Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
Many modern yogis know the Surya Namaskar. Different schools of yoga have their own approaches to Surya Namaskar, or the Sun Salutation yoga pose. This guide will teach you all about the traditional Surya Namaskar, the importance of saluting the sun, and how to incorporate it into your personal yoga and mantra practice.
Surya Namaskar, as we know it today, started showing up in physical exercise books in the 1930s. New translations of Sanskrit manuscripts, however, are proof that this whole-body, energizing sequence actually has more ancient origins.
The History of Surya Namaskar
Patabhi Jois developed two versions of Surya Namaskar to begin his Ashtanga Yoga series. Jois was a student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga.
A precursor to Jois’ Sun Salutation yoga pose was published in 1928 in a book by Bhavanarao Pant Pratinidhi called Surya Namaskars (Sun Adoration) for Health, Efficiency and Longevity. In this book, however, Surya Namaskar was merely an exercise.
In 1938, Pratinidhi published another book called The Ten-Point Way to Health, in which he detailed an updated version of Surya Namaskar. It was around this time that Krishnamacharya was teaching yoga in Mysore and gymnastics exercises began to influence modern yoga asanas.
Research shows that Krishnamacharya studied ancient traditions of Surya Namaskar. The Pasupat Sutra is a text about Tantra practices that were practiced between 450–1200 CE. It describes a series of poses that are linked together and influenced by a sacred dance tradition.
Chris Tompkins, a Sanskrit scholar, has shared evidence that practices linked to Surya Namaskar were once part of Tantra rituals (spiritual practices of householders) involving circumambulating a linga, or stone phallus symbolizing Shiva and the sun.
Vedic traditions also practiced Surya Namaskar as a daily sun worship to fortify the body and mind.
Myths from India dating back as early as 430 BCE say that those who practice the Sun Salutation are granted magical powers.
Although the Sun Salutation yoga pose has ancient roots, the versions we know today have mostly been influenced by Krishnamacharya and Jois.
How to Practice Surya Namaskar Step-by-Step
The version of Surya Namaskar as detailed below is one that involves chanting a traditional mantra called aditya hridayam. The mantra is a hymn to Surya, the sun god.
As some poses are done on an inhale or in a series of inhales and exhales, the mantra isn’t actually chanted out loud.
Below are the 12 poses of a traditional Surya Namaskar as well as the 12 accompanying mantras. Practice this sequence in the early morning, at sunrise, facing east.
1. Pranamasana aka the Prayer Pose
Om Mitraaya Namaha
Salutation to the one who is friendly to all.
Stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. Expand your chest and keep your spine long. Inhale, raise your arms up over your head. Exhale and bring your palms in front of your heart in Namaskar Mudra, or prayer position.
This pose will relax your body and help balance your nervous system.
2. Hasta Uttanasana aka Raised Arms Pose
Om Ravaye Namaha
Salutation to the shining one, the radiant one.
Inhale as you lift your arms up. Reach towards the back and out through your fingers. Slightly push your hips forward for a gentle backbend.
This will increase your lung capacity and stretch your abdominal muscles.
3. Hasta Padasana aka Hand to Foot Pose
Om Suryaya Namaha
Salutation to the dispeller of darkness who sets everything in motion.
Keep your arms reaching up and your spine long as you exhale and hinge from your hips to fold forward. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible, but you may of course also bend your knees as much as you need to in order to place your palms on the ground.
This forward fold will target your hamstrings, stretch your spine, and help increase your hip mobility.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana aka Equestrian Pose
Om Bhaanave Namaha
Salutation to the one who illuminates.
Inhale and step your right foot back. Set your right knee on the ground. Your palms should frame your left foot. Look forward.
This low lunge will stretch and strengthen your legs. It will also help with constipation and indigestion.
5. Dandasana aka Stick Pose
Om Khagaya Namaha
Salutation to the all-pervading one who moves swiftly through the sky.
Step your left foot back and come into a plank position. Engage your core muscles and imagine a straight line running through your body from the crown of your head to the heels of your feet. Exhale slowly.
This plank will strengthen your core, arms, and shoulders. It will also help you calm your mind and develop more focus.
6. Ashtanga Namaskara aka Salute with Eight Parts
Om Pooshne Namaha
Salutation to the giver of nourishment.
Stay in a plank position and hold your breath. Alternatively, you may also shift down into Chaturanga Dandasana, which would be a more modern variation of this part of the salutation.
The benefits of this pose are the same as the previous one. It will also help reduce anxiety and tension.
7. Bhujangasana aka Cobra Pose
Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha
Salutation to the golden womb from which everything emanated.
Exhale the breath that you were holding during the previous pose. As you inhale, push your heart forward to expand your chest and create a backbend. Look upwards.
This pose will help increase your flexibility, elevate your mood, and invigorate your heart.
8. Parvatanasana aka Mountain Pose
Om Marichaye Namaha
Salutation to the Lord of Dawn with infinite rays of light.
This pose looks like Downward Facing Dog. As you exhale, relax your neck and push your hips up towards the sky. Your toes and hands remain on the ground to create an inverted V-shape.
While this inversion is calming, it will also help you develop strength in your arms and shoulders. In addition, it will help improve your mobility and blood circulation.
9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana aka Equestrian Pose
Om Aadityaaya Namaha
Salutation to the son of Aditi, the cosmic mother.
Inhale as you step your right foot forward and transition into a second Equestrian Pose. This time your left foot and knee are on the ground behind you and your hands frame your right foot.
Practicing asymmetrical poses on both sides of your body will help you develop balance and body awareness.
10. Hasta Padasana aka Hand to Foot Pose
Om Savitre Namaha
Salutation to the Lord of creation, the one who is responsible for life.
Exhale as you step your right foot forward. Just like with the first forward fold, bend your knees if you need to.
This is where you will begin to transition back towards a standing pose.
11. Hasta Uttanasana aka Raised Arms Pose
Om Arkaaya Namaha
Salutation to the one who is worthy of praise and adoration.
Inhale and raise your arms over your head. Push your hips forward for a gentle backbend.
This is one of the final inhales of the series. Take in as much air as you can and imagine how the prana and energy of the sun are reinvigorating every cell of your body.
12. Tadasana aka Palm Tree Pose
Om Bhaskaraya Namaha
Salutation to the giver of cosmic wisdom that illuminates the internal and external world.
While other Hatha Yoga schools call this asana Mountain Pose, “Palm Tree Pose” is another English name for Tadasana.
Exhale gently to come back to this pose and feel free to close your eyes for a few moments to feel the series’ warming effects on your entire being.
Practice a few rounds of Surya Namaskar. Traditionally, this version with a mantra is repeated a total of three times. In the following rounds, make sure to always begin with the opposite leg than in your previous round. This will improve the balance in your body.
A daily practice of the Sun Salutation yoga pose with these traditional chants is said to ensure happiness, health, and prosperity. Some even believe that Surya will grant blessings and wishes to those who are devoted to their practice of Surya Namaskar.
Also check my article about yin yoga sequences