“The Sun is the soul of the world.”
– Rg Veda 1.115.1
Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) forms the foundation for Ashtanga-Vinyasa yoga on a physical, devotional and energetic level.
In the lovely manual Suryanamaskara (which includes the prayer originally practiced in conjunction with the asana) published by Ashtanga Yoga New York, Guruji states,
“The Surya Namaskara…are of ancient origin and serve as the foundation stone upon which the science of yoga rests. The Surya Namaskara, or sun salutations, are necessary to the practice of yoga, as they help gather the strength of the mind in one direction and aid in the attainment of mental focus. Without bringing the mind to a state in which it can push the body through the various stages of yoga practice, says texts of old, students cannot be certain to avoid injury.
Ancient texts of Hinduism teach that salutations are dear to the sun god Surya…Surya is widely held to be the central figure in the world of health, both mental and physical, and according to the Puranas, the veneration of his stature is best achieved through the Surya Namaskara, which are believe to bestow lasting health and peace of mind upon the doer.
No asana practice is complete without sun worship. Without its focusing of mental energies, yoga practice amounts to little more than gymnastics, and, as such, loses meaning and proves fruitless. Indeed, the Surya Namaskara should never be mistaken for mere physical exercise – for something incidental, that is, that simply precedes the asanas of yoga. Therefore, it is necessary, before beginning the sun salutations, to pray to Surya … to bestow up us the good fortune of having only good thoughts, of hearing and speaking only good words, and of attaining a sound and strong body, so that we may live a long life and, one day, achieve oneness with God.”
– Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, February 2, 2004
On a purely physical level, the Surya Namaskara teaches us the necessary tools for asana practice. It is here that we learn how to link movement with breath – vinyasa. It is here that we first experience how the extension of the spine relates to the pranic pattern of the inhale. It is here that we first sense how the exhalation’s apanic movement correlates to the folding and deepening into a posture. It is here that we learn the principles of both forward-bending and back-bending. In our continued practice of Surya Namaskara, we learn the alignment, bandhas, strength, engagement and dynamism essential for all other yoga asanas (arms balances yes! and even twists too if you think about the relationship of inhale/exhale to spinal extension and flexion). It all starts and ends with Samasthitih!
Sun Salutations are not just a warm-up, they are the practice. In fact, Guruji sometimes gave just sun salutations to students, sometimes 10 A and 10 B and that’s all the asana he ever taught them because maybe that’s all they really needed to experience the benefits of yoga.
The sun is the source of all life – it is no wonder that every ancient culture worshiped the sun as a deity. Without the sun we would have no life, no heat, no food, no nothing! The sun is the ultimate giver of energy and nourishment. Honoring this source is a profound tool to help one become more in tune with nature and with one’s internal rhythms and energies.
Opening your heart to devotion and gratitude, moving with intention and honoring your foundations will clarify your purpose and relationship to yoga and to your Self.
Every sun salutation offers us the chance to experience devotion.
Each Samasthitih – stand at attention, feel the groundedness through the legs, bask in the heat of your tapas and radiance of Surya.
Each Ekam – reach up to the sun, open yourself up to it’s energy.
Each Dve – empty yourself, bow your heard in respect.
Each Trini -experience the length and vital energy through the spine, gaze up towards the light.
Each Cetwari -connect to your third-chakra, to the center of heat and power, feel your strength, focus and dynamic stillness.
Each Pancha – lift your heart and your gaze to the Sun. Throw your head back and offer yourself up.
Each Shat – bow your head, gaze to the navel, experience humility.
Each time…each movement….each breath…CONNNECT!
I encourage you, next time you stand on your mat, to think a little deeper about the symbolism and power of these humble motions and prostrations of yoga. Devotion runs deep. Tap into it.