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Moving with the Aloha Spirit
Submitted by Meg Agnew on January 12, 2016 - 1:30pm
My family and I have escaped from Seattle's winter gloom for a week in Hawaii on the Kona coast. We are enjoying lots of outdoor activities, and even when we're inside, the doors are all open and the breezes encircle us--- a delightfully felt sensation. The Hawaiian breezes share qualities with what is known here as "the spirit of Aloha"---an approach to life that is playfully spontaneous and inclusive.
The Aloha Spirit may be one reason Hawaii residents are happier (according to recent research) than their mainland counterparts. One resident explains that it is not just that there are beautiful beaches and exquisite vistas near by; it is also the belief that this natural abundance is meant to be shared and appreciated by all. In fact, all beaches in Hawaii are open to everyone.
Practicing yoga in the spirit of Aloha is also available to all of us whether or not we are visiting or living in Hawaii. It seems a particularly fresh approach for the beginning of a new year. Consider taking a break from your usual home practice routine to try a more improvised style. Imagine stepping onto your mat with a sense of spontaneity and a heart that is open and accepting of your body and mind just as they are. In Buddhist parlance, we would describe this as practicing with "don't know mind" and loving-kindness.
Like a child engaged in imaginative play, we can create our practice as we go, intuitively feeling our way into movement that is just what our body wants and needs in the moment. Our breath, the outward manifestation of the inner winds (vayus) of our energy body, is a wise and wonderful guide when practicing asana. Moving with breath awareness is a strong mindfulness in the body practice. It also fosters a sense of fluid continuity as we move through the yoga postures. Try waiting for your inhale to arise as you lift up into any open-hearted posture. Follow an exhaling breath forward into any folded shape where the front of your body closes and the back of your body blossoms open. If our breathing becomes irregular or ragged, that's a clue that we're pushing too hard or reaching beyond our current capacity. Cueing our practice to the natural ebb and flow of the breath also quiets mental chatter and drops us into a deeper, fuller experience of this never-to-be-repeated moment.
The Buddhist tradition, like the Aloha Spirit, encourages us to greet the full spectrum of our experience with friendly interest and inclusivity. If it turns out that we're feeling more fatigued than playful, can we honor that? Instead of judging our tight hamstrings, can we bring an unassuming curiosity to the felt experience of these muscles? We might notice how the pulling sensation changes depending on whether we're inhaling or exhaling. How does it change as we continue to observe? We can investigate all the subtle sensations within the overall sense of muscles being stretched. Perhaps we can even feel how our subtle breath energy has followed our attention into this part of the body. Be sure to end your practice with a generous savasana (relaxation pose), providing ample time for your body to assimilate all the benefits of this highly organic way of practicing.
At the start of this new year, I hope you offer yourself the luxury of being spontaneous and following your body's wisdom in your home practice, at least on occasion. Practicing yoga in community with others and a skillful teacher is a precious opportunity but so is the chance to playfully explore with the guidance of your inner wisdom and breath. As always, I welcome your comments and encourage you to share your related experiences with the Dharma Wisdom online community.