~Our relationship with the cosmos is honored in yoga,
as we celebrate the ways in which the universal body
is reflected in our own bodies.~
Entering into their practice of Surya Namaskar, they beautifully reflect the sun’s circuitous, radiant orbit through the twelve constellations, which, when meditated upon, becomes a dramatic symbol of their own spiritual evolution. It is a journey that is not unaided, but rather, reliably supported by the light bestowed upon them by the guru, whose inner and outer sources are enacted in this series of inward and outward moving asanas. They come to see all circumstances before them, and ultimately everything under the sun, as facilitators of their yoga practices, preserving an ever-dynamic connection with the divine. Nourishing divine light in their lives, practitioners of Surya Namaskar are vigilant of “solar eclipses”, so that nothing obstructs their views of their true self and their relationship with divinity.
Since the dawn of human existence, human beings have woven innumerable associations with the divine and the sun: that brilliant discus mystically suspended in the sky, dependably marking time, warming and illuminating our lives; igniter of great fires, of indispensable heat and light. The sun’s orb naturally drew the adoration of societies throughout antiquity. It is perhaps no wonder that there is virtually no culture around the world that has excluded from its sacred narratives, glorious appreciations of the sun’s divine qualities.
Long before Copernicus, yogic texts placed the sun at the center of the Earth’s orbit and at the center of traditional yoga practices as well. Most means of connecting with divinity are routinely performed in accordance with the sun’s position to the Earth. This worldwide heliolithic approach to enlightenment is perhaps most dramatically noted in the magnificent architectural testaments to humanity’s adoration of the light.
From the massive Egyptian and Aztec sun pyramids, to Stonehenge and other sundial mandalas across cultures, we stand as a people united by places of worship that honor and face the rising sun. It is no wonder then that the most popular yoga routine is one in which we further realize our bodies to be living temples, in Surya Namaskar, as we celebrate the relationship between the light of the sun and the light within us.
“Let there be light!” –The dramatic opening to the Hebrew bible, reflects the very sentiments adorning the first words of the Bhagavad Gita, and spoken by a blind king, who is also asking his minister Sanjaya, (emblematic of the spiritual seer), for greater vision. He inquires into how the two armies acted upon the famous battlefield. Consequently, the king is given a very intimate look into what a struggling human heart sounds like when in dialogue with divinity. The ensuing conversation between Krishna and Arjuna marks the path a soul takes towards it’s own spiritual nature.
In asana practice, the twelve positions assumed during Surya Namaskar represent such divine dialogue with divinity. Like the various chapters of The Bhagavad Gita, they mark the journey towards enlightenment, in a graceful series of inward and outward moving poses, breaths, and mantras, through which we dance with the rising sun. The inverted poses reflect humility before divinity, and the extroverted poses express passion to experience one’s own divine nature. It is a dance of self-discovery and surrender, much like what Arjuna experiences in relation to Krishna, in which the sun, or light source, becomes a profound identity-archetype synonymous with one’s intrinsic urge to know, to see, to understand oneself and, the world around one, as well as the relationship between the two.
Like a response to the question asked of Sanjaya by the blind king, the flow of the Surya Namaskar postures illuminates how we are to flow through all “battlefields”, or circumstances in life- driving our chariots forward in light, as unstoppable as the Vedic sun deity’s fire chariot.
Practitioners of this series of asanas understand that divine light, which makes possible clear perception, and thus spiritual progress, is as fixed within our very hearts as is the sun’s orbit within our universe. Our relationship with the cosmos is thus honored in Surya Namaskar, as we celebrate the ways in which the universal body is reflected in our own bodies.
Vedic astrology recognizes this dynamic when it designates the sun to represent the organ most central to our existence: the heart. Traditionally performed at dawn, the rhythmic cycles of postures not only mimic the exchanges that take place within cycles of time, between the light within (our inner sun, or Atma), and the light outside of us (spiritual seers, or gurus), but they are meant to mimic the beating of our hearts as well. As believed by the Egyptians, connecting our lives with the sun points to our true identity as being rooted in immortality, and thus possessing a “heartbeat” as reliable as the rising sun.
Tracing the relationship that humans have had over the ages with the sun is closely connected to mapping out the relationship humans have had with authority. The sun being the most prominent symbol of authoritative seers of truth, and thus rulers, all great dynasties are historically depicted as having descended from the sun.
Valmiki’s epic Sanskrit poem, The Ramayana, is entirely dedicated to one such solar dynasty, and depicts divinity descending as a greatly loved monarch. When one’s rulers or authorities are aligned with divine light, their guidance is as invigorating as the typical repetition of the series of asanas known as Surya Namaskar. They are also designed to impart confidence and trust in the divine guidance that comes from within the practitioner, creating a deeper bond with divinity.
Such was the case with the Vedic sun deity Vivisvan, whose divine brilliance was originally bestowed upon him through sound. The sound was no ordinary sound, but sacred sound, which detailed the ways of yoga. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna recalls this moment: Imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam (4.1), in which the sun became enlightened, and was thus given the brilliance to dissipate, not only external darkness, but obscurity of consciousness as well. From that day on, the sun deity, as described by the Vedic literatures, was known as Surya Narayana. He thus became eternally linked with the supreme divinity and symbolized the guru, or enlightened master.
*This article was first published by Integral Yoga Magazine*
Copyright © 2011. By Catherine Ghosh All rights reserved