Why Sun Salutations Are So Much More Than Just a Warm-Up

You deserve to reap the profound rewards of the humble (yet powerful) Surya Namaskar.

 By Shiva Rea

When was the last time you savored Sun Salutations rather than performed them on autopilot? As one of the most common vinyasa sequences, it’s easy to take for granted their ability to open and prepare your body for deeper practice. But mentally detaching until later in your flow may mean you’re losing out on some major feel-good components.

The Deeper Meaning of Namaskar

In fact, it’s worth considering that the Sanskrit name Namaskar was slightly short-changed when it was translated to Salutation. The root of nama, meaning “to bow” and in some cases “not me,” tells a more meaningful story about the sequence’s original purpose. “Of course it is a beautiful greeting, but it was also meant to be a transformative experience to release the burden of our personal obsessions and just come back to essence,” says Shiva Rea, founder of Prana Vinyasa Yoga and Master Class teacher.

“I think the warm-up aspect of it is the part where we miss the deeper nutrition, and that’s why I try to engage more soulfulness and meditation in Namaskars from the very beginning. The power of a Namaskar is in its refined simplicity; the combination of movements creates a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual syncopation,” she adds.

The Power of the Sun Salutation

As physical exercise, Sun Salutation is a contained, all-in-one practice in itself. As you progress through its steady sequence of opposing actions—front-body offerings followed by the surrender of forward folds—a Namaskar integrates all the counter-asanas necessary to feel balanced in your body by the time you complete it, Rea says.

From there, it lives up to its original definition, paving a path to the receptive state of meditation. “One characteristic of our time is being ahead of the moment. A Namaskar is a pause, a return to center, a new relationship to breath that’s so extraordinary you can begin feeling a deeper rhythm taking you into this whole-body movement meditation,” says Rea. “Then it begins to stimulate our awakening and devotion. It’s not the outer shell of the movement, but the inner flow, particularly the movement meditation, that brings on the state of transformation. “

Shifting into rasa, an embodied communication with that within and around us, isn’t as easy as speeding though a bunch of Sun Salutes. “We can’t just come into a state of compassion and peace if we were perhaps right before that in an administrative mode or you were just attending to the ten thousand things on your list,” Rea says. But when you approach Surya Namaskars with more attention and reverence, you can more easily experience the feeling state called bhava, which Rea calls “a chance to cultivate the soil from which movement meditation [and rasa] will grow.”

Simple yet deliberate actions can guide you into this profound state, even before you begin circling your arms overhead. Rea suggests simply turning your mat and body to face the sun or moon during practice can shift consciousness, as well as placing your hands at the heart and parting the knuckles slightly to create an inner altar.