As sky is kissed by rose-lipped dawn a yogi stands in the coolness of morning. A sliver of bright light crests the horizon as Surya, the bestower of all life on Earth, begins his arced ride in the boundless blue. Breath moves in and arm stretch high like the rays of the Sun God. With eyes on the line where heaven and Earth meet, the yogi begins an offering to the God of the Sun. Twelve salutations accompanied by one of the twelve names of Surya are chanted with reverence and humility, clearing the path to a freer future.
Any student of yoga has performed innumerable “Sun Salutations” or surya namaskara. Yet as most things Indian, this basic series of postures are steeped in deep meaning beyond the physical act. Surya is the chief solar deity and the term surya also refers to the Sun in general. The deity Surya is most often depicted driving through the heavens in his triumphal chariot harnessed by seven horses or one horse with seven heads that represent the seven colors of the rainbow or the seven chakras. He presides over "Surya-waar" or Sunday.
Surya namaskara in a traditional Hindu context, when performed as puja or spiritual offering, is done facing the sun at sunrise or sunset. These are considered to be the most spiritually favorable times of day. Focusing the eyes toward the sun is a type of darshan or spiritual communion with the diety. Twelve cycles are traditionally performed. Each new cycle would be initiated by chanting one of the twelve other names of Surya. Savasana would conclude the offering. Physical prostration to the Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of this practice. The purpose of many such rituals is also to improve the balance of karma in ones life. There are numerous references in the Vedas, the most ancient spiritual teachings of India, to praising the Sun for the enhancement of good health and prosperity.
In current yoga traditions, depending on the style and the yogi’s preference, there are several configurations of this cycle from gentle to vigorous and athletic.
(see asana sequences for example)