Salute to the Sun

Ancient civilizations saw the sun as a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It’s what made the crops grow each season. The Egyptians worshipped Ra, the Greeks honored Helios and the Hindus revered Surya.

Salute to the Sun

The Spring Equinox is around the corner and longer days are ahead of us. What better time than now to fine-tune your Surya Namaskar and maybe even practice it 108 times?

Surya Namaskar is a sequence of linked asanas that is traditionally performed in the morning. There’s some debate about how old is Surya Namaskar. Did it originate more than 2,500 years old as a ritual to the dawn? Or was it created by the raja of Aundh and disseminated to the West in the 1920s?    

Regardless of its origins, Surya Namaskar is powerful and empowering and can be energizing or meditative.  

Practiced on its own, Surya Namaskar gets your body moving and your blood flowing. As part of a larger asana practice, it’s often used as a way to prepare for the coming asanas.

What kind of Surya Namaskar?

Attend more than one yoga class and you’ll notice no two teachers seem to do the same sequence in sun salutation.

Traditionally, there are three versions of Surya Namaskar: Classic, A & B. Classic and version A begin and end in Mountain with hands at prayer pose and include Upward Salute and Standing Forward Fold. Version B substitutes Chair for Upward Salute.

It’s in the middle where it can get confusing. The Classic version includes Low Lunge; Version B includes Warrior 1. And then there are Planks, Chaturangas, Cobras/Upward-facing Dogs and Downward-facing dogs. Just about any part of a sun salutation can be modified and changed.

What makes all of these a sun salutation is that the transition from one asana to the next is facilitated by either an inhalation or an exhalation. This would apply to Earth or Moon salutations as well.

Sculpture depicting 12 asanas of the Surya Namaskar at IGIA Airport, New Delhi, India

Benefits of practicing Surya Namaskar

There are many benefits of practicing Surya Namaskar:

  • Cardiovascular – Moving through the sequence at a brisk pace can definitely get the heart rate up.
  • Muscles Lowering from plank to chaturanga and holding in Down Dog builds endurance and muscle strength.
  • Spine – Any time the spine is moved in forward and backbends, it helps keep it flexible.
  • Breath – Connecting the breath to the movements helps move the prana, clearing our energy channels.
  • Digestive system – Alternating compressing and elongating the body, including the stomach, helps in a stimulated flow of digestive fluids, improving our digestion and waste excretion.
  • Mind-body connection – Practicing Surya Namaskar slowly and deliberately, sun salutations can take the form of a moving meditation, taking us out of our heads and bringing us a sense of calm.

If you’ve always practiced Sun Salutations just in one way, experiment a little. Try beginning your day with an energizing round or two. Or end it with a slow, meditative sequence. Try a Classic version if you’ve always practiced Surya Namaskar A or B. Or challenge yourself and set a timer for 3-5 minutes.

However you do it, know that you are following in the footsteps of thousands of other yogis who have made Surya Namaskar a key part of their yoga practice.