From a young age we are taught that the sun is our life source, and that it basically makes the world go around. A sun salutation, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, is our opportunity to say thanks to this glowing ball of fire for all it does for our planet. It is an opportunity to show our gratitude.
In almost every yoga class I have undertaken, there have been sun salutations involved. It is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of the word yoga, no matter how much you actually know about them. The idea of a ‘sun salutation’ conjures images of yogis standing in tree pose with the rising sun in the background, but why do we salute the sun?
Light has often been thought of as a representation of self-illumination and in a physical sense; the sun is the world’s number one light source. Not only does it provide life to Earth, but in a less literal sense can be thought of as a symbol of consciousness.
For thousands of years, Hindus have thought of the sun as being sacred as it is the heart of our physical and spiritual world. Each sun salutation will end with one placing their hands, palms joined, on the heart and this is no coincidence. As the practice is a humble adoration of light, it is important to practice a sun salutation with concentration facing inwards, towards the heart. Each movement should be as mindful as possible.
Sun salutations are not just about the spiritual, they also have a lot of physical benefits. As powerful yoga poses have an impact on the heart, liver, intestine, stomach, chest, throat and legs, it is pretty much a whole body workout. A sun salutation will also purify the blood by improving circulation to all the major organs throughout the body, ensure proper functioning of the stomach, bowels and nerve centre. You will also of course find that muscles are strengthened in a sun salutation, particularly in the arms and waist, as many of you will know from doing those challenging chaturangas.
Sun salutations are traditionally performed in the morning to greet the new sun, however can be performed at any time to purvey our constant gratitude. The sun won’t judge us if we can’t wake up at the crack of dawn to salute it, although showing reverence towards it in the morning is a great way to get on karma’s good side for the day. Plus it is also a great way to feel in touch with ancient yogis, our ancestors if you will, as they would have awoken to salute the holy sun rising.
Whenever, wherever it is performed, a sun salutation is a fantastic way to invigorate and connect the mind, body and spirit.