A few years ago while visiting Hawaii, I did yoga on Waikiki Beach with students. After the session, we gathered for a chat to delve into the meaning of symbols used by different cultures to unify humanity.
I started the discussion by saying, “When I was getting my yoga training under the tutelage of a teacher in India, he would start and end the class by asking us to fold both hands in front of our chest to say 'Namaste.' The two folded hands signified the totality of my being with which I bow before you. However, I do not bow before your physical body but the divine spark residing in you. I, too, have the same spark! We are siblings belonging to the human family born from the same source. I was so impressed by the meaning of Namaste that I continued this practice when I taught yoga to my classes for 49 years.”
A student’s insightful comment embellished our discussion when he said, “In Hawaii, we have a similar symbol of Aloha. For most people, it is a mere greeting to entertain our local and foreign guests. However, it has a deeper meaning. Aloha consists of two words. When we greet someone with Aloha, we are conveying to our guest that ‘my breath and his/her breath’ come from the same source —our common creator. We are brothers and sisters making up Ohana, meaning human family.”
I said to the group, “This insightful observation reminds me of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s use of the African word Ubuntu which comes close to capturing the essence of our conversation. In Africa, the term Ubuntu is used to unify the diverse people and different countries. Ubuntu, which literally means 'I am because of you,' emphasizes the interdependence of humanity. We are a large family, where each of us needs the other. During our life, we are cared for by others through food, shelter, clothing, education and so forth. We depend on each other, live and die for the other. We are siblings who are created by the same almighty.”
I continued, “Though these symbols were created as useful tools to bring all of us together irrespective of our color, race, religion, nationality and language, we get to be so engrossed in our daily chores that we forget to be one human family. When hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, fires and drought happen, we suffer as human beings and empathize with each other. We realize that we need each other and try to rescue others through love, compassion and generosity. However, when the threat is over, we go back to our selfish pursuits, forgetting our common humanity. Time and again we are reminded of our human kinship by such novelists as H.G. Wells, who wrote of Earthlings coming together as a human family when attacked by the Martians from another planet, or when Neil Armstrong after landing on the Moon tried to unify humanity by talking of his achievement as a small step for a man but a giant leap for humanity.
Now, the people of the globe are brought together through this extremely difficult situation created by the pandemic of COVID-19. Let’s make it our “learning and teaching moment.” It is a call to all the scientists, politicians, philosophers, religionists and others to work as members of the same human family to fight this malaise by presenting a unified stand. Otherwise, if we don’t collaborate as a family unit, we won’t survive much longer on this beautiful planet Earth.
Here is an exercise that students and I did while surrounded by the deep blue waters of Waikiki Beach. If it is done daily for a long time, it might help.
While sitting in the easy posture, let your hands rest on your knees. Take your right hand and put your thumb on the little finger while keeping your three fingers straight. Take the right hand and place the three fingers flat on your forehead. Release your thumb from the small finger. Using the thumb, close your right nostril while the left one stays open. Breathe in for a count of eight. Retain the air in your lungs for a count of eight. Breathe out for a count of eight. Repeat this routine three times. Then return to your normal breathing.
Close the left nostril by using the little finger. Open the right nostril by lifting the thumb. Breathe in from the right nostril for a count of eight. Retain the air in your lungs for a count of eight. Now breathe out from the open nostril for a count of eight. Do this routine three times. Then return to your normal breathing.
You can do this exercise in your bed before falling asleep at night and when waking up in the morning. When you make it a routine, you may find it a relaxing way to end and start your each day.
Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra has been a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He is Emeritus SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and founder of the Yoga and Meditation Society at SUNY Oneonta. His books are available through www.amazon.com, www.info@ideaIndia.com and Kindle. Malhotra contributes all his royalties to the Ninash Foundation, a charity that builds schools for underserved minority children of India. Donations can be sent to the Ninash Foundation (www.ninash.org) through PayPal.