Yoga Rockford: Salutations to the sun

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Summer always brings on the sun! Some people run inside or hide in the shade, while others get out to bask in its rays.

In India, there are many traditions that revere various aspects of nature — including the sun — and many yoga traditions have taken on the teaching and practicing of Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation.

The flow of poses known as the Sun Salutation has become a popular Vinyasa (flow) practice, but the general focus on the physical practice obscures the real meaning of the Salutations.

The physical practice of the Sun Salutation is a combination of backbends and forward bends that, when done effectively, balances and builds strength and flexibility in numerous joints and muscles of the body.

The ego boost of back-bends and the mental humbling of the forward bends also contribute to a mental balance. But in addition to these physical and mental effects, we can find a deeper emotional and spiritual experience by invoking the aspects or qualities of the sun suggested by Indian tradition.

These qualities, named for the sun in Indian traditions, are twelve-fold, and they mirror those of our own inner truth — the light within that yoga calls “purusha”: universal friendship, self-illumination, generator of power, self-shining, lightness of being, nourishment, healing, eliminator of illusion, energy source, enlightenment, remover of afflictions, and pure intelligence. When invoked during Surya Namaskar, we may begin to see that these qualities are not external to our self, but shine forth from our purusha.

It may be difficult for us to accept that the qualities of the sun are our own attributes. Just as clouds, rain and thunder often obscure the light of the sun, our daily distractions and external attachments obscure the reality of purusha. For example, on those days when we feel that nothing is going right and we feel helpless and weak, we give more energy away by concentrating on the external issues alone. We forget that the power of the sun is truly available within us, and in merely remembering that we are our own nourishment and remover of afflictions, we may begin the process of healing, dissipating the clouds that separate us from our own true self.

But after just remembering, what action can we take to make these latent qualities active? The complete practice of yoga, with its eight aspects, gives us many tools for understanding our whole being and reconnecting to our truth. In practice, we dig deeper to find more than just a good workout. Through yoga, we can enliven all the qualities of the sun within us, bringing the needed nourishment, power and strength to guide ourselves smoothly through life. As we know, the Earth would not survive without the sun, so we would not survive without our purusha.

When we say “Namaskar” (or “Namaste”), we connect our self with the essence of another by acknowledging that, at the deepest level, we are the same. So, in performing the dynamic Surya Namaskar, we give “salutations” to the actual sun, acknowledging its source of energy and light for the entire Earth, but we also recognize that that source of energy and light also lies within us. The essence of the sun is the essence of our own illuminated self.

So, since it is summer and the light of the sun shines upon us, can we also find a way to bask in our own ever-present light? Offer Salutations to the Sun, practice yoga, and shine your light brighter from within.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the June 26-July 2, 2013, issue

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