In the practice of Hatha Yoga, balance of opposites is a gentle, intuitive concept to guide the movements of body, energy, and mind. The balance of sun and moon was already an ancient concept in Egyptian culture, and it is found in all pre-axial age developed cultures. It reverberates through the centuries as an accessible symbol of source and image, potential and realization. As we begin to experience and understand the balance of body with the embrace of earth, hatha may seem simple and easy. But like all symbolic expressions, the metaphor can open to much deeper and wider development if we go beyond face value, with careful questioning and the pursuit of deeper appreciation.
We are minds which have been born, raised, and educated in modern western culture. With western assumptions “in our bones,” it can be easy to overlook subtle meanings and the deeper intent of ancient practices. Consider the term “opposite.” As westerners, we tend to think in dichotomy, with opposites being literally “opposed” like a seesaw. Light and dark bring images of the sunset, when light gradually and precisely yields to dark. But in the much more complicated world of mind, pairs of concepts are not always symmetrical and not always opposed. For example, happiness is not the balanced opposite of depression; happiness must be developed carefully for itself. Our favorite major pair, good and evil, is even more complex.
When we ponder the term “balance,” it gets worse. It is not at all clear that a feeling of fulfilled happiness is in counterbalanced symmetry with sadness. Think of a funeral for a favorite grandparent. We can feel deep sorrow for the loss of a valuable person in our life, while at the same time celebrating happily the presence of so many loved family members.
In my reading of ancient texts, I try to remember that the philosophy of the east is dialectical philosophy, not the dichotomy of opposites found in Greek philosophy. Dialectical pairs are best thought of as indivisible but sharply differentiated dimensions of a single higher unity. For example, quantum theory is a dimensional theory. A dialectical pair is the velocity and position of an electron. Heisenberg made famous the axiom that velocity and position cannot be apprehended simultaneously, but they clearly are attributes of a single electron entity.
In the same way, our self, or core identity, is necessarily independent of our context. We lose all freedom if we define ourselves merely by our reflection in the ever-changing world. It is not a paradox that we simultaneously are free of the world and are inseparable from it. Thus, if we balance deeply self and world, the experience is better captured by language such as “integration” or “harmony,” and happiness takes on a depth and fullness that is beyond language.