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Season 1 - Episode 8

Yoga and the Sun

60 min - Talk


May we find the courage to keep growing towards the sun.  James shares an animated talk about the Sun and it’s symbolism in yoga and Indian tradition, focusing on Surya Namaskara, the Sun Salutes we perform in many yoga classes. We learn the symbolism woven into each movement, and how performing this sequence every time with a fresh perspective can help us feel connected to the energy of the sun, draw on all of the elements in existence to remind ourselves of our interconnectedness, and invite more grace into our lives, feeling warmed, blessed, and enlivened by our “best friend”, the Sun.

Please find attached a pdf of the Surya Namaskara hymn to which James refers in this class.

What You'll Need: No props needed

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Apr 12, 2021
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The ṬhÄ쳌nurÄ쳌á¹?á¸쳌aḥ prÄ쳌chora yÄ쳌ti, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌mÄ« kurintÄ쳌ya vitmÄ쳌hÄ« vaká¹?tundÄ쳌ya ṬhÄ쳌nurÄ쳌á¹?á¸쳌aḥ prÄ쳌chora yÄ쳌ti, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌á¹?á¸쳌aḥ pata yinÄ쳌mÄ쳌, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌n gÄ쳌nÄ쳌pata yinÄ쳌mÄ쳌, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌nÄ쳌pata yinÄ쳌mÄ쳌, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌nurÄ쳌á¹?á¸쳌aḥ prÄ쳌chora yÄ«ti, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌mÄ« kurintÄ쳌ya vaká¹?tundÄ쳌ya ṬhÄ쳌nurÄ쳌á¹?á¸쳌aḥ prÄ쳌chora yinÄ쳌mÄ쳌, Å?aá¹?gÄ쳌nÄ쳌pata yinÄ쳌mÄ쳌, Hello, welcome. So the day on yoga now, the theme is yoga and the sun. And in yoga, one of the very beautiful things in the Indian tradition and in the yoga tradition is the very practical ways that the tradition allows us to talk about things that are really beyond words. So in the Indian tradition, the g-word, God, is referred to literally by thousands of names. There are lots of good reasons for this. One is to remind us that basically the particular name is not it. God, which is a word for that which is beyond words. It's a name to represent that which is beyond representation. And in the Indian system, there are lots of names for this. Another interesting thing is that some of the, let's say foremost or especially important names that represent that consciousness, the source of life, the essence that is beyond name and form, the very names themselves, they connote or suggest or denote very clearly overtly that this God, this ultimate reality, this conscious existence of which we are all part and in which we all exist, the names such as Shiva, for example, such as Narayana, such as Amba, one of the names from the divine, these names all have that sense of that which contains everything, that in which everything exists. There is the idea in yoga that we are only having an experience at all because there is this part of ourselves or we are somehow connected to, even if we don't recognise it, we are animated by this light of consciousness. And if we were not animated by the light of consciousness, we would not be able to have any experience whatsoever, any experience at all. And so, quite fittingly, in the Indian tradition, as has been the case in traditions from all over this beautiful planet earth going back millennia and millennia, human beings have recognised the sun as a great symbol of the source of life. And in the Indian system, the sun is one way that the ultimate being is represented, although it's also stated that the ultimate being is even beyond the sun. But from the point of view of an earthling, from the point of view of an earth-dwelling human being, the sun is a pretty fantastic representation of the ultimate consciousness or the source of life. Because, well, let's be honest about it for a moment. Here we are on planet earth. No sun, no life in the solar system without the sun. He, she, it is our principal star. And it's very, very beautiful in the Indian tradition, the yoga tradition. There are many hymns to the sun, for example, and the sun is invoked and evoked in lots of different beautiful ways. And the sun is called or recognised as the Lord of all, as the bringer of the day, the bringer of the dawn, the bringer of light, the destroyer of darkness and cold, the destroyer of that which is inimical to life, that which makes the lotuses bloom, that which is able to scorch and raise things that are no longer serving us, that which arouses and stimulates and propels and animates and encourages and allows things to come to ripeness and wholeness and fullness. So the idea is that as a human being, we are truly blessed creatures. Yes, we have but two eyes. There's always more that we cannot see than we can with these two eyes. And we do experience duality, we experience up down, hot, cold, expansion, contraction, all the rest of these pairs of opposites that characterise our human experience. And our sense powers, our action powers, they have co-evolved with the rest of this solar system and this universe of which we are part. And they have co-evolved to allow us to perceive only tiny portions of all that is out there. I understand now science like, you know, research figures and numerical figures are not my strong point. I like language and numbers are not so hot for me. But I think if I remember correctly, when it comes to hearing, a human being who has good hearing by human standards can hear between 20 and I think it's 20,000 Hertz. That's the range we can hear. But if this is 20 and this is 20,000, there's all of this other range of potential sound that is beyond the reach of our hearing. And when it comes to sight, sight which is so important for us human beings and which is enabled by the light of the sun, apparently I'm reliably informed about this. This is not, I'm not speaking now for the next sentence from the laboratory of my own personal experience and my own particular research with the instruments of my own perception. This is what I've heard from somebody who has read some scientific literature. Apparently we can see, just get this, one trillionth, one trillionth of all that could be seen. So yoga reminders, remember there's always more we can't see than we can. It's good to know that I do not know. Once I own and admit and acknowledge and recognize that I do not know, I empower myself to actually receive or gain or apprehend new insights. And new insights and new understandings are always available when we're a human being, when we live on this beautiful planet earth, blessed and enabled and supported and vivified by the sun.

Rabindra Tagore, this fantastic poet, he has a very short, he has many very short poems, but one of them it says, every day the dawn brings a blessing to whatever is still growing towards the sun. Every day the dawn brings a blessing to whatever is still growing towards the sun. How true this is. But I was talking about how blessed we are as human beings, even though our sense powers and our action powers are very very limited. There's the idea in yoga that they are, or they have as their source power, the light of consciousness. These amazing instrumental powers of our eyes and our ears and our tongue and our hands and feet and our bodies that can move in so many different ways, that can process and digest and eliminate and excrete and reproduce and recreate. This is an amazing miraculous vehicle, but without the animating effulgent light life force of consciousness, this is just a shiver, a lifeless corpse. And so the sun is a fantastic symbol for that source consciousness, that light of life, because at the level of our planet, no sun, no life. At the level of our microcosm, no animating conscious light of consciousness, no animating essence, no life. And so the sun is this beautiful symbol of what we are seeking to recognize and remember and connect with more fully when we are practicing yoga. So yoga recognizes that there's different ways of terming it, different ways of describing it. One is that we are seeking to become connected to the underlying oneness. We want to become reattuned to the pure consciousness that is our source, that is our essence and ultimately is our destination. Because there is the idea that this is what this life is for, is to help us recognize ourselves, to give consciousness the thrilling experience of recognizing itself. Another way we can term it is the purpose of yoga is to disconnect ourselves from our false associations with limitation, so we can actually bask in the clear sun rays of pure consciousness. Right now, here I am, and I'm associated with so many identifications, so many false ideas, and they afflict me, and they get in the way of me realizing who I really am, what I am truly made of at the deepest essential layer of what it means to be human, at the level of my soul, this deathless part of myself. And this is symbolized by the sun. Now, I don't know about you, but I have always been something of a sun worshiper. I was born in this, on these islands on this land which is conventionally called England, and it is at, on the globe, a relatively northerly latitude. Here, in the middle of the summer, it doesn't really get fully dark. You know, the night falls, but it's still, there's still that glimmer on the horizon, and it's still light 10 30 11 pm around the summer solstice. And then in the depths of winter, the day is very short, and even at its zenith, relative to where we are, the sun doesn't reach that high in the sky around the winter solstice. I was born on a hot day one July, back in 1977. It was a very hot July, apparently, and I've always liked hot weather, and I've always run to the sun, and I enjoy being outside in the sunlight a lot. And I have spent a significant part of my life in the tropics.

And here in England, anytime, now I've been in England over a year now, which is extraordinary, at first time this has happened, this century for me, to be here for any, like any time like this. And after the winter, I was really noticing and feeling my longing for sun on my skin, and this has been this interesting thing that's happened. Already in February, there was one weekend, it was very warm and sunny, and I was out in the sun and my body rejoiced. And then it became cold and cloudy, and my body's like, what's going on? I thought we were back to having that stimulation from the sun. All this is to say, I don't know if you noticed this, but the sun brings so much vitality, it brings life, it stimulates, it allows things to flow and to get warmed up. So the same idea is when we bring the light of consciousness more keenly into the field of our psychic reality, when the field of our psyche, lots of it is unknown to us. We've mentioned in this series so far that often, or at least sometimes in life, speaking for myself, I can say this is true at least, is that sometimes I do things that I know I do not want to do. And sometimes I do things even though deep down I know it's not really going to do me any good. And yet I still do them. And sometimes I encounter situations in life, and something comes out of me that I didn't know was inside. And this all shows me in the field of my psyche, there is a lot of myself that is hidden, that is in shadow, that is concealed, that is unknown to me. It's the idea of Surya Namaskara orienting towards the light of consciousness. When in yoga, the basic yoga practice is to orient towards centered, balanced, clear awareness. When I bring the light of centered, balanced, clear awareness onto myself, into the field of my day-to-day experience, what am I going to see? In a word, I'm going to see more. I'm going to uncover more of myself and then empower myself and give myself the opportunity to actually integrate more of who I really am and become more holy who I really am, holy W-H-O-L-L-Y. But interestingly, you know, to become more holy who I am, some would say when we do that, we give ourselves the chance to experience the holy H-O-L-Y part of ourselves, that sacred secret part of ourselves that never dies, the light of our soul. This part of ourselves that often is shrouded and clouded by all of these veiling ideas and associations and conditionings that get in the way of us living freely as the expression of our deepest longing, which, according to Jorgand, is to express the amazing harmony of which consciousness is capable. So when we look out at the natural world and we look at an ecosystem, when we look at the sun and we look at the cycles of the seasons and we look at all of this amazing interdependence and all this symbiosis in nature, we see that there is a rhythm to life. Now the yogic rishis, they recognize that this universe, one way it can be described, is a satya-ritta-brihat. Existence is, it is sat. Sat means it's from the verb to be. Satya means having the quality of existing, being. It's true in the sense that it is. And the yogic rishis, the great research scientists of the ancient Indian tradition, they recognize this universe is. How is it? It is a ritta. Now this word ritta, it's given us, or it's influenced, at least we might say, the English words rhythm and right, to be in the right rhythm. That people talk about the music of the spheres.

This cosmos has a rhythm, it has a pulsation. We look at our planet, this planet, what a miracle it is. And what a miracle this vehicle of a human body that has evolved over so many gazillions of years, when we put it in the context of the broader evolution and creation of which we are part, or existence of which we are part, choose whichever term you prefer. All of this miraculous life, wow, there's so much rhythm and so much harmony and so much symbiosis. Satya, ritta, and then Brihat, it is vast. It is vast beyond what we would imagine. And the idea in yoga is that when we start to tune in to the sun of our being, to the enabling source of our existence, then we can tune in to that Satya, that ritta, that Brihat. We can tune in to the actual pure essence of who we are, that real existence that never dies. And as we are tuning into that, we can experience a rhythm. We can bring ourselves into that fine-tuned pulsation in which we are at one with all of our self.

All of our self, not just in the sense of this physical body, but all of our self in the sense of all our brothers and sisters and ancestors and descendants, all our relations of the whole of existence and the whole of the universe, and actually experience here now in this miraculous vehicle of a human body, the vastness that is existence. So when we do yoga, when we practice yoga, this is one of the things we can say that we are doing. We are inviting ourselves to experience greater oneness, greater wholeness, greater rhythm and harmony with all that is. And so one of the ways that this is represented in yoga is through this beautiful practice of Surya Namaskara. Maybe we can say that term together, such a beautiful term. Surya Namaskara. You can see it on the screen now. Surya Namaskara. So Surya is one of the names in Sanskrit for the sun. Namaha is from the verb nam, which means to bow or to prostrate. And kara is from the verb kra, which is the verb to do or to make. So Surya Namaskara means to make a prostration towards the sun, towards Surya, which is, as we've mentioned, a symbol of pure consciousness or our source or essence, the undying soul of existence, totality, everything, God, the ultimate. So Surya Namaskara is a way of encoding and invoking and practicing that gesture, practicing that attitude, that way of being in reality. Can I walk here on the earth as a prayer? Can I walk here on the earth as an invitation to me as an individual to experience the depth and the beauty of my soul and bring myself into rhythm and harmony with all of existence? So Surya Namaskara, sometimes people practice Surya Namaskara by doing sun salutations and doing physical sun salutations, but there are many, many ways to Surya Namaskara. We could say pretty much any type of yoga practice is a Surya Namaskara. It is a way of orienting towards totality. It's a way of coming into rhythm with the underlying light of existence and consciousness. Now, sometimes when people encounter, when people start exploring yoga, we realize, oh, there's all these different types of yoga. There's all these classic ones. There's Karma yoga, the yoga of action. There's Jnana yoga, the yoga of awareness and intelligence and the intellect and study. And then there's Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. And then there's Araja yoga, the royal path of yoga to bring us into sovereignty. And of course, these days there are all sorts of brand names of yoga. I won't even bother talking about that. However, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga, what do we notice? They all have in common the four letter word yoga. In other words, they all share the same aim, which is to bring us into that state of being connected to oneness and being disconnected from our association with limiting blocking, veiling ideas. Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga in any of them. The sun is a great reference. Karma yoga is the yoga of action.

One way we can think of Karma yoga is making everything we do an offering, making everything we do a means to come more deeply, more fully, more authentically into that state of balance, harmony, integration. What does this depend on? This depends on presence. What does presence depend on? It depends on the light of awareness. In other words, it depends on the internal sun of our being. And so the sun in the sky, Surya, is this great icon or representation of Karma yoga because the sun, how is the sun? Constantly present, always shining its gifts, always giving its gifts indiscriminately, wholeheartedly, disinhibitedly, unapologetically. And so the sun is a great icon, a great representation, a great example of what it means to practice Karma yoga. In all times, in all places, can I bring myself into that state of deep harmonious presence in which I can shine forth my unique gifts wholeheartedly. Jnana yoga, the yoga of insight and study and intellect. How am I going to experience anything without the light of awareness? So again, the sun is my guru, is my master, is my inspiration, is my source. Bhakti yoga. Bhakti is from the root, the verb root bhaj, which means to approach with reverence. And Surya namaskara is a great example of bhakti, you might say, but bhakti also means devotion. Again, the sun, what better example? Karma yoga, the sun's always doing its job. Jnana yoga, the sun's always illuminating, always inviting new insights, and no bhakti yoga. Devotion, love, what better symbol of loving, friendly devotion and the way the sun constantly blesses us. So Surya namaskara, and sorry, I'll talk about Raja yoga as well. Now Raja yoga, the yoga of coming to sovereignty, to become the sovereign of this field of experience. Sometimes in the Indian tradition, the king or the queen is seen as being the son of the kingdom.

The duty, the dharma of the sovereign is this beautiful term in Sanskrit, loka sangraha, which means the well being and cohesion of the whole. If I'm going to be, I'm a man, so I'll say the king, I'm going to be the sovereign of this field. I need to look to the loka sangraha every part of myself. In other words, I need to shine my light of awareness indiscriminately, wholeheartedly, without inhibition into every corner and cave and precinct and hidden chamber of my being, so I can then infuse it with that light of centered awareness and integrate it. So in order to be the sovereign, I have to do that work of illuminating the previously hidden dark shadowy parts of myself, bringing that light of centered awareness. So those parts of myself which previously may have been like enemies to my kingdom, enemies to my realm, those parts of myself that might have been impeding my recognizing myself. I need to bring them into the light of centered awareness and with that light of centered awareness, with that steady presence, then rehabilitate them, recover their innate gifts, remember how they can actually bring me new insights and help me weave myself into greater togetherness. So basically the point I want to emphasize is that if we are practicing yoga, we are worshipping the sun. I am a sun worshipper. I worship fire. This is what it means to be a human being. Without the sun and without fire, where would we be? Would we even be here at all? Perhaps not, certainly not in this form. In this human form, fire and the sun, the big fire in the sky, they are just like water, just like earth, just like air, just like space. These are the very building blocks of our life and yoga invites us to and reminds us that if we are to truly honor this amazing gift of a human birth, if we are to savor its true potential and recognize, recover and embody our true capacities, then we need to treat earth, water, fire, air and space, the elements of existence here, there and beyond, with reverence, with devotion, with respect, with loving presence. We need to be friendly to ourselves and all of existence. Another name of the sun in the tradition is Mitra, which means the friend and it's such an appropriate apt, beautiful name. The sun truly is our best friend. Without the sun, we wouldn't have any life at all. He, she, it is our very life source and so are all the elements. So, Suna Muscada practices of opening myself and bowing and orienting towards the sun. These are great ways to actually remind myself of this and practice yoga. Now, one way I mentioned already people practice Srima Muscada is through the sun salutations, these physical practices in which we encode in this beautiful multi-dimensional way the attitude and practice of yoga. So, we can practice Srima Muscada by meditating upon the sun, by singing to the sun, by performing all sorts of rituals. But this physical practice of Srima Muscada, one thing that's very lovely about it and very practical and very powerful about it is that it kind of, I would describe it as an embodied prayer.

Now, the word prayer in Sanskrit, one of the ways that we can say prayer in Sanskrit is prartha. Artha means the means and prartha means to orient towards the means. In other words, if my prayer is peace, the Sanskrit word reminds me, if my prayer is peace it means let me practice peace, let me embody peace, let me share peace. If my prayer is vitality or whatever it might be, my prayer is abundance, my prayer is generosity, my prayer is health, my prayer is harmony. What does that mean? It means practice this, embody it, share it, cultivate it. So, when I do Srima Muscada, it's the idea that it is an embodied moving prayer, a form of expression that helps instill an attitude deep into the cells of our being. We do it from gross to subtle. We work with the flesh of our physical vehicle. We work with the energy of our body, working with the breath and how that helps energy circulate through the body when we do the sun salutations. We work with the light of our awareness, we work to invite all our senses into the present moment. So, very readily this practice, this prayer, becomes a means to recruit all the powers that are resident within this field of our being and bring them into oneness. So, typically when we do the physical practice of Srima Muscada, the vinyasa, you might say, of Srima Muscada or the sun salutation. Now, there are many many forms but one of the most classic forms is sometimes referred to as the step back Srima Muscada. Now, because of the relative smallness of the place I'm filming in, I'm going to have to demonstrate this in my seated position. If we were together in the same space and we have plenty of space, then we could all get up and do this in our own way. And we could explore lots of different ways of embodying the spirit of this vinyasa. There are lots and lots of ways to do Srima Muscada that do not involve all the classic moves that I'm going to refer to now. But hopefully you'll be able to follow along and get what I'm talking about even though I'm not going to be able to demonstrate it exactly as it would look like if I was doing it fully standing up. But typically when one begins Srima Muscada, what happens? Typically one stands in the position that's called Samastitihi. So in Samastitihi, imagine I'm standing up and my legs are not folded by standing up. So I've got my feet together. In Tadasana, what is Tadasana? It is the posture of the mountain. And the instruction when I stand in Tadasana is Samastitihi which means standing even, steady. I've previously mentioned in some of these sessions the classic definition of Yogaasana as sthira sukham asanam. Yogaasana is sthira, steady and sukham, easy. Samastitihi is telling us the same thing. Bring ourselves into even spaciousness, even steadiness. So I stand in Tadasana. I stand in the attitude, the posture of the mountain. In other words, I incarnate mineral life, the rock and the element of earth. The mountain is one of the great symbols of earth. So there I am and I'm standing on my two feet. Imagine I'm standing now or maybe you want to do it at home. You can stand up if you like. And I'm feeling that connection to the earth. And then perhaps I'll join my hands together. And this is the gesture sometimes known as anjali mudra, the posture of a prayer. But what happens if I open my fingers out a little bit?

Now this becomes, I'll try and bring my hands so you can see it easily. There's the front view and now here's the side view. Now my hands, what are they? They're in Padma mudra. Padma is one of the ways of saying lotus in Sanskrit. So now I'm incarnating plant life. So already I've incarnated plant life, excuse me, mineral life and plant life. Then what will I do? Typically now I will raise my hands up and so symbolically I connect the earth all the way up to the sky. As I lift my arms I lift them up with a smooth flowing movement. And so I connect the earth through water and I'm lifting my hands up towards the sun, the fire in the air, in the sky, in space and the fire in the sky. So straight away I'm invoking all five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. The building blocks are life. I'm starting to express my appreciation for them, my gratitude for them and my recognition that I am nothing without them. But when I raise the arms to the sky, how might one do that? We might be instructed or we might, you know, if we're following a guided class or when we're doing our own press, we might inscribe an arc in the sky, an arc of a circle or a globe. And what do we do when we do this? This is symbolizing the sun that we are namaskar-ing to. This is symbolizing the orb, the globe of the sun. But what else is it symbolizing? When we make that beautiful, vast gesture of inscribing the arc of existence in the sky, we're also symbolizing that I am part of the womb of creation, the circle of life. So this gesture is so rich, it's so beautiful. We're already, even before we've made any dramatic movement, we're just inscribing this arc of the sun and the womb of existence with our hands in the sky and reaching our hands obviously much higher than I'm doing now. You might do it at home, but you don't need to. You're already here, symbolically, I am symbolizing that I'm reminding myself that I am part of the circle of life with its rhythm, its pulsation. And if, if I grant myself the permission, if I can find the courage to surrender to that, to open to that, to make myself available to that, then step by step as I continue practicing, I can bring myself more into rhythm with that wholeness, that oneness that is underlying, animating everything. So here I am. You can imagine me with my hands way above my head. So I've made that arcing circle, the womb of the sun. I've lifted my hands up and I'm reaching to the sun with a reverence, with gratitude. I look up to my fingers, I look up to the sun with wonder, with gratitude, with reverence, with thankfulness. And then what do I do? I bow down. Maybe I triple flex, ankle, knee, hip. Maybe I fold at the hip. Doesn't really matter, but what do I do? I bow down and then from, I connect back from the sky, back to the earth and I touch the earth. I touch my, I will speak like this, I touch my beloved mother and I thank her for carrying me today and every day of my life and every moment of my life up to now and I thank her for giving birth to me and allowing me to have this experience of a worldly incarnation. So I'm going to go side on now to hopefully make this easier to follow. So there I was. You can imagine I was standing, I inscribed the ark of the sun in the sky in the womb of existence and then I bowed down and I touched the earth and I say thank you to the earth for carrying me all my life. Then what do I do?

So here I am. You can imagine that my legs might be straight or maybe not. Here I am. I've bent down and then I'm going to, what do I do next? I'm going to step back and when I step back, what happens? Here I am. If I lean forwards, what happens? Now I'm going to step back. What happens to my perspective? It gets that little bit vaster. So when figuratively, symbolically, when I step back, now I might step back into a lunge, you know, I can't really not space to really demonstrate it here. When I step back into the lunge, one of the things I'm doing is I'm stepping back to remind myself to keep practicing, looking in ways that reach beyond my habitual ways of looking, to keep inviting myself to step into a vaster, fuller, richer perspective, to invite myself to step beyond the limits and confines of my habitual conditionings and actually invite a new insight, reminding myself every day the dawn brings a blessing to whatever is still growing towards the sun. I made Padma Mudra, perhaps. I incarnated the mountain, the plant. It knows how to grow towards the light. If I am to grow towards the light, one thing I can do to help that is make myself open to receive its rays. So I step back and figuratively I remind myself, I'm asking myself to step outside the confined, blinkered, narrow limits of my conditioned ideas. Can I invite a new perspective? Can I do this sequence of postures like it's the very first time I'm doing them? Even if I have done tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Sri Namaskaras in my life, can I step through the sequence with that curiosity of the child who is learning to walk? We'll come back to that in a moment. But anyway, here I am. I've stepped back and then what do I do? Having stepped back, I then come down to the ground and I lay down on the ground. I can't do this. I've got to take care of the microphone as well. But imagine I'm on the ground, then what do I do? So imagine I'm on the ground, my belly is on the ground like a snake, my belly is on the ground and then what do I do? I lift my heart and I extend my spine and then from there I step into downward facing dog or Buddha Rasa. You can imagine this is an approximation of down dog here more or less. You get what I'm talking about. And then I step forwards again and then I come back to stand. Now what is happening here? We mentioned so many things happening here. So many things happening. This is such a beautiful practice. So there I was at the beginning, the mountain, the plant, mineral life, plant life. Then I step back.

I start on my two feet like a human biped. I stepped back and then I went down to the earth and I put my belly on the ground and here I am incarnating and symbolizing bacterial life, microbial life, protozoan life, creeping, crawling, slithering things. And then I lift my heart, bhujangasana, the posture of the cobra, like a reptile. So I now incarnate reptilian life. And then what do I do? Then I go to downward facing dog and I stand on my hands and feet, quadrupedial life, mammalian life. And then I step forwards to come back to two feet. And so what we are doing is we are reminding ourselves of the whole course of cosmic evolution enabled for us by the earth, our mother and the son, our father. I like to talk a bit like that. It makes sense to me like that. But even if those terms don't resonate so much, the earth that is always supporting us, the sun that is always enabling our life, not just our life, but the whole circle of life, all of it. We're all children of the earth, at least we're all children of the sun and here on earth, we're all children of the earth as well. So Suriname Skara, I'm saying thank you to the earth. I'm saying thank you to the sun.

I'm saying thank you to the animating life force of consciousness. And I'm also saying thank you to the building blocks of material existence that allow me to experience this life, this humanity. And also I'm reminding myself of the interconnected and underlying oneness of all of existence. Now there's this strange malady that seems to have infected some of human, some human beings who feel we're separate from nature or other than nature or different from nature. But nature means that which is born. Nut, the root of nature means you're natal. It's that which is born and it's going to die. We are nature. And so Suriname Skara is reminding us of the interconnectedness of everything, the oneness of all life and our place within that. And it's a way of saying thank you to all of life. The food we eat, it depends on the earth and it depends on the sun, it depends on the rains, it depends on all the animals, it all depends on all of those creatures, those tiny creatures that we maybe don't even see in the soil, in the ocean, in the rain, all these tiny little things, this microbial life, even these viruses, these gazillions of bacteria and viruses, we're saying thank you to all of them, to all of life. I'm saying thank you. So I'm inviting myself when I practice Suriname Skara with this attitude, to tune in to this attitude of gratitude that can actually help me move through the day with more grace and invite more grace into my life. So Suriname Skara is an embodied prayer of remembering the whole cycle of evolution. We start with our hands together, symbolizing wholeness, oneness and then we open them to create the globe of the lotus and then we move through this cycle that incarnates and represents all these different stages and mutually supportive aspects of the life that we know. I find it so beautiful, but that's just the start, there's so much more. Also, so we can say Suriname Skara is a map or a model of cosmic evolution here on the earth from the point of view of a human being, but it's also a map of the evolution and cause and growth of our individual life. Let's think about it again. So at the beginning I stand on my two feet, so I'll be nice and loud, imagine I'm standing up and I'm going to bring my hands together and now I'm going to remind myself where I've come from. So I'm going to first of all make the circle in the sky, the womb of existence. I remember my mother, I came out of a womb, I am a child of nature, I am a child of the earth and a child of the sun and I give thanks to my biological mother and to my mother the earth and the elements and all of existence and then here I am, I reach up and I connect the earth and the sky and all the elements and I give thanks to all of these powers and constituents of reality that are holding me, that are enabling my experience and then I bow down to the earth and then I step or jump back. Now maybe some of you know that posture chaturanga and dasana and sometimes people bring the chest down as well, but one thing this posture symbolizes, I thank my mother already, but who else was instrumental in my being here?

Here, maybe you can get the idea, I don't know if I can demonstrate this particularly well, but slapstick humour has not been a big part of the yoga now series, so why not bring an element of it in now? The series has come into a climax, so I'm going to try and do it. What am I symbolizing? This is the sperm, that sperm, what an amazing journey it went on to fertilize the egg, so I remember my father and then I go down to the earth, so here I am down on the earth, you have to imagine I don't have enough space to do it, I'm down with my belly on the ground and then with my belly on the ground, what do I do? Remember I lift my heart, so you can imagine if I was on the ground, imagine my chest on the ground now, it's like a baby, the baby is on its front, then it starts to lift its heart and lift its hands up and then from there, once it starts to get confident in doing that, it can start to crawl and then slowly slowly, it starts to be able to stand and then I come back to stand at the front of my mat and so it reminds me this sequence of the whole journey of my life up to now. And so here I am in Surya Namaskara reminding myself that I am a part of this cosmos, I am a child of the sun and the earth, I'm a part of this oneness, I'm a part of this consciousness that is animating and enabling all of my experience and the experience of all the other beings I share this experience with and I'm also reminding myself of all the steps I've been through to get to here in my life and then when I step forwards again I come back to Samastitihi, the posture of the mountain, standing tall, spacious, steady, easy, even and then I remind myself that everything, everything is all right. And this is one of the foundational teachings in the Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism, everything is all right. When we're a human being it's normal that we will fall, it's normal that we will stumble. Yoga means balancing. So I mentioned we would come back to the toddler so in the Surya Namaskara sequence we map, we go back to being a toddler, learning to walk. How many times did we fall when we were learning to walk? How many times did we stumble?

More than we can count. But when we stumbled as a child, did we get down about it? When the toddler stumbles does the toddler get wracked by the thought, oh what a terrible toddler am I? I've stumbled again. No, that doesn't happen at all. How does the toddler feel? Ah well this isn't, ah without being weighed down or blocked or blinded or suppressed or crushed by this expectation the toddler puts to pedagogic use this new information, oh that stumble is teaching me something more about what it means to stand on my two feet and put one foot in front of another. Yoga is just like learning to walk. Sometimes yoga is described as a fine balance. Dancing on the razor's edge. We may stumble. We may fall. The idea in yoga. Let's avoid as best we can falling in the same way again and again. Let's make a different stumble. It is an evolutionary practice. So Surinamaskara, Surinamaskara reminds us everything that I have practiced up to now has brought me here. Here to this moment. This moment in which I can open myself more to the vast beauty and harmony of cosmic existence. Can I find that courage to be more like the sun? Can I be my own true friend and invite myself more and more into the vastness of what is actually possible for me to experience beyond the confines and the bullying and tyrannizing limiting ideas of my conditionings. So I mentioned earlier that one of the names of the sun is Mitra and sometimes Surinamaskara one can practice mantras with these vinyasas and there are 12 names of the sun because the sun moves through these 12 signs of the zodiac that are associated with Surinamaskara and they sometimes have a bija mantra associated with them.

I sang this before the class today and I'll sing them. Maybe I'll sing them again another time but the first of these mantras is Omitrayana Maha. This means Namaha. Beautiful you can see it on the screen now yeah so Omitrayana Maha this means I bow to the one who is the friend. So I mentioned already the sun what a great symbol of our friend always blessing us always shining always blessing us with its rays. So one of the traditional ways to practice in yoga is at the dawn. At the dawn remind myself what Tagore reminds us with that beautiful poem every day the dawn brings a blessing to whatever is still growing towards the sun. So one way we can help ourselves grow towards greater enlightenment greater illumination greater awareness greater insight is to actually be our true friend. So one practice I know it's the idea you know the sun is our best friend so at night it's like our best friend travels to the other side of the world and then in the morning our best friend we've missed him or her or it have you want to describe describe it I'm going to talk about him because Surya is a masculine word in Sanskrit so the sun so there is I want to be waiting for him you know imagine that your beloved has been away for a long time a great distance and he or she is coming back where do you want to be you want to be waiting looking for him her on the horizon yeah eagerly and then when you see them on the horizon you will already start to welcome them with the embrace of your whole being the energetic embrace of your whole being that shines out from your heart so this is the idea of Surya Namaskar every morning to invite this friendliness to every cell of our being sometimes the world may be throwing all sorts of negativity at us we may be being bombarded with propaganda and all these talks of horrific news yoga says every day as the dawn comes up give thanks to this greater power this greater force of existence itself and welcome that into every chamber and every cell of my being so tomorrow morning when you wake up I invite you even if you're in the southern hemisphere and it's coming in towards the you know it's a dark morning all right when you see yourself in a mirror or reflective surface if you do smile a sunny smile and then look to the sun if even if you're in a place where the sun rises very late because it's that time of year or you get up after the dawn still greet the sun greet the light of awareness I've woken up I am aware I am alive give thanks and praise for this life and invite that luminosity that warmth to flood into every part of myself so Surya Namaskar every day again and again as if it's the very first time invite myself to feel this wonder of being alive and eventually perhaps if I keep doing that regularly every day if I keep practicing that prayer or embodiment linking my physical energetic mental intellectual emotional and subtler aspects of myself if I bring all of them into togetherness maybe then step by step I can approach more and more that state of constancy and wholehearted unapologetic disinhibited total presence that the sun is this great example of every day every day the dawn brings a blessing to whatever is still growing towards the sun so may I find the courage to keep growing towards the sun to keep inviting that growth Om Shri Surya Namaskar


Sharon H
2 people like this.
Many Thanks for a most elucidating articulation of Surya Namaskar. You shed great light upon whatever subject you present which is much appreciated now that my own light is somewhat dimming with age.
Jenny S
1 person likes this.
This! I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say my interpretation of sun salutations has forever changed! Thanks for this breakdown and for lightening my day 😹☀️
Caroline S
1 person likes this.
Hello, I too wanted to say how my practice of Sūrya Namaskāra will indelibly be linked with the wonderful way you presented it James.  A moving prayer honouring everything, not just the Sun but the earth, the elements, the human and animal life and plant life, God..  Thank you from my heart .
Kate M
1 person likes this.
Beautiful talk!! I love the thematic exploration of Surya Namaskara: a movement mantra. Also loved the reference to Tagore. I have been totally immersed in reading his many many offerings for a few months now. Such a prolific, awakened genius...!
Rachel H
Dear James,  Thank you .... 
I would like to share an experience i had of this beautiful practice . It was a few years ago when I was practicing it regularly and with a lot of attention to detail and  moving slowly with breath awareness . It's a truly beautiful practice and as you say so adaptable.  
I began feeling  the energy moving through the nadis  ida and pingala and  the awareness of this was very definite and organic .   Right foot forward activated the channel at the right side base of spine to Ajna and left foot forward activated the channel from the left side base of spine to Ajna. It unfolded for me as a beautiful experience of whole body Nadi Sodhana . 

Michelle F
Dear James,
Thanks so much for this wonderful illuminating Talk -the opening chants were sublime!
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