On opening and closing: Surya Namaskar and Sirsasana
I think Sharath did a great job of discussing both our asana practice and the deeper philosophical and energetic questions of yoga practice in Sunday’s conference…
He began by explaining that there are two purposes served by opening the series with sun salutations: To pray and give thanks to the sun god and to promote good health and create heat in the body to prepare it for other asanas.
In Indian culture and traditions, the sun god gives health and prosperity. Indians pray to the sun god using the Aditya Hrudaya mantra and other elaborate rituals for all sorts of things. It’s important that if you do these rituals, you are trained in them and adhere to the strict formulas and procedures. But because these aren’t avalible to everyone, Guruji created these versions of sun salutations so that anyone could do a ritual for the sun. Each one is a mini ritual in itself!
As he mentioned last week, there are quite a few obstacles to yoga practice. In addition to these, there are also the classical challenges of pride, jelousy, etc… called the enemies of yoga (which the prayers and rituals to the sun god help free us from). We must develop spiritual qualities to get rid of these enemies. Spirituality, in turn, gives us greater clarity and a greater understanding of “why am I here?”
To just go on living is ok, Sharath reminds us, but we are blessed with this human life. We can do anything with it…why not use it to work towards becoming enlightened? In the Bhagavad Gita kishna asks a similar question: why waste time? The universe has given us time, and now it is possible to realize and understand the supreme soul…so, why waste time?
I find that the complexity of this explanation mirrors the yoga practice in general…there’s never one answer, never one reason we do something…it’s a constant push and pull of opposing forces, and in yoga we’re seeking a balance. We must do our asanas yes, but in doing them we should bring the other limbs of yoga into our daily life. Just getting a bendy body does not make us peaceful, fully realized yoga practitioners!
Sharath then moved on from the opening of our practice to discuss one of our closing postures, sirsasana, headstand. He says he sees quite a few students practicing it incorrectly, and wants to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves, and can fully reap the benefits from this pose.
We should set it up correctly, interlacing the fingers but not making a fist, so that we can wrap the palms around the head. All of the weight is in the tripod of the two elbows/forearms and the interlaced fingers…no weight is in the head.
He really encouraged us to slow down when lifting up and coming down from the posture. This pose can be held for a long time if done correctly, and one of the benefits is that it helps us store Amrita Bindu, the drops of nectar that collect back in the head when upside-down. Amrita Bindu diminishes as we age, so doing inversions is a good way to store it.
This asana, like all, should be stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha), which takes a lot of practice ("sthira sukham asanam"). Gurruji said that an asana must be done 1000 times for it to be mastered, and Sharath wanted to make sure we know that it’s ok if we fall…that’s how we learn. To gain an in-depth understanding, we really must research ourselves in each asana.
Conference ended with an inspiring sentiment: Sharath, prompted by a question from a student, told us that anyone could become a “successor” of Pattabhi Jois. If we lean the method correctly and show dedication, we are all eligible to carry on his lineage. So go, practice headstand, and carry on this beautiful tradition!