All around the world, many cultures have long viewed light as a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination. In The Origins and Historyof Consciousness, Erich Neumann wrote, “The world begins with the coming of light, opposition between light and darkness has informed the spiritual world of all peoples and molded it into shape.”
The only source of light for most of human history was, of course the sun, and today it remains our primary source of light. The Hindus called the sun Surya and they revered it as both the physical and spiritual heart of our world and the creator of life itself. They called the sun the “eye of the world” (loka chakshus), which was regarded as a pathway to the divine.
One important way many Hindus honored the sun was and is through the asana sequence known as Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations. Namaskais a Sanskrit word, which can be derived from namas, meaning “to bow to” or “to adore.” The placement of joined-hands touching the heart at the beginning and end of each sequence shows that only the heart can know truth.
Ancient Yogis believed that each person replicates the world around, including “rivers, seas, mountains, fields… stars and planets… the sun and moon” (Shiva Samitha, II. 1-3). Therefore the practice of Sun Salutations allows each person to share their inner sun with the sun which shines down upon them.
There are many variations of Sun Salutations but generally it consists of eight basic postures in a similar order as follows, with alternating inhales and exhales as transitions between poses (Photos courtesy of Yoga Journal dot com):