Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
Light signifies awareness and enlightenment in a large number of cultures. The fundamental source of light is, of course, the sun. In the Hindu tradition sun was worshiped. The sun – Surya – was considered the physical and spiritual heart of our world, the soul of the universe. Sun light was perceived as symbolizing the power of wisdom and distinction, while the sun’s warmth signified love. One of the ways to honor and cherish the sun is through a dynamic sequence of asanas – the sun salutation, bowing to the sun.
Each salutation to the sun begins and ends with Anjali Mudra, joining together of the palms of the hands close to the heart. This location isn’t arbitrary, for only in the heart there is a clear knowing of the truth. The heart, like the sun, is the location of the soul. This is the place from which the light of knowledge radiates in our body.
The Sun Salutation
In India, the hour just before breaking of dawn is considered Brahma MtaMuhurta -- the time of the Brahman, the Divine hour. This time is considered energetically strong. Yoga emphasizes again and again the connection between the micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos, between man and the universe. Practicing Sun Salutation, especially at dawn, solidifies this connection. Practicing this set of asanas in a fixed order and rhythm symbolizes the rhythm of the universe and its movement, and constitutes a way for us to adjust to this rhythm. The 12 poses of the sun salutation symbolize the 12 months of the year. The practitioner standing facing the rising sun and immersing himself/herself in its light, while opening his/hers body in order to connect with his/hers inner light Recites according to Swami Veda the body’s poetic hymn. The one reciting the hymn in his/hers body through devotion, will experience the elevation hidden in the Yoga practice.
This instructional video clip demonstrates the sequence of postures of the classical Sun Salutation and two more versions.
The tortoise Pose (Kurmasana)
In the Hindu tradition, the tortoise signifies stability, relaxation and concentration of the senses. Swatmarama, the author of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 14thcentury text, likens the Yoga to a protective structure that protects the practitioner from the three kinds of suffering in life, and as a tortoise supporting the entire world (The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 1:10)
Every Yoga practitioner can surely testify that Yoga practice indeed provides stability and calmness, and the strength necessary to tackle the ups and downs of life. Yoga protects the practitioner just as the tortoise’s shell protects it.
In this analogy, Swatmarma alludes to a myth of one of the avatars of Vishnu, who descends to this world, in times of crisis which endangers its very existence. Vishnu’s second avatar, out of ten, is a tortoise.
Visnu assists the Gods and Demons in churning the ocean of milk, in order to extract the amarita, the nectar of eternal life. He helps them by diving deep into the ocean and stabilizing the churning rod so that the churning can take place. As a matter of fact, this is a myth describing the Yoga practice. The stability and diving deep into the depths of consciousness allow us to connect with the part of us which is eternal, the steadfast element within us, the soul.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu as well, teaches Arjuna that “the man who withdraws his senses like the tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell, is established in stable enlightenment” (Bhagavad Gita, 2:59).
The energy in our body flows in 172,000 Nadis – energy channels. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that by Samyama (deep meditation which includes Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi) on the tortoise Nadi, one achieves stability. This special ability is manifested both by physical stability, the ability to stay motionless, and silencing the consciousness. The exact location of this energy channel (Kurma Nadi) isn’t known. Some claim it is in the area of the throat and heart, while others claim its route is much longer and is similar to the vagus nerve, which moves from the brain along the entire body. The vagus nerve, perhaps like the Kurma Nadi, is associated with the parasympathetic system, which calms the body.
The tortoise analogy is also used in reference to the Kurma vayu. The vayus represent various functions of the Prana, the energy of life. The coarsest manifestation of Prana is breath, but Prana stands at the basis and the function of the entire physical and mental systems in human body. There are ten vayus in man -- five primary and five secondary. One of the secondary vayus is the Kurma vayu. Its functions include the blinking of the eyes, shutting them and control over the amount of light that penetrates the eyes by dilating and constricting the pupils. It seems that Kurma vayu is important in achieving the experience represented by the tortoise, mastery of the senses. Closing or focusing the eyes immediately calms the consciousness and moderates the strongest sense, eyesight, which directs our attention outwards – towards the sense objects.
Thus, there are a number of examples pointing to the symbolism of the tortoise in conjunction with the Yoga practice. The Yoga leads us from the coarse to the refined, therefore it’s advisable to begin with asana practice, the more physical aspect of the practice. That said, the tortoise posture is an advanced posture, which should be performed only when the body is prepared, flexible and open. If the posture is performed with great force and physical effort, it will not provide the experience for which itis meant to be practiced. While practicing this asana, it is recommended to close the eyes, turn the attention inward, watch the breath and allow yourself to succumb to sweet calmness.
This instructional video clip demonstrates a sequence of postures leading, and preparing for the practice of Kurmasana.
Hanumanasana pose (the Monkey God pose)
Hanumanasana pose is named after the Monkey God Hanuman. Hanuman signifies power, strength, and supreme devotion and loyalty. There are numerous stories, about him, emphasizing these virtues. Being the son of the God Vayu, the God of Air, he also symbolizes Prana, and like Prana –he can shrink or grow without limitations.
This ability aids Hanuman in his mission, as told in the Ramayana, to reunite Sita with Rama. In order to save Sita from the demon Ravana, Hanuman roots one leg in Southern India, and extends the other beyond the ocean to Lanka. Likewise, the Prana in our body is what stands at the basis of our ability to unite the feminine energy (which forms our material existence, the Shakti) with the pure masculine consciousness, Shiva.
When practicing this posture we must, like Hanuman, place our leg to the rear and take root, so that we’ll be able to grow and extend ourselves, and send the front leg forward. The heart must be open and full of devotion and the back straight and erect like a fearless warrior.
This instructional video clip demonstrates a sequence of postures leading us, and preparing us, to the practice of Hanumanasana.
Peacock pose (Mayurasana) and the Peacock Feathered Tail pose (Pincha Mayurasana)
Krishna and Peacock “Support yourself with the palms of both hands on the ground, place the elbows on either side of the navel, and raise yourself into the air like a stick. This is called Mayurasana. The glorious Mayurasana turns to ash all excess, unwholesome food that has been eaten, increases the gastric fire, digests lethal poisons, quickly overcomes all diseases such as intestinal tumors, fever and so forth, and has no disadvantages”
(Gheranda Samhita 2:29-30)
These two poses, named after the peacock, exemplify the peacock’s attributes. On the physical level, like the peacock, these poses require the practitioner to carry most of his/hers body weight, like a long tail relying on the narrow basis of the hands or forearms alone.
Iyengar maintains that when one begins to practice Yoga, his/hers intellect is in the brain alone. But the Yoga practice requires a thousand eyes throughout the entire body. Peacock’s tail indeed is adorned with many “eyes”. The practitioner who spreads his peacock’s tail must open his/hers eyes, and be concentrated, alert and observant. Only then will it be possible to achieve the balance necessary for these poses.
Swami Shivananda Radha emphasizes the strength required to perform these poses, and the need to overcome pride and fear, in order to find the balance in them. When they are performed correctly, they are as beautiful and magnificent as a peacock.
Peacock is the symbol of the God Saraswati, and as such signifies the beauty of knowledge, music and art, and the aspiration for the sublime.
The peacock is also the vehicle of Skanda, son of Shiva. In this respect, it signifies the ability to conquer the impulses and urges tying man’s spirit to his body, and the ability to transform poison to nectar and eradicate the effect of time. The peacock symbolizes eternity.
The peacock is most associated with blue faced Krishna, who wears a peacock feather on his head, and is accompanied by a cobra snake.
Master Choa Kok Sui suggests that the blue color is associated with the infinity of the natural space -- such as sea and sky – which are perceived as blue. Yellow symbolizes earth. Krishna, blue faced, typically wears yellow clothes, thus symbolizes the pure consciousness, infinite and divine, which descended to earth and assumed human form. The peacock’s feather, in nature, like the one adorning Krishna’s head, has a blue center adorned with yellow color. This eye symbolizes the “blue pearl”, which is considered in Hindu culture as the seed of consciousness – the Bindu. Meditating on this point aids in awakening the Kundalini (signified by the cobra that lies at Krishna’s feet), and eventually leads to Samadhi.
While I cannot claim that practicing these poses will lead the practitioner to Samadhi, they will surely train his/hers consciousness to be focused on a single point, sharpen the experience of power dormant in him/her, and assist in finding the yearned for balance and the strength to persist in the Yoga practice. All these are vital and stand at the basis of our progress in the Yogic way.
This instructional video clip demonstrates a sequence of postures leading, to the practice of Peacock pose (Mayurasana) and Peacock Feathered Tail pose (Pincha Mayurasana).
Warrior pose 1-3 (Virabhadrasana)
The Warrior pose promotes the qualities which a Yogi must possess in order to advance on his/hers spiritual journey. This pose teaches us stability, power and balance, along with concentration, flexibility and awareness. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna learns how to become a Yogi on the battlefield. This teaches us that the spiritual way involves many internal struggles and takes place on the battlefield of life. Thus, we need these powers and qualities in order to advance on our spiritual path.
The Warrior pose is named after the warrior Virabhadra. This warrior, together with Kalibhadra, was created from Shiva’s hair, at a time of great pain and loss for him, due to the death of his wife. She chose to die because she was insulted when her father gave a feast, to which he invited all the Gods except for Shiva. Shiva sent these two warriors to punish those who caused his wife, Sati to choose death due to this insult.
He does this not in order to take revenge, but in order to reinstate order and fight the manifestations of ignorance and ego that stand at the heart of this incidence, to assist those who, in their ignorance, did not identify the Divine. Virabhadra looks terrible and frightening. He has a thousand arms, each holding a different weapon. He is black and enormous. The meaning of his name, however, is excellent hero, one who is good and sacred.
Performing the Warrior pose can help us in our private journey against ignorance and in our inner struggles. In the beginning, staying in the pose brings us face to face with our physical and mental weakness, but with practice, we begin to experience the good qualities of Virabhadra intensifying inside us, and paving the way to more challenging and demanding poses.
This instructional video clip demonstrates a sequence of postures including Virabhadrasana.
Asana is first stage in Yoga practice, and it accompanies the practitioner up until the highest stage.
Perfection in asana, according to Pantanjali, allows one to go beyond the pairs of opposites.
The asana enables us to strengthen and our body and make it flexible. It promotes health and vitality. It enables the motion of the Prana in the body and its accumulation in certain parts of the body according to the shape of the body in the asana, somewhat like a container within which the water takes its shape.
The asana is one of the basic and most powerful tools, with which one is able to experience profound change, which is beyond relief of pain and of physical limitations. When the asana is performed with complete awareness, attention and breath, it dissolves mental distresses and barriers. It allows development of differentiated distinction (viveka khyati in Patanjali’s words), concentration and clarity of mind, which are the building blocks of the Yoga practice.
This page illustrates a number of Yoga postures – asanas – in varied aspects. Each posture is accompanied by commentary about its background, and a narrated video clip highlighting the correct way of practicing it.