When I see somebody doing Surya Namaskar, I see the whole yoga journey undertaken by this person. All those years of practice, search and devotion are manifested right here through a few simple movements. There is no need to do any fancy postures, I know who is in front of me, Surya Namaskar says it all.
There is no coincidence that every Ashtanga practice starts with Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). Traditionally, it was a moving prayer used by people in India to worship the Sun and it was performed early morning during the sacred hour. Sun Salutations are full of symbolism and mysticism but let’s take a closer look at the physical aspect first.
Synchronization of movement and breath is called vinyasa and there are 9 vinyasas (positions) in Surya Namaskar A. Each of them has a specific effect on our physical body. The first one is full body lengthening. The second position is a forward fold, which stretches muscles of the back and hamstrings. The third one is halfway lift where we reclaim the spine lengthening. The fourth is Chaturanga Dandasana which builds arms, shoulders and core strength. The fifth one is Upward-facing dog, it is an active backbend that involves all parts of the body (especially back, chest, core, legs, feet and toes). The sixth one is Downward-facing dog which counterbalances the previous position, stretches shoulders, back, hamstrings and Achilles tendon. The 7th, 8thand 9thvinyasas are repetitive and lead to Samasthitih, which is a neutral (but still engaged) standing position.
Surya Namaskar B builds on the foundation of Surya Namaskar A and adds Chair Pose and Warrior I into the flow. These two postures, actively get into our hips and strengthen the legs. San Salutations A and B target all essential parts of the body, generate heat and provide a complete workout for the whole body. Consistent Sun Salutation practice allows practitioners to build a solid foundation and establish connection with their own bodies.
Sun Salutations might be quite challenging for complete beginners. While working with people that are new to yoga, it makes sense to focus on alignment of each posture. In yoga, everything comes from within. The source of any movement is inside, but at the beginning a practitioner is not able to tap into that source. That’s why, we start establishing external shape of every posture and connecting these postures with the breath. When external alignment is correct, internal energies start aligning gradually and eventually these energies define everything.
At the beginning of this journey we all fight our physical limitations, but this fight does not last that long. Once Chaturanga is not hard anymore and Upward-facing dog actually feels good for the lower back, we start getting the sense of a flow. Once there are no more restraints of the breath, we start getting a glimpse of a totally new dimension.
If you look at Surya Namaskar again, you will notice that the order of these postures is not random. One upward movement initiated by inhalation always follows by downward movement initiated by exhalation. This continuous succession of opposites creates a certain rhythm and a clear opposition between inhale and exhale, up and down, in and out, prana and aprana, day and night, life and death. It also raises a question, what do we do to ourselves energetically?
Basically, there are two opposite energies that dominate in our bodies. One of them is called prana, which is an upward flow of energy facilitated by inhalation. The other one is aprana, which is a downward flow of energy facilitated by exhalation. Practicing Surya Namaskar helps us to rebalance these energies. Besides that, every posture in Sun Salutation stimulates one of seven chakras. That’s why, even after a short practice we feel a surge of energy. Nevertheless, none of it would ever be possible without the breath.
Breath is a key player in everything but it takes a lot to start listening to its natural flow. Usually practitioners rush through the practice as they want to get to more exciting asanas. This rush does not have any awareness and it just makes people tired. The more they rush, the more tired they get. The only way out of this vicious circle is to surrender to the powerful flow of our own breath.
Breath is the only bridge between body and mind. With time and consistent practice, a practitioner starts noticing that the breath initiates every movement and the movement itself deepens the breath. In fact, a yoga practitioner doesn’t do much in Surya Namaskar (and in any asana) besides following the breath. Once I managed to slow down a bit and give the lead to my breath, my whole practice transformed. Surya Namaskar is a beautiful place to start discovering connection with your breath, building relationship with your body and feeling with your whole being.
As for me, Surya Namaskar is an art and a pure expression of life itself. There is absolutely nothing random. Every movement requires precision, focus and breath awareness. I try to be 100% invested in every little movement and eventually the practice itself starts carrying me. Though I repeat Surya Namaskar every day, it is never the same. It always feels different and I keep rediscovering myself on the mat.