Surya namaskar or saluting to the source of light - Sun, a dynamic sequence of asanas (postures), one which is most well-known and widely practiced in yoga classes all over the world. Due to its popularity many of the novice yoga students may well have their first experience of yoga by performing Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation).
I have a vague memory from 20 years ago, of attending my very first yoga class in the city named Nasik, situated in the western part of India. I am unsure of how me, and my best friend ended up in an early morning class at Yoga Vidya Dham. But I do remember my first feeling and experience of yoga vividly. The class often started with classical surya namaskar and then moved into different asanas like Virabhadrasana (Warrior pose), Trikonasana (Triangle pose), and so on. Throughout the practice there was a sense of freedom and ease in my body. I do not recall anything else, but just a string of students, creating shapes, breathing through, and immersing into the ebb and flow of asanas. Dynamic and powerful, yet calming and soft.
Therefore, my interest in Surya namaskar has been rooted in my first experience of Yoga. However, I have become more curious about its origins after completing yoga teacher training. As I have been diving deeper into a mere attempt to try and understand the origins of surya namaskar, I have found myself buried into various articles and sources with conflicting information.
It is generally accepted that surya namaskar are recognized as a contemporary part of yoga. Many ancient texts describe and refer to several practices worshipping the almighty sun, but they do not mention asana practices such as in surya namaskar. Rosen mentions that the rituals in *vedic times such as prostration to the dawn, chanting mantras, and offerings such as flower and holy water to sun can be found in the ancient books but nothing as vigorous as the flow of surya namaskar (2007). And yet, the energy giving sequence is deeply rooted into today's yoga teachings.
The earliest and direct link to surya namaskar can be found in Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya's, also referred as "the father of modern yoga", book called Yoga Makaranda (1934). Sri Krishnamacharya was also teacher to Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga) and BKS Iyender (founder of Iyenger yoga). However, we are to be grateful to a ruler named Bhawanrao Shrinivasrao Pant Pratinidhi, from Aundh (now a part of Pune city in India) for making surya namaskar accessible and popular internationally. Vikram Doctor in his article explores the possible origins and influence of body building on surya namaskar. He also puts light and significance on Bhanwanrao's work in introducing surya namaskar in schools and becoming a model for practicing surya namaskar as a part of health and wellbeing routine in the early 20th century.
Surya namaskar is widely experienced as an energizing, awakening and powerful sequence of 12 postures. There are many variations and adaptations available to include people of all abilities, in turn benefitting from this revitalizing sequence. There is much more to learn about surya namaskar but after my initial search, I am now drawn to include and explore many variations of surya namaskar in my personal practice and share them with my students.
Aarts, O. (n.d). The origin of the sun salutation. [online]. Ekhart Yoga. Available from: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-origin-of-the-sun-salutation [Accessed 5th January 2021].
Doctor, V. (2018). Bhawanrao Shrinivasrao Pant Pratinidhi: The man who promoted Surya Namaskar. The Economic Times. [online]. Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bhawanrao-shrinivasrao-pant-pratinidhi-the-man-who-promoted-surya-namaskar/articleshow/64607546.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst [Accessed 6th January 2021].
Kaim, R. (2018). Rad Kaim yoga. [Image] Available at: http://radkaimyoga.com/the-sun-salutations-decoded/ [Accessed 6th January 2021].
Mcgonigal, K. (2010). The sun salutation decoded: Learn Surya Namaskar. [online]. Yoga Journal. Available from: https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga 101/shine/#:~:text=The%20Vedic%20tradition%2C%20which%20predates,were%20traditionally%20chanted%20at%20sunrise [Accessed 27th December 2020]
Newell, Z. (n.d) The ancient origins of surya namaskar: sun salutation. [online]. Yoga International. Available from: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-ancient-origins-of-surya-namaskar-sun-salutation [Accessed 27th December 2020]
Rosen, R. (2007). Here comes the sun: The tradition of Surya Namaskar [online]. Yoga Journal. Available from: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/here-comes-the-sun/ [Accessed 27th December 2020].
Sharan. R. (2018). Sun Salutation Yoga Pose. [Image] Available at: https://www.yogainindia.co.in/blogyoga/2018/05/07/sun-salutation-yoga-pose-surya-namaskar/ [Accessed 6th January 2021].
Shah, S. (2020). Sun Salutation 101: Your Basic Guide to Learn the Age-old Yoga Sequence. [online]. The Art of Living. Available at: https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/sun-salutations [Accessed 6th January 2021].
*vedas are a large body of ancient scriptures originating in India thousands of years ago. The word veda means knowledge.