The Salutation to the Sun

The Salutation to the Sun awakens the sun energy in us (our masculine side, or "Pingala nadi"). There is also an exercise, Salutation to the Moon, which awakens our moon energy (our feminine side, or "Ida nadi"). In the Salutation to the Moon, one leg is lifted and stretched, as in position number 5 (Parvatasana: the "dog" or "mountain"). The more widely known Yin and Yang (Yin symbolising the moon, and Yang the sun) also illustrate the importance of these two influences.

Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation positions

It is well known that regular practice of the Salutation to the Sun eases the following complaints: acne, boils, anaemia, loss of appetite, burn-out, overeating, slow general development, varicose veins, rheumatism and painful joints, headaches, asthma and other lung afflictions, indigestion, constipation, kidney problems, skin complaints (eczema, psoriasis, leucoderma), colds, hormonal imbalance, problems associated with menstruation and the menopause, as well as mental disorders such as panic attacks, depression, neurosis, psychosis and many more.

Practising the Salutation to the Sun

I first came across the Salutation to the Sun at the Bihar School of Yoga, which I attended in 1992. It was the first exercise we did in our morning class, at 4 o’clock each morning. It was done at a very brisk tempo – 1, 2, 3, 4, – without any further guidance.

Before you start the exercise, stand up straight and let your whole body come to rest. Become conscious of your entire body, starting with your feet and slowly moving your attention upwards so that you become aware of how each part of your body feels. As you move through the different positions you should never force yourself; each new position should follow smoothly on from the last. Do not continue if you feel yourself becoming exhausted.

The best time to do the exercise is at sunrise, but most of us get up later than that. Whenever you do it, it should never be later than early evening. Do the exercise on an empty stomach, at least three or four hours after eating.

The Salutation to the Sun should not be practiced by people with high blood pressure, by those who have widened or narrowed arteries around the heart, or by those who have recently suffered a heart attack. Additionally, if you have a hernia, or tuberculosis, you should also avoid this exercise. If you are suffering from sciatica or a slipped disc, this exercise could exacerbate the symptoms. Pregnant women may practice this exercise up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and can resume the exercise 40 days after the birth.

Yogic breathing during the exercises

Breathe in as you raise your head, and out when you lower your head. If you practice the Salutation to the Sun at a fast tempo, it will stimulate the flow of energy in the Pingala nadi (‘nadi’ are energy paths, rather like meridians). The Pingala nadi are located in the right hand side of the body, and represent Yang energy.

Practising the exercise more slowly will allow more time for the development of our mental faculties (our ‘Ida’ side). It is said that this will increases our spiritual development. Pingala energy is responsible for extrovert tendencies. It stimulates the central nervous system and represents our positive, dynamic and mental sides. According to Karl Jung, Pingala is our conscious personality, rational and discerning. Overstimulating the central nervous system will increase blood pressure and the elimination of acids, and could lead to the formation of stomach ulcers, angina and the constant production of adrenalin; this leads to ‘fight or flight’ behaviour.

Ida energy is responsible for our introvert tendencies. It gives us knowledge and consciousness of the world around us. If Ida energy dominates, a person will tend to be a daydreamer, with lots of plans, but without the ability to realise them. He will also be over-conscious of his feelings and oversensitive to events outside himself and to his experiences with others. Because the introvert does not have enough energy to carry out her plans, she may become constipated, depressed, and fearful and may suffer from eczema, inflammation of the large intestine and an array of psychosomatic disorders.

The above descriptions may give you an idea of which energy is most prominent during your waking hours. Take note of any changes that might occur after you have practiced the Salutation to the Sun; regular practice should bring about a balance between Pingala and Ida energies. Today’s society is an extrovert one, with little time for introspection. Regular stretching, including practice of the Salutation to the Sun, is a wonderful way to make contact with our inner selves.

The positions

Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 1

Position 1 Pranamasana (prayer position)
Mantra: Om Mitraya Namaha (Salutations to the friend of all).

  • Your attention should be focused towards your chest.
  • This will automatically turn your gaze inward, focusing your attention and stimulating the necessary calmness for practice of the exercise.
  • Focus your attention on your heart chakra (anahata).
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 2

Position 2 Hasta Utthanasana (position with arms upheld)
Mantra: Om Ravaye Namaha (Salutations to the shining one).

  • Improves the digestion by stretching the organs in the abdominal cavity.
  • Exercises the muscles of the arms and shoulders; balances the working of the nerves in the spine; maintains the sponge-like consistency of the intervertebral discs; opens the lungs and removes excess fat (by influencing the working of the thyroid gland).
  • Prana (vital energy) moves upwards through the body.
  • Bring your attention to the throat chakra (vishuddi).
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 3

Position 3 Padahastasana (position of hands to the feet)
Mantra: Om Suyaya Namaha (Salutations to he who induces activity).

  • Alleviates stomach and bowel complaints, reduces excess fat in the stomach region, improves digestion, massages the liver, kidneys, gall bladder, pancreas, uterus and ovaries; helps regulate irregular menstruation; eases constipation; improves the circulation; increases suppleness of the back; balances the working of the nerves; stretches the groin and the muscles in the sides; helps varicose veins and pumps fresh blood to the heart. N.B. Those with back complaints should bend the knees slightly.
  • Prana is sent to the lower parts of the body.
  • Put your attention on the swadisthana chakra at the base of the spine.
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 4

Position 4 Ashwa Sanchalanasana
Mantra: Om Bhanave Namaha (Salutations to he who illuminates).

  • The ankle of the bent leg should be directly under the knee; the hips should be as close to the ground as possible.
  • This position massages the organs in the abdomen and improves their functioning.
  • It strengthens the leg muscles, balances the central nervous system and helps to keep sinus cavities open.
  • Keep your attention on the ajna chakra, between the eyebrows. The ajna chakra is directly linked to the mooladhara chakra, behind the neck of the uterus in women, and in the perineum in men.
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 5

Position 5 Parvatasana (Mountain, or Dog position)
Mantra: Om Khagaya Namaha (Salutations to the one who moves quickly through the sky).

  • Strengthens the nerves and muscles in the arms and legs, eases varicose veins, balances the working of the nerves in the spine, straightens the back, stimulates blood circulation in the upper back and between the shoulder blades.
  • The thyroid is stimulated by keeping the chin close to the chest.
  • Bring your focus to the vishuddi chakra, just below the collarbone, near the throat.
  • Every time you breathe out, prana is directed downwards.
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 6

Position 6 Ashtanga Namaskara (eight-part greeting)
Mantra: Om Pushne Namaha (Salutations to the giver of strength).

  • Strengthens the chest and the muscles in the arms and legs, exercises the area between the shoulder blades.
  • Prana moves downward to the stomach area.
  • Bring your attention to the manipura chakra in the spine, opposite the navel.
Holistic Yoga Sun Salutation position 7

Position 7 Bhujangasana (Cobra position)
Mantra: Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha (Salutations to the golden, cosmic self).

  • Improves circulation and suppleness in the back, balances the working of the nerves in the back and the eliminatory organs (e.g. the liver), stimulates the digestive system, eases constipation, massages the kidneys and pancreas, helps asthma.
  • Attention should be focused on the swadisthana chakra, at the base of the spine. Prana is sent upwards.

Now you go through the positions again, working backwards; position 8 is the same as position 5. The mantras are different:

Position 8 Parvatasana (see position 5)
Mantra: Om Marichaye Namaha (Salutations to the rays of the sun).

Position 9 Ashwa Sanchalanasana (see position 4)
Mantra: Om Adityaya Namaha (Salutations to the son of Aditi [the cosmic mother, Mahashakti]).

Position 10 Padahastasana (see position 3)
Mantra: Om Savitre Namaha (Salutations to the stimulating power of the sun).

Position 11 Utthanasana (see position 2)
Mantra: Om Arkaya Namaha (Salutations to he who is fit to be praised).

Position 12 Pranamasana (see position 1)
Mantra: Om Bhaskaraya Namaha (Salutations to the one who leads to enlightenment).

Yogic Breathing after the exercises

When you have completed the exercises it is important to lie on your back, arms next to your body with the palms facing upwards; lengthen the neck and lower back by tilting your hips towards the floor and bringing your chin towards your chest.

When you have become conscious of the movement of your navel with each breath, breathe in deeply, first filling your abdomen and then your chest, for the next 15 breaths. When you breathe out, empty your chest first and then your abdomen. Always breathe through your nose, and breathe slowly. When you have done this 15 times, focus your attention on your navel again. Without changing your natural breath in any way, breathe in and out 35 times. If you find your attention wandering, simply bring it back to your navel.

Finally, I would love to hear from those who practice the Salutation to the Sun regularly. What influence do you feel it has? E-mail Holistic Yoga & Shiatsu Therapy with your experience.