The other day, instead of saying a common-or-garden “hello” to someone at work, I went for a cheery “Aloha!” He gave me the strangest look back, but I was undeterred. “It’s a Hawaiian greeting,” I chirped. “Hmph,” he said.

This encounter made me think of when I was on Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, a few years ago for a spot of surfing. It was early July, a terrible time for surf (not that I had a clue) but that didn’t stop me getting out there each morning as the sun was rising to ‘catch some waves’. 

I was only there for five days, but in that time I got in with the  early-doors crowd, a gang of forty-somethings who would get out on the water every morning, hop on a wave or two then paddle back in and head to the office.

There was a dude there (everyone is a ‘dude’ on Hermosa Beach), a surf instructor from Hawaii, and in between doing headstands on two-foot waves he taught me the meaning of “Aloha”. 

He taught me that in Hawaii the breath – the “hā” – is very important. Apparently the “hā” is a big, deep, calming out-breath, the one you do when you really relax. “Alo” means “presence” in Hawaiian, so together aloha means ‘the presence of breath’ or ‘breath of life’. When you say “Aloha” to someone, you are literally giving them an ‘ahhhh’ moment, a sense of peaceful relaxation, a sense that everything is alright with the world. 

Of course a quick google will tell you that aloha is much more than that. Aloha is sending, and receiving, a positive energy. Aloha is living in harmony. Mary Kawena Pukui (Hawaiian author, composer and hula expert) wrote that the first expression of aloha was between a parent and their child. In 1986 the state of Hawaii even introduced the Aloha Spirit law, which requires state officials and judges to treat the public with Aloha (ie kindness and respect).

My surfer dude friend absolutely embodied the generous, “breath-giving” spirit of aloha, and every time I think about him it puts a smile on my face. 

So, go on, try saying “Aloha” to someone this week. Say it to yourself. 

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