The name Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) is from the Sanskrit Sūrya, "Sun" and Namaskāra, "Greeting" or "Salute". Surya is the Hindu god of the sun, identifying it as source of all life. It has been traced back to 2500 years ago as an early-morning sunrise practice. Though, they can be done any time of the day of course.
This salute to the sun is the basic building block to a vinyasa flow sequence, involving 12 base asanas, adding in asanas as we see fit. We are free to create a sun salutation flow that is as simple or complex as we need. It is also, in my opinion, the perfect exercise, involving strength, balance, flexibility, stamina, and focus as well as tuning cardio health. It gets the blood flowing and the body warm. It will loosen the joints and prepare the muscles for deeper activity. It is important to remember we link breath to movement by always inhaling to ascend the body upward and exhaling to descend down.
I try to get about ten or so of these babies in every day to hone my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
1. Tadasana or Samasthiti. Stand with feet hip-distance apart, press into the whole foot, leaving the toes free. Tuck the tailbone, creating a slight posterior tilt with the pelvis. Spread the ribs open wide, pulling up through the chest. Pull the shoulders back and down away from the ears. Tuck the chin at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Relax the face and feel the crown of the head pulling upward. Face the palms forward for anatomical position.
2. Urdhva Hastasana. On the inhale, raise the palms up to the sky, press evenly through the feet. Point the sternum upward, back-bending if you like.
3. Uttanasana. Exhale and bend at the hips for a standing forward fold. Bend the knees as much as is needed. Draw the chest downward. Relax the head and neck.
4. Ardha Uttanasana. Lift the chest to ninety degrees on the inhale. Press the tailbone back as much as you reach the crown of the head forward.
5. Anjaneyasana. Step the right foot back into a low lunge. Square the hips. Let the knee be stacked over the ankle. Pull the shoulders back and down. Lift through the chest. Create as much backbend as you feel you need to.
6. Phalakasana. Step the left foot back to a plank position. Wrap the arms in toward the sides of the torso. Lower the hips only as much as is needed to keep the whole backline of the body in alignment.
7. Chaturunga Dandasana. Lower the body down. If this is too stressful on the shoulders or wrists today, lower the knees, chest, chin and move through the vinyasa that way.
8. Bujangasana (Cobra) or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). Take Cobra if the thoracic spine or chest is tight. Take Upward Facing Dog if more intensity is needed to build heat in the body.
9. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). Flip over the toes. Press the sitz bones back. Open the shoulder girdle by wrapping the deltoids downward and inward. Allow the space between the fingers to widen. Point the middle finger straight to front of mat. Let the thumbs press in medially.
10. Uttanasana. Step or hop the feet forward to forward fold. Relax the head and neck. Relax the face.
11. Urdhva Hastasana. Inhale to draw the body gracefully upward, lifting the fingers to the sky. Feel the intercostals expand.
12. Tadasana or Samasthiti. Place the palms together in Anjali Mudra (prayer position), thumbs pointing into sternum to close the sun salutation.
The Himalayan tradition of yoga matches mantras to each of the asanas in Surya Namaskar to honor and show gratitude for the sun. This adds a devotional element (or Bakti) to this sacred movement practice.
Why am I thankful for the sun?
What has the sun taught me?
Poem: Soleil Solute
Standing tall within this human form,
New breath flows in, I am reborn,
Lifting hands to the Golden one above,
Sending gratitude, joy and tremendous love,
Breathing deep into the lungs,
Feel the sacred union of Self, earth and sun,
I am one with it all, I breathe out pain,
Wholesome, recharged and bright once again.