The sun is out and the rays are warm on the face and body. It feels amazing to soak up the cosmic solar beams of golden goodness. So much has been taught about the sun and the positive or negative results of spending time basking in the light. As summer starts to drop its light in the northern hemisphere and rise again in the south, quality time with the sun in a safe, energizing fashion is desired. Using an ancient technique called ‘sun salutations’ you can salute, or praise the expanding or contracting solar power and receive increased health, vibrancy and inner balance.
Almost like a dance under the rays of the sun, sun salutations offers increased benefits for inner and outer flexibility, while at the same time invoking gratitude for the golden light of consciousness manifested as our cosmic sun and as the awareness within. To many ancient cultures, the sun represented ultimate awareness, the great power in the universe, the life-giving force of all. To give praise and credence to this glowing ball was thought to invoke deeper consciousness within a person as well as activate inner capacities, bodily healing and strength.
The yogic tradition created a flowing salute to both the inner and outer light and formulated it into a simple 12 postures which could activate the glandular system, stretch the spine in all directions and massage the internal organs. Through these simple repeated movements, the energy centers in the body- also known as chakras- would also receive activation and the whole body would thereby receive a “tune-up” for greater performance and harmony.
To begin the sun salutation, one stands to face the rising or setting sun, or to imagine such a scene in the mind, no matter your positioning. With feet close to one another and palms placed gently together at the heart center, eyes closed, one can imagine the light of the sun filling the body temple, creating brilliant light in the cells through conscious resonance. Almost like a prayer, the next motion sweeps arms up over the head to open the entire front side of the body in vulnerable surrender to the powerful rays of light. A slight back bend invites warmth and energy into the whole front side of the body while the spine is gently compressed. Feet planted firmly on terra firma, the subject draws a deep breath in, only to exhale with a forward fold.
With the top half of the body folded over the bottom half, the pelvis region is massaged, spine is stretched and upper awareness of the mental sphere merges with the lower, earth bound nature of form. Chin tucks to the chest as the air exits the lungs completely, lending a gentle release to the back of the neck. With the next breath in, the right foot steps back behind you comfortably, and the right knee drops to the floor. Fingers touch down near the left foot, knee bent, and the gaze raises to the eye brow center. In this movement, the awareness turns to the forehead and the inner eye. The simple motion of turning the gaze to this point, activates the psychic center in the brain which raises consciousness yet again.
On the next exhale breath, the left foot steps back to meet the right foot, hands stay planted on the floor side by side. The posture looks like a mountain, or a triangle, with hips reaching up to the ceiling or sky, while back and legs angle down to the floor on either side. In this gesture, the breath moves in and out, a resting pose is found. Chin meets the chest in order to stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the throat. Shoulders are strong and pulled away from the ears. Inner core strength is activated.
The series reaches the halfway point as knees, chin and chest move down and touch the floor, elbows bent. This is the eight-pointed salute, astanga namaskar. In this somewhat awkward pose, the spine is greatly compressed and the navel point, activated. Eight points of the body touch down to the floor for just a moment while the breath is suspended: two feet, two hands, two knees, the chin and the chest. This is a most humble position, hovering above the earth in gratitude and anticipation.
With a sweeping motion, on the inhale breath, the body straightens and lunges forward to lift. The upper body reaches skyward as the pelvis stays flat to the floor, spine arching backward, arms straight. This pose is known as upward-facing dog. The throat opens and the heart is exposed to the light of the sun. We have reaches the steps which lead now backwards through the poses and back out of the salutation.
In an exhale, the body pushes back to the previously known mountain triangle, known also to the yogis as downward dog. Rest again is achieved for a single cycle of breath as the body prepares to again move into a lunge. Left foot steps forward on the inhale, right knee bends, leaving the practitioner in the same positional lunge as before, fingers touching near the left foot and gaze reaching upward, opening the heart. Exhaling, the right foot steps forward to meet the left, sending one into a folded pose once again.
On a full, rich inhale breath, the arms reach and lift the body up to the sky, stretching the entire front line of the form once again- slight back bend. An exhale completes the twelfth posture, as hands come together in the prayer position at the heart center once more. These twelve poses end the first half of the sun salutation. The entire cycle is repeated again, only the left leg will step back instead of the right on the next round, stretching out both hips. When the entire round is experienced, there will have been 24 poses engaged through the body, like the hours of a day.
As the movements are repeated, in subsequent rounds, energy is felt moving through the body more and more. The heart rate increases and the blood circulation is apparent. The lymph glands are massaged, as toxins are encouraged to leave the body systems. Breath deepens and awareness of muscles, joints and tense areas becomes apparent throughout the practice. The greater the number of rounds, the deeper the inner work and connection with the solar energy within.
It is recommended to start with just a few rounds, and build up over time in order to properly prepare the body for the changes bound to happen both physically and within the psyche. There are documented chemical changes which occur as a result of practicing these simple techniques as well as emotional and mental benefits. Stress is greatly reduced, the nervous system is renewed and inner harmony can more easily reign. The sun salute, as practiced by ancient yogis and modern students, increases vibrancy, health, balance and personal attunement with ones own central power source. See the instructional video by world renowned yoga teacher Shiva Rea below to see this beautiful dance in action and help inspire you to get out under the sun and salute its greatness.
Written by: Stasia Bliss