By Kali Morse and Rashmi Galliano
We have been leading Basic Integral Yoga Teacher Trainings for many years now and of course, one of the first practices that we share with the teacher trainees is Surya Namaskaram.
My (Kali) first experience of Surya Namaskaram was in the early 1970s in the Main Room at the New York Integral Yoga Institute. I put my white towel down on the carpeted floor beneath the picture of Sri Swami Satchidananda and there began my experience of the practice of Hatha Yoga. I remember in that first physical application of the process of “twelve positions flowing one into another,” feeling that this connection of movements was divine choreography. I was a dancer and had learned a lot of steps in choreographic sequence, but this sequence was different somehow. The way it was communicated to the students was unique. Coordination of breath and movement was specifically emphasized, but we were also encouraged to feel energy flow with the breath—the expression of that thing called prana (life force). I seemed to understand innately what it was about as the movement became much more mindful and sacred. In hindsight it certainly was a plus that my practice evolved that day beneath the picture of Sri Swami Satchidananda, whom I would soon identify as my teacher.
Unlike Kali, I (Rashmi) do not recall my first Surya Namaskaram experience. I started practicing Yoga in 1984, but it was about the asana rather than Surya Namaskaram. It wasn’t until 1992 that I started to take classes that incorporated Sun Salutations. What I do remember about practicing Sun Salutations was that they were more Ashtanga-based: jump-backs, chatarunga, and so on. I don’t even know how I got through them, but I do recall getting really sweaty and incredibly sore!
Not until I discovered Integral Yoga did I recognize the beauty and fluidity of the practice. The Integral Yoga Sun Salutation practice is beneficial no matter what challenges are experienced. I always come back to these beautiful positions, with modifications if necessary. There is a grace and purity in the simplicity of the practice, and there is really no other reason to practice the flow other than how Swami Satchidananda taught it: twelve positions that flow one into the next, serving as a general tonic for the body and a warm-up for the asana practice.
Now we both have the privilege of introducing the practice of Surya Namaskaram, year after year, to new students in open classes and in Teacher Trainings. Naturally, we both practice this beautiful sequence almost daily as part of our own personal sadhana. It’s important to remember that the practice is about prana. It’s also crucial to keep the practice simple, as Swami Satchidananda taught; too much movement may interrupt the flow of prana. We encourage our students to listen deeply to the body-mind on each day of practice; the movements then serve to attune our sensitivity to where we are on any given day (physically, emotionally, psychologically) and to adjust our ongoing practice gently in light of that valuable information. This approach comes from the way we have been taught to convey the teachings of Integral Yoga. The practice is about meditation—structurally and physiologically informed—but always aligning this information with absolute attention to breath—the energetic flow. We feel inspired to practice in this way; it is the path that leads us to the center of our being.
The elegant Integral Yoga sequence of asana that Swami Satchidananda taught his students is beyond words. Surya Namaskaram is the warm-up that points the arrow to the evolution of asana that Integral Yoga students have been practicing for 50 years.
For me (Kali), it has been about 45 years of practice and it’s as if I were practicing for the first time with every round. I complete my 70th trip around the sun this year, and I have no doubt that, from my first Surya Namakaram to my last, I’ve been blessed with sacred teachings from a Master. He has guided me powerfully with the gift of inviolable interpretations of Raja Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, including the six branches of Integral Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga.
I (Rashmi) can only aspire to be where Kali is in her 70th trip around the sun! In the meantime, I’m inspired by her because Kali carries Swami Satchidananda’s teachings so close to her heart and, through Gurudev, has guided me on this glorious pathway of peace, joy, love, and light!
Read the rest of this article in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.