On Monday 14th of January 2019 across India children will fly kites while their parents cook them fatty sweets and light bonfires through the night to celebrate the return of the sun from the darkness of winter.
Known by many names – as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Maghi in Punjab, Uttarayan in Gujarat - Makar Sankranti honours the night we see the sun set and rise for the first time in the constellation of Makar, the chimeric emblem of the god of love, and equivalent to the western Capricorn. Following on from the lunar month of the winter solstice, it marks the return of the sun and the promise of longer, warmer days ahead. In myth, it is the the birth of shaktism, with the arrival of the warrior goddess, best known in the West as Kali, on earth to destroy the demon of ignorance and sloth.
Winter practice can be daunting: cold nights and dark days make the studio seem a long way off. Makar Sankranti is a reminder of the promise of yoga: a reawakening of life-giving Surya, the Sun. ’As we align ourselves to the ebb and flow of the seasons, winter is the time to turn inward with our energy and look to build strength from within. Long dark days, slow, inward energy can result in physical stagnation. In the yin practice in winter we focus on the water element so stimulate flow and chi in the body to harmonies the mind, body and bringing a sense of vitality from within to integrate ourselves for when spring arrives', says Carlene Bogues, teacher at Dragonfly Yoga Studio.
‘The sun has always been central to yoga. Traditionally, says Alina Jaber, teacher at Dragonfly Yoga Studio, ‘yogis would start their practice at dawn, greeting the new day with the sun salutation, Surya Namaskar. Starting in Tadasana, with hands together over your heart, the salutation follows the breath through 8 poses (given below) that warm the heart and focus the mind on the day ahead. Popularised by the Raja of Aundh, it is now practiced across the world.’
That rebirth and reawakening is evident in yogic practice too, with the discipline rediscovered and re-imagined over the centuries. Ancient traditions of Hatha yoga reborn in modern practice, as Hatha, Vinyasa Kundalini and Ashtanga. All united by the discipline of their poses and calmness of the breath.
All of which makes this the perfect week to start your yoga practice afresh, or for the first time. As the Amrtasiddhi, the 11th century yogic text, put it a thousand years ago: 'When the sun seizes the moon from the sphere of the sky, union with one another arises. This is called yoga'.
'There's an idea of yoga as something forceful, but it should also be seen as gentler,' says Alina. 'Not about achieving a perfect body, but about the body in all its aspects, in stillness as well as action, in calm and movement: a way to an understanding and love of your body in its entirety, of your breath and of yourself.'
Surya Namaskar follows eight poses, each transition guided by an inhalation or exhalation of the breath, with the first inhalation as you move in to Urdhva Hastasana.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)