20 February 2013

Surya Namaskars - a reflection on the elements

The way I approach the Surya Namaskars can be different from one day to the next.  Though lately it seems that the water element infuses my practice, hence why I tend not to stop in Dog Pose.
Grimmly's comment on my last post prompted me to reflect on the elemental qualities that can be either consciously strengthened through a yoga practice, or arise spontaneously during the practice, depending on our approach and intention.
The Surya Namaskars are an easy way to experiment with the elements:

Earth - stay in each pose for 5 breaths - 5 breaths in Tadasana with arms raised, 5 breaths in Uttanasana, 5 breaths in Ardha Uttanasana, 5 breaths in Chaturanga etc... Focus on the physical body, it's connection to the earth, it's shape and position in space, refine the alignment of each pose, stretch out the muscles, explore and challenge the body's resistance and enjoy the physical aspect of the Surya Namaskars. Let the mind connect fully and thoroughly with the changing sensations in the body as it makes its way through the sequence.

Water - the vinyasa flow, the dance, don't stop in any of the poses (including Dog Pose), just keep moving, marrying breath and body. Feel like a river gently rolling down a mountain as you move through the Surya Namaskars, lightly touching and observing the view as you travel the landscape. Aim for a snake like quality...cool, malleable, close to the earth but not of the earth. Connect with the liquids in the body: blood, lymph, water, sense your watery connection to the moon, ebb and flow in and out of the poses.

Fire - turn up the Ujiyya breath to heat the physical and subtle bodies, engage Mula bandha and keep it turned on throughout the Surya Namaskars. Ujiyya breathing and full bandhas are a powerful combination for transformation. Ignite the agni fire and burn through the obstacles in the body and mind. This can be a slightly dangerous, edgy and exciting way to practice Surya Namaskars. When I focus on igniting the fire energy without balancing it out, my eyes become like laser beams, I get supercharged with an inner intensity, I'm ready to take on the world, but my practice often burns out soon after the Surya Namaskars (usually around Parsvottanasana).

Air - allow the Ujiyya breath to be the focus, listen to it, move with it, use it to tune into the energetic body and the flow of prana that travels to the limbs, through the spine, and through the subtle channels and the nadis. Be sylphlike as you move.  When I practice the Surya Namaskars with the breath as my focus, I experience a vast space through my core channel and the wind of the breath flows through it, blowing out the cobwebs. The prana/breath sparkles and enlivens every part of my body and lifts my mind up with the breezes to carry me into the practice proper.

Poo - sometimes I simply use the Surya Namaskars to stretch and warm up my body (especially in the mornings); other days they are an empty mindless ritual as I struggle to wrench my mind away from the office and into the present. Some days they're a vehicle for me to explore my immediate state of (resistant) body and (monkey) mind.  But every now and then there's an occasional morning when I wake up with my heart full of gratitude for another day, when I can't help but to face the east and perform these beautiful movements as a sacred dedication and expression of bhakti and reverence.

Whatever my mood, as soon as I step onto the mat and raise my arms upward for the first Surya Namaskar, something immediately changes inside.  I tune in and connect my beingness with the ground of all being, I cast off all previous teachings to make way for the truth, and I am carried along with an invisible force, trusting and following its will.  Union.  Body, mind, spirit...and 5 decades of accumulated poo.

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