If you have practiced yoga long enough, you may have learned that Surya Namaskar means “Sun Salutation.” And in the most basic sense, this is true. However, it is much deeper than that.
Surya does translate to the sun. But in Hinduism, and other ancient faiths, the sun is the bringer of all life. The sun, in many ways, represents God’s grace, and power. We rely on the sun to give us life, to grow plants and crops. Without the sun, God’s prana, we have nothing.
Namaskar, basically translates to salute or bow. Some interpretations align it with the meaning of “namaste.” But namaskar also means to adore, to pay homage to, to not only bow, but to bow down to. Therefore, Surya Namaskar is more than just the physical postures of the sun salutations. They are a repetative prayer. They are an opportunity to bow down to all that brings life.
I have taken, and taught, many classes that ask us to “set an intention” for your practice. However, the more I have learned about the purpose behind sun salutations, the less I am comfortable with this. The opening salutations of a yoga practice are a moment to give up yourself. You are literally prostrating yourself to a higher power. The sun salutations are an opportunity to lay down your ideas of self, your goals, your plans, and your judgements and check in with what is present for you today.
In my own practice, I have been taking them as an opportunity to stop thinking. Each salutation is like a physical mala bead. The repetative movements allow me to drop all the pushing and pulling. I don’t “work on” anything. I simply flow. There is a beauty in giving up of yourself. I can release all attachments and just BE. In those moments of silent absolution, I can feel the sun burning within me, and feel the prana of all life glowing through my body and soul, and into the world around me. I no longer need my practice to grow into anything. I’m beginning to think that setting hardfast goals can kill the connection that we are supposed to find through yoga. Pattabhi Jois said, “practice, and all is coming.” What if we don’t need to push ourselves toward some plan or goal? What if we could simply practice, and let the “powers that be” bring everything we need to us?
For me, this is what the sun salutations are. They are a moment to give up myself. They are a practice of letting go of all of my attachments, and letting God, fate, or whatever power is out there, guide me. And, honestly, if I am “working on” something, I let that intention show up after the sun salutations. Oftentimes, after the rinsing of my ego that is the devotional practice of sun salutations, I can tell whether that goal/intention is one that is right for my path.
Next time you practice, try freeing yourself of your intentions, whether they are “good” or “bad.” Let the flow of the salutations bring you into the present moment. Let the devotion to something other than yourself, give you the space to grow beyond the limits of your imagination. Open yourself up to all that is, to all of life, and the power the creates both the fire in your belly and the fire in the sky. Truly salute the sun.