On Wednesday September 22 at 8:09pm PDT, the sun passes over the equator on its way south. In the northern hemisphere this marks the Autumnal Equinox, a day when all over the planet we have equal parts of light and darkness. The Sun enters the sign of Libra represented by the scales of balance. The Equinox—Latin for “equal night”—is a day of perfect balance in the external world and is a potent symbol for the balance we seek in yoga.
The practice of Hatha Yoga (literally, the union of the Sun and the Moon) is the attempt to balance opposing but complimentary forces. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali says, “Sthira sukham asanam,”—the essence of asana is stability and ease. He goes on to say, “Prayatna saitilyam ananta samapattibhyam”—this can be achieved through awareness of the interplay of effort and surrender. Once we have achieved this marriage of opposing but complimentary forces, “Tatah dvandva anabhighatah”—then one is no longer disturbed by duality.
When we practice asanas we have a very tangible experience of duality—the inhale and the exhale, the prana and the apana, the upward dog and downward dog, the right side and left side, the forward bend and backward bend, flexion and extension, etc. In each moment of practice we attempt to be stable yet relaxed, to exert appropriate effort and find appropriate surrender. It’s not an easy task, especially when faced with particularly challenging asanas. We can think of the asanas as metaphors for the various situations we encounter in life: learning to be firm without being stiff; to be soft and receptive without being a wimp, etc. Basically we are learning to apply our awareness to the task at hand, so we can adapt gracefully to changing circumstances. Another great duality presented by Patanjali is Purusa and Prakriti. Prakriti is the world of unfolding manifestation which is in a continual state of flux through the interplay of the Gunas: Sattva (equilibrium), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (inertia). Included in the realm of Prakriti is the body, mind, and emotions. Purusa is the indwelling witness, the pure awareness that watches the dance of Prakriti. The Purusa is the ananta (the infinite) of which Patanjali speaks. The Sun symbolizes the Purusa, the eternally shining self. The Moon represents Prakriti, the ever changing world of Nature. Prakriti cannot see itself and Purusa is formless and motionless. Thus it is said, “Prakriti without Purusa is Blind and Purusa without Prakriti is Lame.”
Ultimately what we are seeking to discover in our asana practice is the changeless ground of being, the Purusa, as it delights in the dance of Prakriti. As the Sufis say, “What we are looking for is the thing that is doing the looking.