the sun salutation : surya namaskar

(moving through difficulty in surya namaskar)

photo by zane parker

Taking a stand and greeting the world from my heart, this is the beginning of the Sun Salutation. The starting place is also the ending place of a series that moves me through time and space. This cycle, like so many in my life, leaves me wondering: Am I in the same place? What happened in the process and what has changed? Time passes, the body ages – what changes on the inside?

The beginning of the movement is devotion. What does the gesture of Namaste mean in this moment? “The Divine in me greets the Divine in you.” You the orchids on my altar, you the hardwood floor that holds my body, you the sky with the sun hidden behind clouds. The more I am aware of my place – my physical existence, this body standing here now – the more grateful I am for this life.

From this place of standing between Earth and Heaven, aware of interdependence and the opportunity to evolve, I set off on my journey.

Often I do the Sun Salutation joyfully, delighting in the flow of movement and breath and an image of the sun rising on a new day. Today I am reflecting on a personal challenge. I am in a mood where reflection blurs into self-judgement.

Standing still with my pranam, I imagine the Light illuminating hidden dark corners of my mind. I watch my mind try to escape responsibility. I question how to swing back up, how to come back to life. Is there still a chance to change this situation? Would I want to take it? Am I willing to put in the effort? How does my mind work?

Reaching up, looking up, opening up my heart is awkward, uncomfortable. Many times I do this movement easily without thinking. Today I feel what it is like when the heart is clouded. The Light hurts a little. There’s hesitation in the opening, a sense of protection toward the vulnerable part. And yet as I lift up, the clouds do disperse. My body reveals what is underlying and a choice opens before me. What can I do that will allow the next step to happen?

Bending forward is a relief; the tension in my shoulders drops away. I let go. Continuing to move through the sequence, I feel strength and flexibility. I greet the ground and look up to the sky. A rhythm develops. My body knows the movement. I notice that emotional discomfort sharpens my awareness of the present moment, and that the movement itself creates the way out of pain.

The Light wants to shine. The pressure of time insists, as did Swami Sivananda, “Do it now!” There is wisdom in this. Gradually my perception of my situation changes from an either/or, black/white choice, to a blend. Slowly a new possibility arises of accepting help, working together, dropping the emotional drama of self-blame and guilt.

"Keep on going." That's what Swami Radha would say to me. It's what the Sun Salutation demands through its constant flow of movement.

I end where I started, but something has changed. Being willing to open, to release, to let the brightness of clarity enter – even if it’s with hard facts or unflattering reflections – I continue the journey to self-understanding. I see how my choices create my direction. I am determined to learn. Bowing to the Light, I find freedom in recognizing that down is only part of the same cycle that can spiral me back up. Let this new day begin.

how to do surya namaskar: the sun salutation

  • Stand in the Mountain with hands in pranam, palms together in front of your chest.
  • Lift your arms overhead, stretch the whole body, and bend back slightly to greet the sun.
  • Extend forward from the hips into the Standing Forward Bend.
  • Move into a lunge, taking a big step back with your right leg. Open through the chest and look forward
  • Extend the left leg back and move into the Plane. Align your legs, hips, back and head in a straight line.
  • Bring your knees, chin and chest to the floor. Then place the legs and hips on the floor, firm the lower body and lift the head and chest in the Cobra.
  • Tuck your toes under and lift your hips, moving into the Downward Dog.
  • Step the right leg forward, returning to a lunge.
  • Step the left leg forward, releasing into the Standing Forward Bend.
  • Lift your arms overhead and bend back slightly, opening to the Light.
  • Circle your arms out to the sides and return to the starting position with your hands in pranam.
  • Repeat on the other side for one complete cycle.


  1. Reflect on the significance of bowing before the sun, of greeting the day with gratitude. Do the Sun Salutation with devotion, feeling the movements as a prayer.
  2. Explore a cycle in your life, bringing an issue into the Sun Salutation and observing your response in each movement.
  3. Think of the sun as symbolic of the Light of understanding. As you do the salutation, visualize this Light filling your entire body and mind. What is your understanding now?

Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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