The Sun Prayer – Surya Namaskar

A differentiated and ordered consciousness prevents cell degeneration and heightens the immune response

Article by Heinz Grill

The sun prayer is usually practised at the beginning of a yoga cycle, and with its twelve dynamic movements it serves to rhythmically warm the body, balancing its tone for the further, often strong, stretching exercises. Less well known in the general yoga scene are the various possibilities to clearly differentiate and articulate the stretching activity. Especially when this is precisely and flawlessly refined, it enables an ability to observe the body and the individual sections of the spine with pronounced consciousness.

The sun prayer is usually built up rhythmically, from slower rounds initially to ever faster individual movements. At the beginning the twelve exercises take about half a minute to 45 seconds, but eventually practitioners can increase the speed and apply their strength specifically to particular parts of the body. Sometimes they even practise all twelve component movements within 15 seconds, in a rhythmic flow, alternating between relaxing and stretching.

“Doing an exercise” as opposed to “shaping an exercise”

Something that seems very important for the activation of the immune system through focussed movement and breathing, is the involvement of a specifically refined perception and mental consciousness. In a simple sense, the two descriptions “doing the sun prayer” or “shaping the sun prayer” can demonstrate how the consciousness can be used in relation to the body. Practitioners want to do the exercise so that they might perhaps achieve a certain benefit for the integrity of their circulation or for their spine. Surya namaskar is then more a form of fitness exercise, which is no different in its mental orientation from the kind of training we know in sport.

The “shaping” kind of consciousness feels more like an artistic activity, requiring the power of imagination, the ability of visualisation, observation and creative intuition, and ultimately generates beauty as a result. One’s own body can be further developed and thoroughly shaped in all its limbs through the idea that forms the basis of the sun-prayer, and that is the alternating movement shaped from within, out of the centre.

The differentiated activation of the spine

Surya namaskara is suitable in particular for working to structure the thoracic spine, and includes other parts of the body, like the hips or shoulders, in the play of movement.

A rhythmically repeating, alternation of stretches, that with each movement is connected with expansive breaths, leads, alongside the warming effect, to a better use of force in the middle of the body, and this force streams out centrifugally, that means from inside outwards, and finally sends a noticeable flow of energy out to the periphery and the skin.

First practitioners can make sure that they leave the neck, face and shoulders relaxed during the various movements, lead the legs into a dynamic that alternately sinks down and then stands firm, and in the relevant movements powerfully activate the specific sections of the spine that can lead the movement definitively to lengthen and expand. Various regions are therefore relaxed, while others are dedicated specifically to building up the tension. Furthermore, in the limbs there is a natural flowing out and continuation of this momentum motivated and supported from within outwards. Practitioners therefore pay specific attention to the differentiated relationships between the stretches within the body, and round by round they develop the outward stretches to a better and new level. At the beginning the body feels unstructured and stiff, at the end however a sense arises of a dynamic centre, a relaxed upper body, and a movement that glides out and carries the body right into the periphery.

Applying a specific force in the spine, usually in the middle of the thoracic region from around the tenth up to the second thoracic vertebra, leads to a growing concentration and an enlivening of the often so forgotten, deadened middle regions. How many people fail to access any dynamic mobilisation of the thoracic spine? They often experience stiffness in these regions, and decreased sensitivity. Alongside a weakness of the intercostal spaces and the respiratory muscles, the volume of breath is restricted and as a result of these rigid conditions, the circulation and lymph flow become blocked and imbalanced.

By achieving a differentiated activation in the thoracic spine, applying increasing strength to the dynamic, centrifugally directed stretching, practitioners shape their body just like a musical instrument and lead a new consciousness into the neglected, darkening regions. They reintegrate the physical heaviness with light, perceiving powers of consciousness and in this way they heighten their natural immunity. The shaping forces, which reintegrate those regions that are excluded from the natural relationship of life forces through an increasing, hardening tension, can be revived through individuals themselves, and they can thus open up sources of a lighter experience.

Generally life today, with its mechanistic world view, brings about an increasing tendency towards hardening of the body and an obliteration of the life of the soul. It is understandable that human immune forces are in constant decay and many illnesses such as malignancies are insidiously waiting. Which regions however succumb to tumours? It is those parts of the body that have fallen out of the living connection and suddenly sink into a disorganised and rampant, false claim to life, in other words into an overgrowth. If practitioners now carry consciousness into their body, if they shape and activate the thoracic spine as in the example of surya namaskara, they can encourage healthy, light influences and on this basis counteract any degeneration. In addition, mobility with consciousness can generate joy and provide a small counter-weight to offset the load of lurking depression.

Practising the sun prayer with an ordered and differentiated consciousness

The following pictures show how and in which sections a dynamic element can be brought into activation. Practitioners observe the different regions, feel their relationships to one another and gradually develop a sense for the right and differentiated distribution of tension.

Specific sections of the spine should be actively stretched through for short moments, above all upwards towards the middle and higher parts of the thoracic spine, and this should grow with every round of the sun prayer.

Slower and faster cycles can complement each other. The breathing should always be expansive and active enough.

It is good if practitioners do not only build up tension, but between the active phases enter into moments of calm perception free from any exertion, and then out of this observing activate the next movement.

Strengthening the immune system

The immune system is always strengthened when practitioners learn to use their powers of consciousness with clear ideas and learn to apply these to a situation, or in this case to surya namaskara. Just as an averagely trained person usually goes through life with many regions in the body that are unconscious and unused, to the same extent a lot of emotion and thoughtlessness exists, which weighs life down with a dark load and the immune system cannot therefore take hold with its activity of perceiving, integrating and rejecting. The conscious process of shaping form, by methodically applying order and differentiation, can enable some first experiences of illumination and warmth through the regions of the body, and beyond this activate the human mind to a greater and more stable strength.

It is therefore important that yoga exercises today are not only practised in a functional, gymnastic way, but that they are perceived as a way of building up soulful feeling, ordered thinking and, lastly, focused action.

Originally posted in German on 31th July 2020

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