Vinyasa Focus : Sun Salutations

Vinyasa focus: Sun Salutations Sun Salutations newsletter

We had a funny little moment last week with a few teachers and a teacher trainee accidentally becoming embroiled in a conversation about Surya Namaskar, aka Sun Salutations, as you do. The water cooler chats here at Cammeray Yoga are nothing but enlightening I have to say.

The sequence we are all so familiar with in classes, was developed historically out of an act of gratitude and respect for Surya, the sun, as the source of light and energy for our lives.

So many studios, lineages and teachers offer versions of this sequence, but what are the essential components that make it “truly” a Sun Salutation? We all know it starts and ends in a standing position, that there’s a forward fold, there’s a downward facing dog or two in the mix, and then a sprinkling of other asanas… lunges, cat, child or prayer pose, upward facing dog, plank and rod to name a few. Why are they in the order that they are? How many poses are there meant to be? What’s it all about?

Well it seems there is a loaded question in that last paragraph, because as Michael de Manincor, director of The Yoga Institute, pointed out, as we dragged him into the conversation there are not a prescribed number of poses as such, but a prescribed number of movements.

The action of raising arms to overhead from samastithi, standing pose, is the first action. The fold forward we are so used to executing is the second. And this is where it starts getting interesting.

Michael said Surya Namaskar and saffron rice share a common ground. Yes really, he did! There are only two essential ingredients in saffron rice. Saffron and rice, as well as the water needed to cook the rice. Other ingredients are adding variations, flavours and interest to the dish. And so it is with Sun Salutations.

In a Sun Salutation, the two essential ingredients are the inclusion of twelve movements, and a prostration pose of surrender at the half-way point – the sixth movement. Whether this is child or prayer pose or lying face down with the arms overhead in surrender, doesn’t really matter. As long as this element of prostration is present. The act of complete surrender, embodied in a pose. The flow of the breath is like the water in the saffron rice, which gives life and makes it all happen.

Through the twelve movement sequence, which starts at the top of the mat, the body moves backwards and then forwards again, often touching the Earth at various points. Of course in a personal practice, the tailoring of the sequence would accommodate specific issues in the body, perhaps leaving lunges out for those people who struggle with them, or adapting downward facing dog or knees down in chaturanga dandasana (rod pose) to the needs of the practictioner. But even in a general class, modifications and options must be offered. We certainly make it a point to do this at Cammeray Yoga.

So next time you come to standing at the top of the mat, ready to begin your Sun Salutations, take a moment to remember the purpose of this sequence. An act of gratitude for life, a welcoming of the day ahead and an honouring of our life giving saffron coloured sun and everything that it provides us every day. Rice and all! Perhaps moving into your pose of surrender at the half-way point will have a new relevance after reading this piece, with every movement of this fantastic sequence immersed in gratitude and mindfulness

  • Written by Annebelle Van Tongeren