The Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutation, is a sequence of yoga poses linked together in a vinyasa flow with the breath. The series is generally performed at the beginning of yoga practice to warm the body and create heat. Although there are many variations of the sequence, the most basic involves twelve poses (one for each of the twelve Sanskrit names for the sun) ordered to alternately stretch the spine backwards and forwards. It is said to “remove bodily and mental tensions, improve circulation, [and] stimulate the nervous system … joints are loosened and lubricated … the muscles of the abdomen, pelvis and spine are toned and strengthened. The breathing is regulated, thereby calming the mind. If practiced slowly, it has a calming effect. If practiced briskly, it is invigorating.”
The basic form of Surya Namaskara is as follows:
1. Begin in either Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or Pranamasana (Prayer Pose), with the weight distributed evenly between the feet, the legs strong, the spine erect, and hands either by the sides or in Anjali Mudra, with the palms pressed together in front of the heart.
2. With an inhalation, raise the arms to Hasta Uttanasana, with a slight back bend of the upper body if possible.
3. On an exhale, bow forward to Uttanasana (Forward Fold).
4. On an inhale, plant the hands and step the right foot back to Ashva-Sanchalanasana (Deep Lunge).
5. Holding the breath, step the left foot back to meet the right in Plank Pose.
6. On an exhale, bend the elbows and lower to Chaturanga Dandasana or Ashtanga Namaskara, depending on strength.
7. On an inhale, extend the spine in Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).
8. On an exhale, press back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog Pose).
9. On an inhale, step the right foot forward to Ashva-Sanchalanasana (Deep Lunge).
10. On an exhale, step the left foot forward to meet the right in Uttanasana (Forward Fold).
11. On an inhale, keeping the back flat if possible, lift the body and arms back upright to Hasta Uttanasana, adding a slight back bend if possible.
12. Exhale, straightening back up to Tadasana or Pranamasana.
The sequence is then repeated, switching the leg that steps back first.
In the physical realm, the sun is the manifested entity that most closely resembles God or the Divine—it makes all life possible and shines down its blessings indiscriminately on all creation. Richard Rosen notes, “in many cultures, light has long been a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination.” In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda goes further: “The law of miracles is operable by any man who has realized that the essence of creation is light.”
It is thus right and just that the yogi, embarking on the sacred path/work of yoga, begins by honoring and aligning him- or herself with the divine force of light, represented by the sun. Book 3, Verse 27 of The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali states, “By concentrated contemplation (samyama) on the sun, knowledge of the entire solar system is obtained.” In “bowing to” or “adoring” (from the root namas) the sun (Surya), one acknowledges that the asanas are more than mere physical practice; they are dedicated to a higher goal, and they are what Sri Dharma calls the Maha Sadhana or great work.
The Surya Namaskara may be considered “a prayer in motion. It allows us to use the body as an instrument of higher awareness, so that we can receive wisdom and knowledge.” It is a recognition of the ancient mystic truth “as above, so below; as within, so without.” It is related to the profound spiritual vision that allows one to see the ocean in a drop of water, the earth in a grain of sand, the universe in a human body. In bowing down to the outer sun, we simultaneously bow to the sun that resides in our heart center, the seat of our Christ consciousness, the place where God resides in each of us.
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga. 1966. New York: Schocken Books.
Dharma Mittra, Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses. 2003. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Dharma Mittra, Maha Sadhana Level I and Level II DVDs.
Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi. 1946. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Richard Rosen. “Sun Salutation: Here Comes the Sun,” Yoga Journal online at http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/928.
Shanti Yoga Shala website, “The Meaning of Surya Namaskara.” Available at http://shantiyoganola.com/2011/04/19/sun-salutations-the-meaning-of-surya-namaskara.
Surya Namaskara, Wikipedia, online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya_Namaskara.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. 1978. Yogaville, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.