At this very moment, yoga studios and outdoor churches across the globe are in full bloom with spring’s version of the 108 sun salutations celebrations, in which armies of solar power worshipers stretch and move and realign their bodies and bow 108 times to the sun.
The point is to cleanse, embrace courage, clarify intention, and, according to one website, “along with being an incredible way to detox physically and mentally, it’s a memorable gesture to mark the end of winter and the arrival of spring. I believe we can all truly benefit in celebrating this change together.”
The origins of sun salutations are in the roots of mysticism and spirituality itself, in Egypt, and in India, where the Hindu population worships Surya, the Hindu solar deity. I’m all in: The photo with this column is of yours truly, captured in one of my favorite natural habitats, in between delicious deadlines and (not complaining) commitments, coming out of winter hibernation on one of the first glorious sun-kissed days of spring.
Busted if you must, on the corner of 46th and Bryant, having just arrived and grabbed an iced coffee and brushed the bangs away from my forehead and opened my Third Eye (or Mind’s Rye), that all-knowing seer prism in the middle of the forehead that leads to the frontal lobe and dopamine center of the brain. As I’ve come to do so often over the last couple years, I pointed it directly at the sun, the ritual of which always reminds me how lucky I am, having instant access to this beam of hope and all its universal love, oneness, and higher collective consciousness.
The photo was taken outside Studio 2A (formerly Java Jack’s) by my friend and neighbor Marty Tanquist as she cruised by. A large group of friends and acquaintances were sitting a couple tables away from me when I arrived that afternoon around 5:30 p.m., claiming my spot in the sun, but I didn’t want to interrupt. I sat down and locked in on the blinding light and contemplated why I’d been so drawn of late, so instinctively, to getting my Third Eye (the pineal gland) as close to the heat as possible. Turns out the reasons are both biological and spiritual. From Wikipedia:
“The pineal gland has been compared to the photoreceptive, so-called third parietal eye present in the epithalamus of some animal species, which is also called the pineal eye. Rene Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the ‘principal seat of the soul’ and viewed it as the Third Eye. This Third Eye activates when exposed to light, and has a number of biological functions in controlling the biorhythms of the body. It works in harmony with the hypothalamus gland which directs the body’s thirst, hunger, sexual desire and the biological clock that determines our aging process.”
When they got up to leave, one old friend said, “It takes a lot of confidence to sit out in the sun like that.” Meaning, I suppose, to goof off so publically, nakedly, carelessly — without sunscreen, for heaven’s sake.
“You gotta do it; it’s good for the soul,” I told her as she scooted off, and that’s the truth. Before I even knew it had a name, I was practicing atapa anana, the yogic phrase for sun bathing, and doctors of all stripes, yogis, pagans, sun worshippers, and other wise ones know that even just a little time in the sun every day is refreshing and refueling on many levels.
Foolish? Selfish? Lazy? Hardly. As Alain De Botton recently put it in his wonderful essay “On Sunshine” (from the essential “The Book Of Life”).
“If joy at fine weather is worrying to people of taste and intellectual sophistication, it is because of a fear that paying attention to pretty skies will mean one forgets the actual conditions of life: war, disease, poverty and political evil. But for most of us, the greatest risk we face is not in fact complacency; few of us are likely to be able to forget chaos for any length of time. Indeed, the real risk is not sentimental naivety; it is that we are going to fall into fury, despair and unshakeable depression. It is this eventuality that a sunny day is well suited to correct.
“Flowers in the spring, blue skies, children running in the park … these are crucial symbols of hope. Scenes where no one is dying or suffering, where the air is warm, where there is an absence of sickness and in which everyday, quiet ordinary contentment is glimpsed… this is anything but banal. Given the facts of life, cheerfulness is a phenomenal achievement – and the sunny days that occasionally lie behind it are bearers of their own particular and highly significant wisdom.”
In other words, let the sunshine in. Even if you’re not on a regular sun salutation schedule, consider all of the above permission to do as I and so many Egyptians and Sun Ra have done before you: Next time the sunshine calls, get out of your dark and busy hole and embrace it with the knowledge that you’re partaking in an ancient form of prayer and mediation, and sucking up the best source of Vitamin D on the planet. Shine on…
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org