Many of us are not comfortable describing our asana practice as prayer even though through practice we are learning how to surrender our egos and wills every day. It is a curious twist that our built in skepticism and rationality have made it difficult for us to allow ourselves to assign the highest motive to our practice. Many of us would feel outright foolish about saying that we move through Surya Namaskara is an act of communion with Surya, the solar deity who is a symbol of the light of spiritual consciousness. But it is important to remember that rationality and skepticism can go too far and rob us equally important mental qualities of intuition Surya and what he represents helps you direct your attention away from the physical and towards the spiritual as you begin your practice. Surya is also a healer and thus doing Surya Namaskara can also remind you of the healing benefits that you gain by a daily return to practice. You keep returning to cultivating the perspective that your asana practice helps you to access your deepest yearning to connect with the source that it is greater than you, that moves all things according to its own plan, a force that more powerful than your ego, the sum total of all our desires, and the sum total of all our wills.
I used to hear my teacher Sri Pattabhi Jois during conferences go out of his way to remind us that beginning practice with Surya Namaskara was an act of devotion and not a warm up. We don’t approach sun salutations like we are in a basketball shoot around that is getting us ready for the game. Because unlike basketball or other sports, the concerns of an asana practice extend far beyond doing a physical activity. And us westerners who are doing physical (Hatha) yoga and who grow up associating everything physical with sports, competition, and winning, need to be gently but constantly directed to look beyond the physical. It is surprising but true that we need make extra efforts to direct our consciousness towards enjoying the full extent of what yoga practice can offer.
Of course when done properly and safely asana practice will give you physical benefits but stop there in your thinking and intention and you will miss the greatest gifts of yoga. With the ways our lives are set up, most of us are much more comfortable concerning ourselves with the tangible readily visible material world. And it makes sense that we are uncomfortable with entertaining and entering into the intangible, subtle, invisible spiritual world that is home for the practices and concepts of yoga.
And thus we often unconsciously attempt to divorce yoga from its spiritual dimensions and to keep our minds and our practice rooted in the physical, athletic material world. We do a complex, long lasting sometimes humorous, sometimes sad and painful dance around the subject of god, in order to avoid squarely facing the extent to which practice relates to spirituality and prayer. We often resist the reality that yoga deals primarily with insubstantial things that don’t necessarily fit into or make sense in our safe, rational, everyday ordinary world. We even shy away from facing that through practice we are meant to build faith in an intangible, invisible reality. We feel foolish and vulnerable admitting that we are spending a lot of energy in concerning ourselves with the difficult to detect spiritual world. We have mixed feelings that practice puts us through an initiation where we begin to know that this new, secret world is more real and true that the tangible, visible reality that we are used to thinking of as the complete picture of reality.
It freaks us out that we are slowly coming to place our trust in our connection to an ultimately benevolent, intelligent, and unifying source that is beyond our ability to control or to rationally comprehend. And yet it should freak us out that there was ever a time when we didn’t have such trust. We go a long ways towards alleviating our suffering when we learn to trust in a higher source that is beyond our erroneous ego centered beliefs. We come full circle and wonder why we thought we were being so rational and clear thinking when we believed that there is no meaning, no intelligence, no unifying connection. no order or pattern to our lives and to the greater world that we are part of. It is sad but true that the most difficult perspective to come to in yoga is the most natural view—that every technique is designed to help us consciously to connect with the sacred, invisible source of all life.