Sun Child- The Ritual of Surya Namaskar

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I always begin my asana practice with sun salutations. There is a lot of debate surrounding this sequence. Naturally it is an integral part of the primary series of Ashtanga. Otherwise it is often something that is skimmed over or barely tolerated. When I studied in an Indian ashram I was told by an incredible Yoga teacher, Gandhar Mandlik, that  “Sun Salutations are not Yoga. We only make you do them to get some exercise!”. I also have a theory that teachers sometimes avoid them because they are so very difficult to teach, especially if you have any issues with knowing your left from your right…

The origins of the sun salutations are lost somewhere in the mists of time. But they have come from the ancient practice of prostrating yourself to the source- to the warmth that supports and nurtures physical life as we know it. Out of this we came and to it we shall return. For this reason I always always include some version of sun salutations in my practice and classes. After standing in tadasana and ’emptying’ to begin the practice, I approach the sun salutations reverentially. As you raise your arms and gaze upwards and inhale, you inhale the sun. Like one of those silhouettes of women from the opening sequence to a James Bond film that are reduced to mere silhouettes full of beach landscapes or a reflection of whatever glamorous scenery, we must let the sun into us. We must let the power of the sun power our salutations to it, until, we are no longer saluting it, we are part of it, one and the same. The spark of divinity within us reaches back to the sun as it is magnetically drawn to it- every atom in our body and being is aligned with source.

In the Ashtanga sequence there is a real fuss made about being able to ‘float’ back in a sun salutation. I practiced for three years without a hint of it, trying not to get frustrated but it was very difficult. One day I just decided it was time to forget about whatever it was I was trying to achieve and to slow down, feel the rhythm, and to incorporate the feeling of ‘surrender’ to the practice. I gave the practice to the sun and I trusted the sun to carry me through. That day I began to float. And then the challenge is to maintain that space, that trust. This is why performing sun salutations daily is a very good practice for everyone- if you only did 5 minutes a day it would make a difference. It is another way of releasing yourself from yourself; slowly, slowly it allows you to start to ‘detach’. Not detach in a cold way, but more to seperate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. To not expend so much emotional energy on the things that are peripheral, to not identify so closely with temporary situations that will change- work stress, partners grating on you… The magic of Surya Namaskar is that performing it in the correct spirit is like creating a blueprint for your everyday conduct- for your everyday self to base its actions on. A foundation of reverence, a foundation of gratitude for the life you have, and an appreciation of all its nuances…

There are numerous chants that can be a part of the sun salutions, and chanting them between each round feels very powerful. Especially in the sacred language of Sanskrit. Each sun salutation begins to feel like a pendulum swinging and you begin to soar through them as you worship the sun in the sky in all its aspects, from its birth, to its maturity, to its death. And so too, this verbal acknowledgement of life and the ever changing cycles we are bound to from here will too effect cognitive change in us. And being aware within the sequence, of the power of the sun, puts fire in our belly. It makes us live every moment more intensely. It boosts our metabolism and re-aligns us to fire on all cylinders. There is no room for sluggishness when the sun is permeating you and you are its expression…

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