When you live in Hawaii, you can’t walk a block without seeing the word, “Aloha” plastered across something. It’s hanging next to front doors. It’s on t-shirts, welcome mats, and decals. Most of us think of “aloha” as a greeting, but that’s just the beginning.

Aloha and the Aloha Spirit go well beyond a friendly “hello.”  By exploring the various aspects of aloha, we can learn a significant amount about the culture of Hawaii, but we can also discover a lot about ourselves.

The meaning of aloha

Aloha has a multifaceted definition. It’s one of those concepts from other cultures that does not translate well into English. It takes us scores of words to describe what Hawaiians can say with one word. Aloha is, at its most basic level, a gift from indigenous Hawaiians to the world.

The word itself consists of two parts. The root, “alo-,” means to join with or be in the presence of.  “Ha” is the breath of life. It is the essence of one’s being. When someone says “aloha” to you, they are naming that connection between you.

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Aloha is bigger than us

The wisdom surrounding this concept has been passed down for many generations. We may direct aloha at another individual, but it also addresses something far larger. In addition to serving as a salutation, aloha describes our connection to everything in this universe. It is the recognition of the divine in all beings.

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It’ not just an idea… it’s the law  

Yes, you read that right. Aloha isn’t just a great life philosophy. It’s been codified. The Hawaii Revised Statutes, section 5-7.5, commonly referred to as “The Aloha Spirit Law,” was passed in 1986. Putting this one on the books serves to preserve the heart of this concept.

The law describes aloha as being a concept unto itself, but it is also an acronym for Hawaiian values. Character traits described by aloha include: Akahai (tenderness), Lokahi (unity), Oluolu (pleasantness), Haahaa (humility), and Ahonui (patience).

While people don’t go to jail for violating this law, this behavioral code has been invoked for the sake of diplomacy. (Check out this story  about a time the Aloha Spirit Law helped the governor of Hawaii salvage a cancelled meeting with a Chinese dignitary.)

Embodying the spirit of aloha

Living with aloha is an expression of mindfulness. When people live according to the principles of aloha, they remember their ancestors, their current generation, and the generations that will inherit the effects of their actions.

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One of the many considerations of aloha is the way that we treat the aina (land). Adherents of this mindful model of living feel that we must leave the world better than we found it.

If this doesn’t resonate with the values described on the eight-limbed path, then I’m not sure what does. In yoga, we are always striving to act in ways that are non-harming. Moderation, truthfulness, and devotion, concepts we are familiar with in yoga, are also embodied within aloha.

Language is culture

A simple examination of a single word in the Hawaiian language reveals so much about the people who inhabit the islands. Aside from the natural beauty of this place, it is the aloha that pervades each human being, every leaf, and every grain of sand that draws us to the islands. When you set foot on the aina, you connect.

If you’re open to experiencing and embodying aloha, it becomes a part of you. If you visit the islands, they’ll always have a place in your heart. It’s fitting that there’s no equivalent to our good-bye in the Hawaiian language. You simply say aloha, and everything is understood.

It is because of the living, breathing spirit of aloha that we at Mindful Balance Retreats keep returning to the islands. Join us on a retreat to Hawaii, Big Island dates coming soon….