Surya means Sun and Namaskar means to bow, acknowledge, or salute, hence the English name of Sun Salutations.
In ancient times before the advent of electricity and 24/7 artificial light, the yogis would get up before sunrise and do their ablutions and then start their yoga practice by facing the sun and warming up with a series of connected or linked movements.
Through this practice evolved the tradition of facing East when practicing yoga – because the sun rises in the East and the sun was considered to be a significant spiritual entity – the giver of life! If you think about it, when it is dark, you automatically turn to face the light and today it is still considered auspicious to practice facing East.
These salutations are designed to:
- Warm up the body
- Wake up the mind
- Link the mind to the body
- Establish a rhythmic breathing pattern
- Enhance proprioception
- Move the spine
- Promote flexibility
- Build upper body strength, particularly the arms and chest
A Sun Salutation is a set or series of yoga poses and they are done to the rhythm of the breath – each movement should exactly match the breath. It normally takes a few rounds of Sun Salutations to get everything up and running, e.g. the breath, but once it has then the movement is synchronized with it.
Please note in yoga we synchronize the movement to the breath, because the rhythmic flow of breath in Ujjayi Pranayama activates the parasympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for making us feel calm. We work strongly in yoga, but remain relaxed through the breath.
The Sun Salutations are almost a complete practice in themselves and if you are short of time for a full yoga practice, then just do a minimum of 5 rounds before starting your day. You will be amazed by how much better they make you feel and how much smoother your day goes – “a Sun Salutation a day keeps dementia away”.
One of the amazing things you will find with the regular practice of Sun Salutations is just how much they have to teach us.