That most familiar of asana sequences, Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is as rich in symbolic and mythic overtones as it is in physical benefits. In many cultures, light has long been a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination. Our primary source of light is, of course, the sun. Moreover, since everything that exists originates from the sun, as Alain Danizlou wrote in The Myths and Gods of India, it “must contain the potentiality of all that is to be known.”
One of the means of honouring 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.” Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart. This placement is no accident; only the heart can know the truth.
History Surya Namaskar
There’s some disagreement among authorities over the origins of the Sun Salutations. Traditionalists contend that the sequence is at least 2,500 years old, that it originated during Vedic times as a ritual prostration to the dawn. Skeptics of this dating maintain that Sun Salutation was invented by the Raja of Aundh in the early 20th century. However old the Sun Salutation is, and whatever it may originally have looked like, many variations have evolved over the years including the most well known variations of Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B as popularised by Pattabhi Jois in his system of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
A Daily Practice
Success with Sun Salutation, as with all aspects of yoga practice, depends on commitment and regularity. An everyday practice would be best, but you might at first aim for four times a week. Sun Salutations can be used as a warm up before the main bulk of your asanas but if time is short practicing Sun Salutations followed by savasana can be a complete yoga practice. You can practice anywhere for 3 – 108 rounds.
You can pace the sequence briskly to generate heat and cleanse the body-mind, or more moderately to create a moving meditation. Since the sequence is, in essence, a humble adoration of the light and insight of the self, it’s essential to practice Sun Salutation in a spirit of devotion and with your awareness turned always inward toward the heart. Make each movement as mindful and precise as possible, especially as you near the end of your rounds, when fatigue can lead to sloppiness.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar
The practice of Surya Namaskar has a myriad of benefits both in the long term and the immediate. In truth, the best way to understand these benefits is to discover them for yourself through a regular practice and reflection. Yet to summarise the commonly accepted benefits include:
- Stretch and strengthen the entire body improving posture and easing muscular problems.
- Boost the immune system through improving blood and lymphatic fluid circulation and respiration.
- The controlled rhythmic breathing throughout strengthens the lungs and pulmonary function improving general levels of fitness.
- Improving cardiovascular fitness for long term heart health.
- The weight baring postures improve bone health and density helping to prevent disorders such as Osteoporosis.
- Boosts the endocrine system, central nervous system and autonomic nervous system.
- Improved strength and flexibility of the spine. There is a saying in Yoga: “you’re as young as your spine is healthy”.
- Reduces feelings of fatigue and lethargy developing a more optimistic and positive mindset.
- The subtle energy channels (nadis) are unblocked, allowing energy to flow freely throughout the body, re-establishing the balance of energies.
- Builds internal heat (agni) which boosts the metabolism and digestive fire.
- Becomes a movement meditation with both focuses and calms the mind.
- Eases anxiety and reduces stress levels.
To help you get started with an easy daily practice or warm up sequence, follow my video on Sun Salutes.