The wisdom of the Spring Equinox…
There are few things in life one can be sure of, but we find constancy in the celestial bodies; every year, we move through periods of time when the days are longer than the nights and vice versa, and every year, we arrive at two points in the calendar when there is an equal amount of light and dark. We are currently standing at one of these points: the Spring equinox.
The Spring equinox, or Vernal equinox as it is also known, marks the moment when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun.
Nature has a habit of establishing balance – a habit our yoga practice can help us to emulate. Indeed, if we break down the word hatha, as in hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, which prepares the mind and body for the practice of meditation), we get the Sanskrit words ‘ha’ and ‘tha’, which can be translated as ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ (or light and dark).
3 good reasons why humans need balance
We find a very encouraging answer to this question in one of the most well-known contemporary texts on yoga, ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’ (written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati and published by the Bihar School in India):
“The main object of hatha yoga is to create balance between the interacting activities and processes of the pranic [energetic] and mental forces. Once this has been achieved, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to sushumna nadi, the central pathway in the spine, through which the kundalini shakti rises to sahasrara chakra, thereby illumining the higher centres of human consciousness.” (pg 11, 1996 edition)
Even without the promise of higher consciousness, yoga gives us reason to mirror the state of balance that comes with the Spring equinox. In a passage we can perhaps relate more easily to our day-to-day lives, the same text explains that the balancing practices of yoga (postures and breathwork) can help us maintain a healthy body and avoid fluctuations in our energy levels.
The sun salutations alone show us how yoga is fundamentally a practice of balance. We inhale and lift the arms, opening the body in the process. And then we exhale and fold forward, closing ourselves up again. We inhale as we step back with one leg and lift (open) the chest, and exhale as we step into plank and lower ourselves towards the ground. We open and we close, expand and reduce, inhale and exhale…
Anuloma Viloma, also known as Nadi Shondana pranayama, is a particularly helpful breathing technique for promoting evenness in both the mind and body. It can also provide a wonderfully cooling counterbalance to an asana practice which is designed to increase heat and strength in the body. Click here for full instructions on how to perform Anuloma Viloma.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer us further motivation to align ourselves with the Spring equinox, with the concept of Brahmacharya (the fourth of the five Yamas), which is widely understood to mean ‘moderation of the senses’. By learning to manage the way we respond to our sensory desires and aversions – by gaining control over them, by consciously choosing to indulge them or not– we are able to maintain a state of equanimity.
This is useful on a practical level because in life, there are ups and downs, some more pronounced than others. We can’t control all of these events, but by practising Brahmacharya, we develop the ability to choose how we respond to them. By becoming aware of our habits and tendencies, we can also see where our excesses are causing energetic and emotional imbalance – and alter our actions and habits accordingly.
One particularly effective exercise is to try giving up something with which you associate your happiness (eg. coffee, chocolate, Facebook, buying clothes, watching telly) – a challenge we set our yoga students every year, to coincide with Lent (you can read more about this in the previous Peacock Tree Yoga blog.
Vastu-samye citta-bhedat tayor vibhaktah panthah
I received a wonderful teaching at a Jiva Mukti class recently, which offers us yet another way of understanding objects and the way we see and feel about them. The chant written above tells us that each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.
Everything in moderation (even moderation itself!)
As anyone who’s tried it will know, giving up any of the pleasures of the sensory world, even if only for one week, is no mean feat – it’s easy to fall off the moderation wagon. This is all part of the exercise, since the experience serves to heighten our awareness of how we relate to things (“That chocolate bar will make me happy…”) and how our choices regarding them affect our mental and physical wellbeing (“…but now that pleasurable sugary moment has passed, I feel nothing but a dip in my energy levels”).
As long as we remain mindful of our choices – of how we respond to the objects and events that are happening around us – we can be ‘masterly’ in our behaviour. And if we can master the art of equanimity – a state of being that’s given definition in Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful poem, If – we can stay calm and remain peaceful, come light or dark.