“… let me repeat that no asana practice is complete without sun worship. Without its focusing of mental energies, yoga practice amounts to little more than gymnastics and, as such, loses meaning and proves fruitless. Indeed the Surya Namaskara should never be mistaken for mere physical excersize –for something incidental, that is, that simply precedes the asanas of yoga. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
As I drill down in my personal yoga practice, I find myself curious about the names each posture. What can I learn from the mythology of yoga? And, how can that mythology deepen my experience as a yogi?
I find myself drawn to the Hindu myths surrounding yoga postures, specifically the metaphors in each story and the significance those metaphors have in relation to the energetic flow of each posture. For this week, I think it makes sense to start with the Surya Namaskara ( Sun Salutations) and the Virabhadrasana series (Warrior 1, 11, 11, and IV as these are the shapes and the primary postures we start with in order to warm the muscles and nourish the mind.
Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations)
There are twelve names for the sun in Hindu. Each name corresponds with one posture in the opening sequence. The sun salutation sequence is beneficial to start with as it prepares the mind and body for the physical and spiritual practice. Here is how I understand the symbolism behind Surya Namaskara. The sun salutes tell the story of the rising sun. Just like the dawn of a new day, the practice begins with manifesting internal sun energy to warm the body and prepare the mind. Every day is new, and so we open the heart, lungs and spine with oxygen, heat and light-filled movements that mimic the same life-giving energy the sun offers the earth.
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In the same way the sun nourishes the earth, we nourish our bodies by opening the chest muscles and back muscles and honoring our lungs, heart, spine and brain. Sun Salutations represent internal fire and physical rebirth. Without the sun, there would be nothing on earth. Because of the sun we have growth, warmth, and life cycles seen in everything alive. Sun salutes not only honor the sun but they help us to harness the nourishing sun energy within. In Hinduism, Surya is the chief solar deity, he is the son of Dyaush and the supreme god of light and love. When we practice Surya Namaskara we are manifesting the life force and life giving qualities the Sun has to offer.
Virabhadrasana Series (Warrior I, II, III)
In these postures we see the manifestation of the peaceful ahisma of yoga and the battle of avidya or the ego-mind. As the myth goes, Lord Shiva god of destruction as well as god of creation, manifests a warrior deity to fight his battle against King Daksha who is the father of Sati a Hindu goddess and wife of Lord Shiva.
Daksha orders Shivas death as he feels Lord Shiva is not worthy of his daughter’s hand. In order to protect himself, Lord Shiva manifests a warrior called Virabhadra who is sent to earth to slay the enemy. In the story, Virabhadra slays the enemies of Lord Shiva. Of course Shiva ends up victorious in his battle not because of physical muscle but because of his ability to remain focused and calm.
Like Lord Shiva, in yoga we fight our personal demons by remaining calm and non reactionary. What the Warrior postures teach us is how to remain still in the face of adversity. In that stillness we find answers and we overcome. Warrior I, II, III and IV show us the way to peace as we remain still between action and reaction.
Look at the postures and notice how Warrior I suggests you are ready for battle, Warrior II, shows focus and aim, Warrior III, is the height of the battle, then Warrior IV, the battle is over and victory and peace is triumphant. The metaphor which initially escaped me, now makes perfect sense. Overcoming all things that ail is within our personal power. Virabhadra is in us all, we just need to remain still long enough to see that the strength we need to survive and thrive is inside our minds. Remaining in the space between action and reaction is what made Virabhadra victorious. Literally, we all harbor a spiritual warrior within who is ready to fight the ego and self-ignorance which is the root of all our suffering. Can’t wait to look deeper at all the wonderful postures yoga has to offer-
Know the myth so you can know yourself. It is that simple.