Today I had a walking meditation under blues skies and beautiful sunlight after church. Seeing the sunshine is a rare treat in Upstate New York during the winter, so I was glad I took the opportunity to go out and soak in the light. Just being outside for a half an hour in the sunshine lifted my spirits exponentially. This experience reminded me of my hardest winter in Rostov, Russia.
January 2017 was the grayest month I’ve ever endured. Rostov winters aren’t white. They are grey, windy, cloudy, and cold. Having grown up in the West my whole life, it was difficult never seeing the blue sky. At the time, I was also working through painful emotional challenges. Long story short, I had terrible seasonal depression.
During my scripture study one dank morning, it occurred to me I had the power to bring sunshine into my day in other ways. I decided to write all my daily blessings on sticky notes and put them all over the hallway mirror where I could see them every time I came home. Around that time, I also took the time to write fun daily events texts to other missionaries serving in my area.
This change in attitude made all the difference for my missionary service. The greatest change, however, was most present in my heart and mind. My thoughts were brighter because my focus was not on my pain or the sad, winter landscape. I created daily sunshine to stimulate and enhance my life.
What does this have to do with my yoga practice? I like to picture the sun salutations as a way of opening my heart to change and honoring the sun, which anchors me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Traditionally, Surya Namaskar A and B sequences represent a persons’ external and internal veneration for the sun. Hands are placed at the heart at the beginning and end of each salutation, symbolizing this reverence and connection.
One of the means of honoring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation). The Sanskrit word namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.” (The familiar phrase we use to close our yoga classes, namaste—te means “you”—also comes from this root.) Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart. This placement is no accident; only the heart can know the truth.
The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).Richard Rosen, Here Comes the Sun: The Tradition of Surya Namaskar
However, sometimes we salute the sun even when we can’t see it. It is wonderful to think each person has an anchoring light within them. We don’t need to always see the sun to know it’s real, to feel its warmth, or experience its power through the earth’s rotation. I like to think all of us are beings of light, and yoga reminds us to look inward and recognize this within ourselves.
Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.