As yogis, when we come to the front of our mat each morning we begin our yoga practice in a very deliberate and meaningful way, by following in an ancient tradition that dates back thousands of years – the practice of sun worship.
For thousands of years, the Hindus have revered the sun, which they call Surya, as both the physical and spiritual heart of our world and the creator of all life itself. The dynamic asana sequence of Surya Namaskara (better known as the Sun Salutations) originated as a series of prostrations to the sun and was traditionally performed at dawn, facing the rising sun. For more than 2500 years human beings have gathered at sunrise to greet and honour the sustainer of life on this planet and to give thanks for a new day filled with life-giving light and sustenance. In the 21st Century such practices may seem primitive, naïve and outdated. However, this devotion to the sun symbolises more than just reverence to a supreme life-creating deity. The outer sun was seen as an image of and a pathway to the Divine; a mirror of our own ‘Inner Sun’. Our Inner Sun is the doorway to our personal experience of Divinity, a concept that represents our own spiritual heart – the eternally shining light that we might call our Higher Self or Soul.
Surya Namaskara embodies completely the very essence of what we seek to achieve through the practice of yoga because it initiates and cultivates the internal journey towards our ‘Inner Sun’. As such it is a complete practice in itself and could alone be used by the practitioner of yoga to master the art of asana.
The Sun Salutations strings together body, breath, mind, and soul with the healing and nurturing forces of the sun, and infuses life with serenity and inner awakening. In this way, the sun salutation becomes a complete practice of yoga, meditation, and spirituality.
In the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence one of the main purposes of Surya Namaskara is to awaken the energy of the Inner Sun that lays dormant in our navel centre.
As we flow through its asana sequence we continually reach down into our solar plexus through our exhale breath and draw vital life giving energy (prana) up the body through the subsequent inhale. As we flow through a few cycles of this sequence the release of this energy has the effect of warming our body, energising the nervous system, stoking the digestive fire and balancing our mental and emotional state, leaving us feeling clam and centred.
Awakened by the Sun
One of the great awakenings along our yogic journey is when we realise that all the learning and experience we require from our physical yoga practice can be found within the basic vinyasa’s of the Sun Salutations. The acceptance of this is a profoundly humbling and deeply liberating experience. Suddenly we accept that there is nowhere to go in our asana practice, and that we have nothing to achieve. Suddenly the desire to progress through the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequence, ‘perfecting’ existing poses and earning increasingly more complex ones, is replaced with a desire to embrace and experience the ‘Inner Sun’ present within each and every breath of the sequence.
This flash of sudden awareness or satori, dissolves the importance placed upon how ‘well’ or fast we are progressing through the asana Series. The drive forwards towards a ‘destination’ – or the achievement of proficiency within particular asanas – is replaced with the profound spiritual truth that being present within each moment of this special journey holds the key to true yoga (union).