Historically, the sequence of poses, now known as “Surya Namaskar”, or Sun Salutations may have been developed from an early morning ritual practice worshipping “Surya” or the sun - as the source of energy and light for the world. Today it is practiced in most yoga classes - known to help warm up the entire body, loosen up the muscles and to send gratitude to your the sun for the new day. There is not much known about the origin of Surya Namaskar.
The earliest archeological yoga culture was found in Harrapan, one of the most ancient urban cultures in old India. There was possibly, a form of movement meditation practiced across northwest India, Pakistan, Afghanistan in around 3500 B.C.E. The Rig Veda is one of the oldest collection of sacred Hindu scriptures. In it, “Namaskaras” were rituals infusing mantra and breath during sunrise and sunset. These rituals then and today in India include pranams (or prostrations).
During a pranam, you bring your whole body to the earth and rise again. This ritual represents honoring the earth mother, surrendering and releasing, bowing down to the energy in the sky. Today in the West, mantra was taken out of the sun salutation, as well as the crucial piece : the pranam; which has now been replaced with the fiery chataranga. Yoga in the West today has adapted to the needs of western work out culture and the “go, go, go” attitude. Surya Namaskar was once a ritual to honor the sun for the energy it brought upon the world which evolved into a simple set of poses to warm up the body.
There are many physical benefits to sun salutations, such as : warming up all major muscle groups in the body, strengthening the core muscles, the arms, the shoulders, loosens the hamstrings. Regular practice improves blood circulation throughout the entire body, massages the internal organs, and promotes overall health. You can practice Surya Namaskar as a stand alone yoga practice and still have the benefits of yoga. Surya Namaskar also has mental benefits. If you practice sun salutations with gratitude for life in mind (which I encourage you all to do), the mental and energetic benefits are endless. Feeling empowered, joyous and overall serene after practicing - and improving your mood throughout the day.
On the summer solstice, June 21st of each year, there is a tradition to practice 108 sun salutations, to honor the longest day of the year and of course - the sun! I invite you to take on the challenge this June! - Marilyn Skyflower