June 21st marks the turning point of the sun through the cycle of the year. As the longest day and shortest night pass, the daylight slowly decreases again over the next six months to the first day of winter. We’ve reached the Summer Solstice.
This is a great time to honor the power, energy, and inspiration of the sun in our lives. In yoga, we do this every day by practicing Salutation to the Sun, or Surya Namaskara.
The essentials of Surya Namaskara
Sun salutes are part of the practice in almost every yoga tradition. Although the exact poses can vary, Surya Namaskara is a sequence of poses linked together, starting and ending at Tadasana, mountain pose, also called Pranamasana, “prayer pose” (with hands together in prayer at the heart), or Samasthitihi (meaning “equal standing”). They usually include some forwarding bending and backbending poses (such as Uttanasana, standing forward bend, and Bhujangasana, Cobra pose), lunges, Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), and some form of Ashtanganamaskara (the eight-limbed salutation), which is a yoga push-up of sorts. Traditionally, 12 positions compose the sequence.
The health benefits of Surya Namaskara are well-known. The practice is often used to initially warm-up the body, but is also a balanced form that moves the spine in many directions and opens both the front and back of the torso and stimulates the internal organs. It also awakens the breath, coordinating inhalations and exhalations with each movement into and out of the postures. Often, when one only has a few minutes each day to do yoga practice, this is the set of poses they choose.
Deepening your connection to the Light
The spiritual aspects of the sun salute, however, are lesser known or understood. The ancient yogis considered the sun a powerful symbol of spiritual consciousness. Daily honoring of this outer representation of our own inner light was found to deepen a sense of connection to the Divine. For thousands of years, practitioners began and ended their days with these 12 flowing movements as an homage to the qualities that the sun embodies.
These qualities are elaborated on in the 12 traditional mantras to the sun, naming its many manifestations. Here I share the translations of the Bihar School of Yoga from Swami Satyananda Saraswati and Dr. K.S Charak, author of Surya, the Sun God. They are:
Om Hram Mitraya Namah
Salutations to the friend of all. The sun is regarded as the ultimate friend, selflessly giving light, heat, and energy to all with no expectation of return.
Om Hrim Ravaye Namah
Salutations to the shining one. The sun shines down blessings to every being, and we turn ourselves upward to take in its radiance.
Om Hrum Suryaya Namah
Salutations to he who induces activity. Surya represents consciousness itself, bringing everything into manifestation.
Om Hraim Bhanave Namah
Salutations to the dispeller of darkness. The rays of the sun bring light to our lives, illuminating our path, revealing what hides in shadow, and inspiring us.
Om Hraum Khagaya Namah
Salutations to the one who moves through the sky. The movement of the sun across the heavens is the basis for our measurement of time. We honor the concept of time through honoring Khaga.
Om Hraha Pushne Namah
Salutations to the giver of strength and nourishment. The sun is the source of our well-being and strength, for without its light no living thing could exist.
Om Hram Hiranyagarbhaya Namah
Salutations to the golden cosmic self. Hirayna Garbha is the golden egg from which the creator of the universe was born. This aspect of the sun is the seed of causality, as the potential of the entire universe is contained in the metaphor of the cosmic egg.
Om Hrim Marichaye Namah
Salutations to the lord of the dawn. Marichi is the son of the creator of the universe, Brahma, emanating the first rays of light. Yet his name also means mirage. This aspect of the sun represents seeking true meaning, distinguishing the real from the false.
Om Hrum Adityaya Namah
Salutations to the son of Aditi. Aditi is one of the many names of the cosmic mother, the creative power who gives birth to all life. We honor that aspect of the divine feminine and her many creations with this mantra.
Om Hraim Savitre Namah
Salutations to the stimulating power of the sun. The sun just before rising is the image associated with Savitri, stimulating and arousing us from sleep, awakening our consciousness.
Om Hraum Arkaya Namah
Salutations to the radiant one. Arka means energy, and the sun is the radiant source of all energy and vitality.
Om Hraha Bhaskaraya Namah
Salutations to the enlightening one. Lastly, the sun represents the revealer of the great truths, illuminating our path leading to enlightenment.
There are many physical, energetic, and spiritual benefits to Surya Namaskara, more than I can elaborate on here. Imagine breathing in the divine light into every cell of your being as you move from one pose to the next. Know that through this ancient ritual, you are awakening and healing many parts of yourself through movement, breath, and sound.
Copyright © 2006 by Constance L. Habash