The Origin of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)

Surya Namaskar is a set of asana postures every yogi is familiar with. We go through this in each session as a limber up and getting our motors running. Often, it is almost as if without it the class doesn’t seem complete.

Besides the fact that this set of postures effectively loosen up the body, massages and strengthens the joints, muscles and internal organs, what are the deeper meanings to this set of practice that we do almost as if it is a mechanism built into the foundation of our yogic asana practice? 

The Sun gives life to every living matter on the planet, needless to say, the practice of worshipping the sun was at the integral central practice of many ancient civilizations around the world. For the Hindu yogis, the sun symbolizes higher consciousness. 

The ancient rishis 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). According to the rishis, the heart is the sun within us, and the brain, the moon. The heart is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom, the brain is similarly the moon it reflects the sun’s light but generates none of its own.

In this blog, I will not discuss how to perform the Surya Namaskar sequence. However, I would like to point out that every traditional Surya Namaskar starts and end with Pranamasana (prayer pose) with the namaskar mudra (joined-hands gesture) touching the heart. This placement is designed not only to show respect but allows one to find their center and connect to the higher consciousness.

Surya means “the Sun” Namaskar means “to bow to” or “to adore”. Surya namaskar was devised and handed down by the ancient sages of the Vedic age, a set of 12 asana postures each paired with its own mantra to prostrate towards the rising sun each morning. These dynamic groups of postures are not included in the traditional Hatha postures but only to be added to the Hatha sequence at a later time.

Surya Namaskar is a complete Sadhana (spiritual practice) in its own right, for it includes asana, pranayama, mantra, and meditation. 

The best time to practice Surya Namaskar is early in the morning, during sunrise, while facing east. Regular practice balances the energy system within the body at both physical and mental level and prepares the practitioner for spiritual awakening. 

As you practice, make sure that you synchronize your movement with your breath. Sacrificing your breath quality for movement does not yield the desired result. Remember to stay present in each motion.

Surya namaskar is a prayer in motion. It allows the practitioner to use the body as an instrument of higher awareness. Flow-through each movement with full intention and imagine that you are facing your Ishvara (ideal), the one with the luminous light of consciousness that sustains all the worlds, just as Surya does for the planets. Offer each movement with presentness, respect, love, and gratitude.

Allow me to leave you with a quote. 

“Every yoga practitioner first starts with Sun Salutation… let me repeat that 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 upon 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 have a long life and, one day, achieve oneness with God.”

-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

If you want to know more about Surya Namaskar and how to flow through it, feel free to message me, attend my class or stay tuned for more blogs.