In the blink of an eye, we have approached the final week of the 200hr yoga teacher training course. The only constant in these changes are the sun salutations performed dutifully and faithfully prior to the asana sequences. The legend of Surya Namaskar goes a little like this: Hanuman, the great monkey deity, was fascinated with Surya, the Sun god, almost since birth. He saw the sun in the sky and mistook it for a luscious mango that grew amongst the clouds. Pushing off from the earth with his powerful monkey legs and stretching up through his long monkey arms, he leapt and devoured the sun, plunging the universe into darkness. Fearing that the world would perish without the sun, Lord Indra hurled his diamond thunderbolt, vajra, straight at Hanuman’s jaw. Hanuman opened his mouth, dropping the sun and the universe regained light. However, his jaw (hanu) was broken, giving him the nickname we know of today, “the one with the broken jaw.”
Afterwards when Hanuman needed an education, his mother, Anjana, suggested Surya, for he drove his chariot all over the world daily and sees everything, everywhere. He knew all the sacred scriptures and could fly even higher and farther than Hanuman. So Hanuman asked Surya to be his teacher, but Surya refused. He had forgiven Hanuman for trying to eat him, but believed that his strict schedule left him with no spare time to teach Hanuman. However, Hanuman insisted that he would be able to keep up and Surya relented. Hanuman flew up and positioned himself facing Surya, and Surya began to speed across the sky, expounding scriptures as he went. Naturally, this meant that Hanuman was always traveling backward, with his face to his teacher’s because turning the back against the teacher is considered disrespectful. Some say that Hanuman’s backward-moving trajectory was the origin of surya namaskar. Interestingly, the movements of surya namaskar tend to wind up at the back of the mat before returning to the front! Hanuman was such a dedicated student that he mastered all the Vedas within a week. Surya declined any payment as he felt that watching a devoted student learn was a reward in itself. Thus, Hanuman offered his gratitude and namaskars or respectful greetings to his teacher. And so the surya namaskar series was born as Hanuman’s guru dakshina to Surya.
Having been training in muay thai, learning about this legend was particularly fascinating for me because traditionally, fighters perform a wai khru ram muay ceremony before the duel. Wai is a gesture of Thais to show respect by placing their palms in prayer position. Khru means teacher. Ram means dance in the old Thai traditional style. Muay means boxing. Wai kru is the way to show respect to the teachers or trainers. In the past, Muay thai was usually fought in front of the King, so Ram Muay was also to apologize to the King for displaying any acts of brutality. As for both surya namaskar and wai kru, these sequences being performed help to warm up the body, stretching and strengthening various muscles. The obvious difference would be that for sun salutations, the sequences are pretty much fixed with variations and modifications as the teacher deems fit whereas wai kru is a personalised ritual, ranging from the very complex to the very simple, and often contains clues about who trained the fighter and where the fighter is from.
In the beginning of the course, these namaskar routines just felt like normal physical training but as I start to be more aware of my body and breathings, I finally felt like I had grasped a subtle feeling for the concept of the ‘vinyasa flow’. Matching each movement to each breath, the transitions now come much more naturally for me. It is no longer just training, it is literally flowing (pardon my lack of appropriate expression!). This humble yet breath-taking sequence certainly lives up to its grandiose name: the surya namaskar, sun salutation.