Surya Namaskar…


“What soul was his, when from the naked top of some bold headland, he beheld the sun rise up, and bathe the world in light” William Wandsworth, The Excursion

When we look at our closest star, we may see nothing more than a big yellow ball. But for thousands of years, the Hindus have revered the sun, which they call Surya, as both the physical and spiritual heart of our world and the creator of all life itself.

One of the means of honoring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation). The Sanskrit word namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.”.

The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) . Hence, each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart as only the heart can know the truth.

There are many variations of Salute to the Sun, but basically it comprises of twelve poses, one for each month of the year, which flow from one to another in a dance of breath and movement.  Each posture has several benefits that both complement and counteract the previous posture. The benefits become even greater when performed together as a sequence.Traditionally, Sun Salutation is best performed outdoors, facing east-the location of the rising sun, a symbol of the dawn of consciousness and jnana.

Starting in Tadasana, Mountain pose, with the palms together in Namaste, you breath in and lift your arms above your head. Then, breathing out, you bow down into standing Forward Bend, and inhale to take a leg back into Lunge. From Lunge, you hold your breath as you  take the other leg behind you, and straighten both of them so that your body is suspended in ” Plank”, with the trunk firm and the palms and toes touching the floor. Then you exhale and take the body down into Full Prostration.  This is the midpoint of the sequence, and a gesture of total submission and humility, with feet, knees, chest, hands and chin all in contact with the ground.

With the end of that exhalation you draw up into Cobra, where you breath in.  On the next exhalation you move into Downward Facing Dog, then swing the leading leg forward again into Lunge with an inhalation.  With the next out breath, bring the back leg forward as well, and open your knees so that you find yourself back in Standing Forward Bend. As you take your last breath in, your heels go down and you come back into Tadasana  with your arms raised above head, to draw a great circle that brings your hand back into Namaste.  Now you are ready to start all over again, leading of course with the other foot.

Only when you have done the whole sequence twice have you completed once cycle of salute to the Sun.

Some people consider Surya Namaskar to be a complete yoga practice in and of itself. With its controlled breathing, backbends and forward bends, invigorating and calming poses, it is certainly a balanced cycle.

Information sourced from ” The Spirit of Yoga” by Kathy Phillips and ” The Tradition of Surya Namaskar” by Richard Rosen, Yoga Journal, August 2007

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