Friday, 16 June 2017

Why salute the sun?

We have mentioned before that 'hatha' means sun/moon.  The sun represents the warm, active masculine energy and the moon the cool, intuitive feminine energy.  Hatha yoga seeks to bring about a balance between the two energies which whether you are male or female, you have.  

The Hindus have revered the sun for thousands of years and it's not surprising.  All life is dependent on the sun. Plants use water, which they take in through their roots and carbon-dioxide from the air and using the sun's energy convert these to food in a process called photosynthesis.  Even if you are not vegan, you eat animals that in turn eat plants so ultimately all life depends on the sun.  It is no wonder then that this source of life was revered by the ancients.  Ancient yogis also believed that we are a microcosm of the universe so that for instance your blood might represent rivers etc.  There is some science to back the idea of the body being a microcosm of the universe - we are made up of the same fundamental particles as the universe.  Ancient yogis believed that the outer sun is reflected in us at the heart.  

Surya namaskar, sun salutations, may have originated 2500 years ago to greet the dawn although this is a subject of debate. 'Surya' means sun and 'namaskar' comes from 'namas' meaning to bow down to or adore.  Sun salutations as we know them certainly may be a more modern invention.

Sun salutations have many benefits. They are good to use as a warm up because they stretch all the muscles and lubricate the joints.  They boost circulation and open up the chest to expand the lungs.  This allows more oxygen to enter the body and be delivered to the muscles and brain (when we move into forward fold or downward facing dog) and so sun salutations are energizing. 

Boosting circulation also has benefits for the skin and hair as more nutrients are delivered to them. Forward folds and back bends are calming for the nervous system (they activate the 'rest and digest' part of the nervous system, that is the parasympathetic nervous system) reducing stress which is of benefit to the immune system and the endocrine system. 

Stretching and compressing the abdomen stimulates digestion.  The dynamic nature of sun salutations also 'lights' the digestive fire, agni and helps maintain heart health (after all the heart is a muscle). Sun salutations may also aid weight loss.   

Interestingly there are 12 names for the sun in Indian astrology and there are twelve positions in the basic sun salutations.  For step by step sun salutations A and B please see 'Yoga Pose Gallery'.

Next week we will look at yoga's connection to the moon.

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