Surya Namaskara, the foundation of spiritual practice
Without the necessary orientation, Ashtanga yoga is worthless, said my esteemed teacher Pattabhi Jois time and time again. Surya Namaskara is a symbol of this spiritual orientation. Then he mumbled in Sanskrit, it concerns a mantra that is found again through searching in the Rig Veda Shanhita, from the Padapatha Mandala 1 (89.8+89.6).It is also known as Shantih mantra and represents the beginning of each Atharva Veda belonging to the Upanishad. These objectives are also found in texts from Yajur Veda, as well as Prashna Upanishad, Amritabindu Upanishad and Bhavana Upanishad.
The purpose of Surya Namaskara
Even if Surya is not mentioned in this mantra, Pattabhi Jois places it in connection with the Surya Namaskara:
"The purport of this mantra is to discern divinity in all the objects of the senses through the strengthening of the senses. It is a prayer not merely for the strength of the body, senses, and the mind, and for the elimination of diseases, but for inner happiness and ultimate liberation from trans- migratory existence. If such happiness is to be gained, it can only be so by the healthy, not by the sick. Therefore, to become healthy, one should practice the Surya-Namaskara in accordance with scriptural injunctions."
[Yoga Mala p 37]
This mantra does not explain the precise sequence of movements, but the essence and the meaning of Surya Namaskara.
Surya Namaskara as an offering by the body
The mantra describes the presentation of "offerings" with the body. In pursuit of understanding of the Rig Veda, it means "offering", in general, of the correct sequence of a process. Everything that arises through the offering, is sustained and disappears at the end of an offering. The whole of creation will also dissolve in an offering. Out of the ashes of these offerings, eventually the next creation forms. Thus, the ashes of the offerings become the homologue of the procreative seeds, the homologue of Amrita. An offering requires, according to the understanding of the Veda, three aspects:
- A sacrificed substrate
- The sacrificial fire as energy for the process,
- And a controlling agent. Combined with wind or smoke, only this brings the offering to the desired result.
These three elements of the offerings must come together in exactly the right way. Thus, in the Veda, the all-invigorating rain is produced with almost mathematical precision. Milk, butter, or Soma is offered into the fire. The wind fans the fire and brings the offering to the gods. The offering-event proceeds in the correct way, and so the rain comes down from heaven. Surya Namaskara is an offering that transforms yoga practitioners. We ignite our inner fire through Ujjayi breathing. Bandhas are the controlling agents. Everything needs its exact sequence and rhythm.
The process of Surya Namaskara
Since ancient times the sun in India has been honored with a bow to the ground. Surya Namaskara is homage to the sun for the correct progression of the Vedic offerings. Pattabhi further explains:
"The method for practicing Surya-Namaskara has been described differently by various people. We cannot categorically state what kind is correct, …"
[Yoga Mala, p 37]
Yoga is based primarily on personal experience. We find no dogma. However, the principles of Surya Namaskara are passed on among the yogis from generation to generation:
"…but when we reflect on the science of Yoga, we see that the tradition of the Surya-Namaskara follows, in the main, the method of Vinyasa, or breathing and moving system, the movements of Rechaka or exhalation, Puraka, or inhalation, and meditation. According to the Shastra, this tradition includes: Vinyasa; Rechaka and Puraka; Dhyana [meditation]; Drishti [sight, or gazing place]; and the Bandhas [muscle contractions, or locks].'"
[Yoga Mala, p 37]
Connecting the internal with the external sun
The sun is an external fire, which takes a well-arranged course. It is the perfect Vedic offering-fire, so to speak. In Surya Namaskara the outer fire and inner fire come together. When run in an orderly path - the Vedic offering succeeds. The result of this meeting is health and immortality. In the Veda the gods also attain their immortality through an offering. They offer all the negative characteristics in their inner fire. For us humans, "immortality" initially sounds like a big promise. According to the interpretation of the Veda, "immortality" means not passing away prematurely. Here the human life span is specified as 100 years. As the fire is part of the offering, the sun is inextricably linked to the Namaskara. Therefore, in yoga there is only one salutation to the sun. Indian mythology has many gods. However, in yoga they are not worshiped with a Namaskara. Pattabhi explains further:
"And this alone is the method which should be followed when learning the Surya-Namaskara, as yogis declare from experience. Indeed, the Sun Salutations done without following the rules mentioned above are little more than exercise, and not true Surya-Namaskara."
[Yoga Mala, p 37]