Every vital activity extracts its energy from the sunlight, which is absorbed directly by the chlorophyll of plants. In men, it is absorbed by mitochondria, which are like miniature batteries that store the indispensable energy for its organism.
Before dealing in more detail with the processes of transformation of millions of cells that make up our body, we shall have to evoke the first source of energy, the sun. On coming in contact with the vegetable and animal cells, this sunlight transforms itself into life. It is a conversion of the energy of light into another energy which is chemical, that allows the cells to multiply. Growth is then made possible. The grain emerges from the earth and develops. The snail walks towards its food. Man thinks, constructs, destroys, realises himself.
All vital activity extracts its energy from the sun. One cannot conceive that life could have existed on our planet without vegetation. Even less, that the inhabitants of the world, from the snail to the pachyderm, could nourish themselves without green plants. As the cycle of carbon indicates, there is a natural balance, the process of which repeats itself tirelessly. Carbon dioxide permits the life of vegetables and maintains indirectly our own existence. If this gas disappears, the vegetable kingdom would die. Its extinction would provoke, inevitably, the death of all animals including ourselves. The process of nutrition that allows plants to transform water and the carbonic acid gas into essential substances like oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, starch, sugar etc., extracts its energy from the sunlight. This cellular process is called photosynthesis. Laboratory analysis has shown that photosynthesis transforms seventy five per cent of the luminous energy received by the plant into chemical energy. This result seems surprising if compared to the one obtained by the mechanisms of transformation of energy created by man. For example, steam machinery hardly gives a thirty per cent result. Plants absorb the rays of the sun by means of the chloroplasts, a mass of molecules constituted of a substance called chlorophyll. The first operation of the photosynthesis takes place in the depths of this substance, which gives to the vegetables their green colour. On the level of electrons the luminous energy of solar rays is transformed into electrical energy, and then into chemical energy; that is, into the essential fuel for all the vital processes. This fuel is called adenosine triphosphate acid, or ATP. For every cell, ATP is just what fuel or electricity is to factories. To ensure their existence, animals and vegetables have a commanding need for this ATP.
Where does an athlete get his energy from during strenuous activity? In people, as in animals or plants, energy is stored up in cell deposits shaped like small beans, called mitochondria, which are miniature energy stations. These capsule-like stations are divided into compartments and have such complexity that for a long time they were thought of as a cell within a cell. Their walls are permeable and absorb the necessary substances for the fabrication of gross energy, which they release according to the demand. Each mitochondrion contains 15,000 chains of transformation. Each cell has 50,000 mitochondria and the human body is made up of thousands of millions of cells. The combustion that takes place in these thousands of millions of factories that absorb, distribute, treat, transform and store up the indispensable substances for life, acquires unimaginable proportions.
The sun, multiple source of energy, is the cause of all this. Its action is the source of clouds, rain, and consequently, of the waterfall's hydraulic energy. Its light contributes to the development of the vegetable kingdom, without which neither animals nor man could live. With the passing of time, trees, plants and other members of the vegetable kingdom transform themselves into coal, which is an energy agent widely used to run factories, central-heating, steam machinery, etc. Life on our planet is fully dependent on the sun.
From time immemorial mankind has worshipped the sun, and it is of little wonder since this fiery orb dominates the skies which are visible to us, supporting all life with its heat, light and energy. Primitive societies evolved myths and rituals based on awe for this wondrous heavenly body. Almost all of the great civilisations of the past developed deep philosophical religions based on the sun. It was personified by various deities such as the Mithras of the Persians, the Inti of the Incas in South America, Osiris of the Egyptians, Apollo of the Greeks, Baal of the Chaldeans and Surya of the Hindus. All these deities represent rejuvenation of the world's existence. Various temples and a variety of places were consecrated for the worship of the sun -the pyramids of Egypt, the Yucatan of Mexico, the Zikkuruts of Babylon and Chaldea, and the sun temple at Konarak in India.
All of us still worship the sun in one form or another. In spring and summer after the long dismal winter months, large numbers of people can be seen on the beaches or in parks and gardens, absorbing the warmth and energy of the sun. Who can fail to appreciate the magnificence of a beautiful sunset or sunrise, perhaps being moved to deeper thoughts and strange new feelings? And, who has not at one time or another felt our eternal dependence upon the sun and its warmth, light and energy?
Sun worship finds its practical culmination in the practice of surya namaskara. The Sanskrit word surya means sun, and the word namaskara means salutation or worship. Therefore, this practice is known as the 'salutation to the sun'. This exercise was developed in India thousands of years ago by illumined sages, who prescribed it to be practiced by all people as an integral part of their daily life.
Surya namaskara is known as the complete practice. Its benefits are not limited to any one part of man's nature, but include the revitalisation of the whole organism. Surya namaskara exercises the entire body in twelve movements.
By means of these movements, the abdominal organs and the stomach are stretched and compressed. This gives a wonderful massage to the organs and ensures that they will function correctly. If they are not working efficiently at present, it encourages them to do so.
Surya namaskara stimulates the peristalsis of the intestines, which helps to remove constipation. It gently massages the kidneys and increases the blood flow through the whole body. It brings about perspiration, which cleanses all the pores of the skin and endows the practitioner with a clean, glowing complexion, a sign of perfect health. It increases the heart action, but without excess strain as is caused by hard physical or gymnastic exercises. Therefore, the blood flow is increased, and this helps to eliminate toxins from the body. Further areas of sluggish blood are also removed and replaced by purified and oxygenated blood.
In surya namaskara, the lungs are emptied of impurities and stale air, and the body is revitalised by the extra supply of oxygen that it receives. The whole body and brain function much better as a consequence. One can almost feel the extra supercharge of energy. It harmonises the whole endocrinal system of, glands, and helps to remove any irregularities by directly massaging and increasing the blood flow to them.
In the movements of surya namaskara, the spinal column is bent and stretched in a systematic manner to the maximum extent, thus stimulating the circulation of blood in the whole spinal cord and all the nerve plexes. As a consequence, it brings health and vitality to the entire nervous systems.
Through this practice, all the main muscles and joints in the body are exercised, stretched and squeezed. This helps very much to return impure, stagnant blood to the lungs and kidneys for purification.
The practice of surya namaskara can also give you many subtle benefits beyond the physical. It induces peace of mind, reduces emotional conflicts, neurosis and stress. It is excellent to practice when you get up in the morning as it will prepare you in all ways to face the oncoming day with physical and mental strength.
There is no other exercise that can surpass it. By practicing surya namaskara for fifteen minutes daily, you will have sound physical and mental health throughout your life.
Those who are interested in learning more about the theory and practice of surya namaskara should write to B.S.Y. for our publication Surya Namaskara: the technique of solar revitalisation