108 sun salutations ... But why?

Published: Jun 16, 2019 by Lucy Tennyson

Last week we practised an energising standing flow sequence incorporating the three warrior poses, as well as triangle, reverse triangle, and the head to knee and wide legged forward bends.

Put together by the American teacher and writer Leslie Kaminoff, it works the legs strongly while encouraging the shoulders and chest to lift and shoulders to open. I like it because everyone can work through it at their own level, without putting strain on the wrists, or requiring the strength for plank, lunges or swinging into and out of downward dog.  You can find it on the Yoga Journal website.

In contrast, the sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) require all those things. And, as it’s the summer solstice this coming Friday, we’ll celebrate the longest day with a version of the sun salutations, adapted to suit our class.

In recent years, the idea of ‘challenging’ oneself to do 108 sun salutations on the morning of the 21st has taken hold. To me, it seems quite against the ethos of yoga to set out to reach targets or meet difficult goals. There’s enough of that kind of thing in life already.

Spread out over an hour or two, I’m sure it’s fine to work the body this way if you are young, fit and already do sun salutations regularly. But still, I have to ask ‘why’?.  Some say (without firm evidence) that the sun salutations are thousands of years old; a ritual prostration to the dawn, replete with mantras, offerings of flowers and rice, and libations of water. What we do know is that they were practised in the palace of the Raj of Aundh (now part of Maharashtra state) in the early 20th century from where they were disseminated to the West in the 1920s and 1930s.

I like to do sun salutations from time to time. They usually combine forward bends with downward dog, lunges and lowering from plank into Chaturanga Dandasana for cobra. But if you need good strength in the arms, legs, and lower belly otherwise you wind up in a heap on the floor. The solution is simply to bend the knees to the floor just after plank, then lower the torso down so that the chest and chin (but not the belly) lightly rest on the floor.

The second sticky part is in stepping the foot forward from downward dog back into a lunge. Either put one knee down, or bend both to the floor, step the foot forward between the hands, then straighten the back knee into a lunge.

There are many variations, and you can do them sitting in a chair.


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