BOWING TO THE LIGHT WITHINTHE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SUN SALUTATIONS
BY: BINDI STABLES | DEEPER DIMENSIONS OF YOGA | INTERMEDIATE
Sun Salutations are an ancient yogic practice rich in symbolism, vast in wisdom and deep in esoteric and spiritual meaning.
Since time immemorial, spiritual seekers from around the world have been drawn to various forms of solar practices for their profound health, mental and spiritual effects. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, it’s likely you’ve encountered a yogic practice called Sun Salutations, also known as Surya Namaskara in the Sanskrit language. You may know Sun Salutation as the series of poses linked with the flow of the breath practiced at the beginning of a yoga class— and perhaps you’ve even heard of the tremendous health benefits to invigorate, heal and energize the body.
However, there is so much more to Sun Salutations than a mere warm up or practice for the physical body alone. In this article you’ll learn the ancient secrets of Surya Namaskara— how this practice can revitalize your life plus the real meaning behind your Sun Salutations to take your practice to the next level.
Ancient ROOTS OF SURYA NAMASKARA
Since the dawn of humanity, the sun has commanded a profound sense of awe and wonder. No human soul can deny the sheer beauty and magnificence the rising sun.
Since ancient times, most wisdom traditions from around the world had various forms of sun adoration to pay homage to the source of light and life, and to invoke this solar energy within for both healing and spiritual purposes. Stories of sun worship extend back to the legends of Atlantis, ancient Egyptian wisdom, Aztecs, Incan and Mayan civilizations, indigenous cultures and far beyond.
The practice of Surya Namaskara is one of the earliest expressions of sun adoration known to humanity which dates back thousands of years from the ancient Vedic traditions.
Surya: Sun, Sun God
Namaskara: salutation, adoration, offering of reverence or respect
THE COSMIC CONNECTION
Cosmically, the sun is a symbol of life, creation and light— the Supreme Cosmic Spirit (Brahman). On an inner level, it symbolizes our “inner sun” the light of consciousness or the soul (Jiva-Atman) depicting our divine, luminous, enlightened nature.
Modern science teaches us that the sun is one of the most important influences of life on earth— responsible for most of our planets essential functioning. There would be no life without the presence of the sun illuminating the earth from the cosmos.
In ancient traditions, the sun is considered the “Face of God”. It is the supreme source of light and life. It is a symbol of creation, the light of knowledge, and spiritual illumination. The sun is considered the original source of life force energy called Prana from which all living beings exist.
Ancient texts expressed that the human being is a miniature replication of the whole world and entirety of the cosmos— a microcosm of the vast macrocosm. And within this body lives all the “rivers, seas, mountains, fields… all the stars and planets… the sun and moon… ether, air, fire, water and earth…” (Shiva Samhita II 1-3.)
The yogic view is that we as humans are not separate from nature, but we are one with nature. We are nature. The sun we see in the sky is the same light of consciousness that shines within the hearts of all beings. We are a spark of this light from the infinite — the luminosity of our true self is a mere reflection, of this divine outer light.
HISTORY OF THE SUN SALUTATION
From lineage to lineage, we find countless forms and expressions of Surya Namaskara— some more devotional than physical in nature. In this modern age, many new variations of Sun Salutations have arisen perhaps to meet the needs and demands of such a diverse and growing population of yoga practitioners worldwide, with such diversity of bodies, abilities and intentions for practicing.
More modern forms of Surya Namaskara such as Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B (primarily from the influence of Krishnamacharya and Pattabi Jois’ Ashtanga yoga,) arose perhaps as a response to the changing yoga community as a more gentle, alignment-based or athletic version of the traditional Surya Namaskara.
One of the more traditional Surya Namaskara has been practiced for thousands of years, but was more recently popularized by a great saint named Swami Sivananda Saraswati. Since attaining liberation and leaving his body, his disciples lovingly taught this practice under his name as the Sivananda Sun Salutation as a tribute to their teacher and to preserve the tradition.
The 12 positions of Surya Namaskara
SYMBOLOGY OF SURYA NAMASKARA
Sun Salutations are essentially prayer in motion— each pose infused with deep inner spiritual meaning, a reflection of nature’s rhythms and rooted in vast cosmic symbology.
The deeper meaning and spiritual significance of Surya Namaskara:
- Sun Salutation is a devotional act of bowing to the Light within us
- Sun Salutation is an offering of love and gratitude to the Light of life
- Sun Salutation is a tribute to the Sun – The Source of Creation
- Sun Salutation is a dialogue with the universe, enacting the dance of the cosmos
Slight variations of this traditional Surya Namaskara exist lineage, by lineage, however, some common key features include:
- 12 physical postures = the journey of the sun through the 12 houses of the zodiac per year & the 12 Sanskrit names/mantras for the Sun
- Rhythmic & cyclical nature represents the cycles of life, nature & the cosmos
- Begins & ends with the hands in a prayer-like position in front of the heart as a gesture of gratitude or reverence
- The bowing down action represents the bowing to the Light within
- A full body prostration-like gesture symbolizing sweet surrender to this Inner Light
- The rising up action symbolizes the rising sun (within & without)
TIPS FOR PRACTICE
Here are some general guidelines to make the most of your Surya Namaskara practice:
- Practice at sunrise to absorb the suns healing & energizing solar rays
- Face east to pay homage the sun
- Commonly practiced by transitioning only the right foot forward and back throughout (the right side of the body is connected with our positive and solar energy channel called Pingala Nadi— however, as more rounds are practiced there is no harm in alternating the right and left feet to maintain balance in the body)
- Practice with awareness, love & devotion towards the supreme light that dwells within and around us
- Practice daily…
- Beginners: Start with 3 Sun Salutations per day
- Intermediate: Try 9 or 12 rounds per day
- Advanced: 12 or even 27 times per day
May we honor the sun each day as it rises, giving life to the world, but also its presence within us— as it reflects the boundless light and life of our own true self.
Surya Namaskara takes on a whole new dimension when we realize the vast and spiritual nature of this ancient practice. Not only can we invigorate our bodies with healing solar energy, but through Sun Salutations, we can attune to natures rhythms, connect with the vast cosmic forces of our universe and remember the intricate connectivity of these forces to revitalize our entire life.