I am happiest when the sun is in full bloom. It’s a character trait I believe. You are a summer person, fall, winter or spring – my trait is definitely summer. No matter where you fall, the sun’s influence over us is palpable. I have found that optimism and sunny days go hand in hand. It should be no surprise that the sun is a stabilizing factor in so many peoples’ lives, I mean, we are rotating around it. It is a symbol of constancy and cycles. This is why then it makes sense that Ashtanga Yoga starts out with what are called Surya Namaskar A & B, translated as Sun Salutation. So it was probably a perfect fit for me from the very 1st class I took. For me, it seems intuitive to begin with an appreciation for what keeps the rhythms of our planet in check.
The sun is what developed the calendar and time. It gives us heat and light which then allows all things to grow that will feed us and provide us nourishment for the practice. The sun also seems to be a great indicator of when it’s time to rest/sleep. When the sun rises and sets can be predicted accurately because it is constant. You can plan your day based on knowing these things. Ashtanga yoga takes the constancy idea in that it is a preset sequence of poses practiced daily against the ever changing life around us. This idea of something that is permanent against a background of change can be so stabilizing for yoga students.
We just past the winter solstice (which is sometimes celebrated as the rebirth of the sun) a week ago. This marks the shortest day of the year based on number of hours of light. From that day forward, we gain a minute of light each day until the summer solstice (June 20-21). For me, that is cause for celebration! It means that a minute a day we are getting closer to my favorite season – Summer. And it just so happens to be the season with the greatest amount of light. Light seems to be directly related to the amount of energy we have. As winter is the best time to hibernate, to take your energy and exertion down a notch or two. So, you should expect to feel cycles of energy and even physical lightness in your yoga practice depending on the season.
The sun is the greatest example we have of the word Guru, which translates: “to dispel darkness”. So it seems that the sun is a daily reminder for us to burn a little brighter, to radiate. Yoga emphasizes these ideas through out its practice and study. Namaste, the gesture at the end of each practice, is a great example of appreciating daily that we can be a light in the world. Maybe you have noticed the same root to Namaste as Namaskar, which is to “salute”. You can salute anything, really. So why not salute the sun? With each vinyasa (interconnected sequence of asana’s/postures) we physically gesture our bodies by bowing, which is a ancient form of showing appreciation, respect and humility – all are great qualities to reinforce for our positive character traits. Interesting, that the depth of a bow was once an indicator of the degree of respect or gratitude. In Surya Namaskar A & B we are to fold as deeply as possible, hmmm? (Pause for thought)
If you practice yoga you may know that you should face the sun when practicing. And, if at all possible, you should do your practice in the morning, as the sun is rising to honor a new beginning – setting the tone of your day ahead. You are also supposed to complete 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A & B to build heat in the body. The heat is used as a tool to create greater ease in transformation of your muscles from stiff, and dense to light and flexible. The sun is the source of heat for our planet, so again this strengthens our appreciation to the sun.
Sun worship has been around since the beginning of time. Every culture has had some form of it. Why should we not still practice it? The Romans, the Egyptians, the Buddhist, the Aztec’s and more all had praise for the sun, even sacrifice. Back in the day you had to sacrifice your head. Today, you only need to sacrifice your time for a little yoga practice. No sun equals no light, no heat, no food, no plants no fire to burn as there would be no tree’s, no rhythm to our days and eventually no air to breath. So remove the sun, and we remove what sustains us. So, it just might be wise to embrace a little sun worship into your yoga practice. To bow down with gratefulness that it again crested over the horizon and it will provide us another day of light, rhythm, growth, food, and warmth.
A great mantra to add to your yoga practice to deepen this appreciation would be the Gayatri Mantra.
Here are two different translations of the Mantra. Could be chanted 32, 68 or 108 times as the sun is rising would be best.
“We meditate on the effulgent glory of the divine light: mat he/she inspire our understanding.” S. Radhakrishnan
“O effulgent light of creation! Let the Sun of Truth illuminate my divinity and meditation allow my thoughts to be inspired by thee.” Robert Fox
Om bhur bhuvah svahtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yó naḥ pracodayāt