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Omni Present, Spirit of Life and All Powerful are some of the qualities ascribed to the Divine by all faiths. The Divine is also considered indescribable and intangible, but people have always tried to imagine it as some physical, visible entity or another. A universal symbol of the Divine is the Sun, and understandably so, since it has many of the characteristics attributed to the Divine, not least of which is the life sustaining heat and light that emanates from it.
Sunrise motivates life on earth to become active and sunset brings pause to their activities. The Gayatri Mantram succinctly captures the reverence the ancient sages of India had for the Sun. Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), is a more explicit way to greet the rising Sun or to bid goodbye to the setting Sun. While the chant of a mantram is confined to one’s mind and perhaps the lips,Surya Namaskar is performed with the whole body, and the mind too, if done meditatively.
I took the Hatha yoga class offered by Isha Yoga a few years ago. I was attracted to the Surya Namaskar postures and routines more than any otherasanas the class taught us. The underlying meditative theme of paying tribute to the sustainer of life on earth had a natural appeal for me as also the physical aspects of the routine. If done more than ten times in one session, Surya Namaskar becomes a moderately intense work out that raises one’s heart rate, improves flexibility and exercises just about all the significant muscles of the body. And when done meditatively, with one’s attention on the breath for example, it improves mental concentration and relieves stress. When done in the morning, Surya Namaskar helps one to shed the tardiness of slumber and to start the day with fresh energy. For all this, one needs no special accessories except a yoga mat. I was immediately attracted to Surya Namaskar.
Whereas attraction was easy and immediate, regular practice turned out to be difficult and distant.
A morning practice meant giving up several minutes of valuable sleep. These precious minutes are required not only for the practice, but also for the mandatory Shavasana (corpse pose) that is the final step of any yoga practice.Surya Namaskar accelerates the heart beat and breathing rate and produces copious sweating as well. Shavasana is necessary to cool the body and to return the heart and lungs to the normal state. A minimal time budget for a meaningful Surya Namaskar routine is easily 30 minutes, a hard to spare half hour in the cool quiet of the early morning. That was the mental struggle I had to contend with.
Then there was the challenge of stiff joints and aching muscles.
Surya Namaskar starts with Hasta-uthanasana and pada-hastasana. To reach these postures, one has to trace the path of the Sun’s voyage across the sky with backward and forward bends from the hip. The ideal position of the forward bend has the palms of both hands resting on the floor without bending the knees. This posture was very challenging for me since my fingertips could not even reach my ankles. Ashwa-sanchalana, the horse rider posture,Parvatasana, the mountain pose, Sashtangam, the whole body prostration and bhujangasana, the snake pose were relatively easier but going through just three or four cycles of these ancient postures was too exhausting for my body that has been accustomed for many decades to the more modern slump-at-computer and slouch-on-couch postures.
For the past several years my Surya Namaskar practice was irregular and limited to six cycles or so.
Sevathon 2014 changed all that. In prior years, Sevathon offered walk/run events for supporting various charities, but in 2014, Yoga Bharati and India Community Center offered a Sun Salutation event giving participants the opportunity to do 27, 54 or 108 Sun Salutations. I seized this as an opportunity to get my Surya Namaskar practice in order. Yoga Bharati offered training sessions on weekends and a Sun Salutation video for practice at home. This enabled me to slowly, but steadily, improve my practice to reach a count of 54 by Sevathon day.
Just as in any spiritual practice—and often in material pursuits too—the real struggle to reach the goal is essentially with oneself. Not only Surya Namaskar but all yoga and meditation practices emphasize this since there are neither competitors nor external accessories like dumbbells or treadmills. Yoga is about conditioning body and mind using nothing but body and the mind. To paraphrase President Kennedy, yoga is an exercise of oneself, by oneself, for oneself!
Of course, that is not to ignore external inspirations, like the adorable glory of the radiant Sun.
While there are many instructions on the internet, a beginner is strongly advised to learn Surya Namaskar from a qualified yoga teacher to avoid injury. Also consult your physician before starting regular practice.
Jojy Michael (http://konnectme.org/jojy) is a struggling yoga and meditation practitioner, aspiring to bring flexibility to a body that likes the chair and the couch, and discipline to a mind obsessed with incessant distractions. Jojy gives credit to Isha Yoga, Sevathon and Yoga Bharati for any progress in this struggle.