart over the hips.

-Allows the Crown Chakra to rise upward, leveling the chin with the floor, to balance the head over the heart.

Commonly, the hands are placed along the sides of the body, often, with the middle finger (the finger of Compassion) resting on the center of the outer thigh.  Conversely, and preferably, the hands are centered at the heart in Anjali Mudra.

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The word “mountain” is more readily found in giri and Parvati – the former means “mountain”, and as an honorific means “venerable, elevated”.  The latter means, “She of the Mountain”.  So that sometimes, ‘mountain pose’ is given as Parvatiasana.

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Likewise, lets look deeply at the word asan / asana.  In Sanskrit the word (as given above) denotes a ‘steady and comfortable meditative position’, and a means to ‘channel prana (the lifeforce), to activate the chakras (psychic centers) and remove ‘knots’ (granthi) or energy blocks’.

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Atha / Now ..

-Sama + sthiti.  Sama means, “unaltered, equal, equipoise, equally, equilibrium”, and sthiti means, “established, steadfast, upright, abiding”.  Combined the two mean, “established equality”, “equal abiding”, “upright equipoise”, “steadfast equilibrium”; and is commonly rendered as, “equal/same standing” or “mountain pose”.

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The two appear to be identical, but upon closer inspection their differences emerge.  Tadasana is the more dynamic of the two.  As a preparatory position it is engaged prior to movement.  For example, Tadasana is the first position of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) in that it signals the beginning of vinyasa (the ‘special place’ of breath, flowing movement with breath).  Samasthiti is a resting position, best likened to a standing Shavasana (“corpse seat”).  It is best thought of as an opportunity to rejuvenate – where one can re-establish Ujjayi Pranayama while emotionally, intellectually and spiritually assimilating the previous asana, without lying down.  Therefore, Samasthiti is an excellent pause between the standing poses.

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Attaining Samasthiti is very similar to Tadasana except that the body is relaxed.  So that the body is still centered – again, balance is established at the foot’s arch, the hips are balanced over the arches, the heart over the hips, the head over the heart – but the ‘seat’ here is soft.  When done correctly, Samasthiti feels like one is levitating (laghiman, “lightness”).

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Simply, and from a physical perspective, Tadasana is dynamic, Samasthiti is passive.  So upon visual inspection, one can clearly see the difference between the two.  Now, lets explore the internally definitions.

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Tadasana means, “upright in the moment”, or “unmoved at this time”.  And Samasthiti means,”established equality”, “equal abiding”, “upright equipoise”, “steadfast equilibrium”.  Herein is why they are confused – simply because when translated their definitions sound the same; or their differences are so subtle that they are beyond ordinary (non-meditative) comprehension.

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Tadasana is very much in the ‘now’, in the ‘moment’.  It is also a fluid asana, one ready to embark into another asana, making it akin to but one pearl on a thread – but one bead within a whole.  Samasthiti is an established whole – it is upright and steadfast, unmoving and centered (even urdhva, “unmoved, upward”).

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As understood from a Yogic perspective – the philosophy of union, the metaphysics of Yoga – the two can be understood as:

-Tadasana:  Prakrti (matter), Saguna (with strand, form ), Cataphatic (limited).  Tadasana is the beginning, a first cause, the physical starting point of activity, the prelude to manifesting movement.

-Samasthiti:  Purusa (consciousness/spirit, transcendental Self), Nirguna (without strand, form), Apophatic (unlimited).  Samasthiti – seated in Sameness – is resting within the Absolute, the imperceptible unknowable.

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Wild Standing is the movement away from Form (Tadasana) to merge with Force (Samasthiti).  It is the difference between ordinary awareness (Tadasana) and spiritual awareness (Samasthiti).  It is the limited understanding of self (Tadasana) instead of an unlimited understanding of self (Samasthiti).  The very act of recognizing these two is a crucial turning point in the unsteadiness/uneasiness (dukha) experienced when letting go of insights and self-perceptions.  For, as in daily living, as long as one feels that being in Samasthiti is simply standing still, one will be unable to directly experience the benefit of doing so, and so be tempted to ‘firm up’ and get ready to do something (Tadasana).

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Samasthiti is not ‘standing’ or ‘stillness’ or ‘doing nothing’, but the core of our perceptivity, the seed of our spiritual / intuitive knowingness.  As the beginning of movement (Tadasana) it is the core of unity consciousness – the very bedrock of Self.  It is physically experienced as the sensation during meditation when one feels ‘weightless’ or ‘out of the body’ or ‘one’ – for it is true Yoga levitation (laghiman, the condition of lightness).

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Stand at Sameness with Self.  Stand at Zero.