The Sun, the Moon, and Why We Salute Them
The Sun Salutation (or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit) is one of the most popular sequences taught in Western yoga practices. That’s why you can probably move through a Sun Salutation by memory after attending only a few yoga classes. It’s a great way to kick off your practice for the day. In fact, many classes here at Your Yoga Louisville start with stretching, breath exercises, and some variation of a Sun Salutation. While it may be easiest to listen to the instructor’s cues and move through each Salutation on autopilot, doing so can limit the benefit you get out of flowing through the sequence of asanas.
To make the most out of our Sun Salutations, and their lesser-known counterpart, Moon Salutations, we should take a moment to reflect on what their purpose is and what they represent in our lives and in our practice. Sun Salutations
I’m willing to confess that my first Sun Salutation of the day usually isn’t quite as mindful as I would like. Especially if I’m starting my day with an early morning yoga class (pre-coffee, mind you), I’m still half-asleep and barely able to distinguish my right from my left as I go through my first couple of Sun Salutations.
By the time I’ve moved through a few, however, I usually feel awake, alert, and attentive. Perhaps you’ve noticed something similar. That sense of awareness should give us clues about the purpose and function of Sun Salutations in our yoga practice.
Time to Rise and Shine
For a moment, just think about the sun and what it represents.
Each morning, the sun rises, bringing light and heat to the world. It’s powerful, invigorating, and bright. Its light wakes up the world, evaporating the dew and fog of morning. Plants physically respond to the sunlight, shifting their leaves and stems to better receive it, and animals shake off their nighttime slumber and begin to scamper about in search of food.
In short, sunrise is a time of awakening and getting started. When we move through a Sun Salutation in a yoga practice, we are honoring this aspect of our relationship with the sun.
The standard flow of postures in a Sun Salutation are, in part, meant to awaken the physical body. All of your major muscle groups are engaged as you move through the sequence. Like a plant shifting its leaves and stems in response to its physical needs, Sun Salutations prepare your body for the physical aspects of the rest of your practice.
On top of that, Sun Salutations bring about mental awareness and clarity. When instructors use cues such as “on an inhale” or “as you exhale,” they’re not merely making suggestions about pacing. Moving in coordination with your breath is one way in which yoga cultivates mindfulness. It requires consciousness and intention to move your body with your breath, which brings you into the moment, allowing you to be present. This is something that you won’t get if you’re gliding through your Salutations on autopilot.
In this way, Sun Salutations give you the opportunity to honor that which the sun represents, and invite its powerfulness, invigoration, and vitality into yourself, giving a potent start to your day or your practice.
Less popular than Sun Salutations, but still an important part of a yoga practice, Moon Salutations (or Chandra Namaskar in Sanskrit) function as a counterbalance to Sun Salutations.
While Sun Salutations represent the sun’s power to awaken and invigorate, Moon Salutations are more calming and reflective. Where the sun cultivates warm, masculine, outward energy, the moon is cooler, feminine, and more inward-focused.
The Hatha tradition recognizes that we all have warm, masculine energies and cooler, feminine energies within us. A yoga practice should bring union to these forces, enabling our bodies, minds, and spirits to work in harmony. Living in such a fast-paced culture, we often give priority to the more engaging, forceful solar energies. We want to move quickly and constantly feel like we’re working, even when we’re doing something like practicing yoga.
Because of this, Moon Salutations are ideal for times in which you need to calm down and turn your focus inward. There is also more of an emphasis on the lower body in Moon Salutations, so they do not activate all of your muscle groups in the same way that Sun Salutations do. That being said, they can still be a great way to begin a practice, particularly if you’re planning on giving your practice a Yin focus. They’re also wonderful for times when you are practicing yoga in the evening. Moving through a Moon Salutation while the moon is visible can make it easier for you to connect to lunar energy and embrace the calming flow of Chandra Namaskar.
Bringing the Sun and the Moon Together
Remember, the word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which can be translated as “to join” or “to bring into union.” While Sun Salutations may give us the energy and muscle conditioning that we typically seek in a workout, it’s important to bring that into union with more calming, soothing actions. Doing so will help integrate balance into your life, which, as we’ve written about before, is going to help life go a little smoother.
There are plenty of resources available online to show you variations of either Sun or Moon Salutations, but the easiest way to learn them is to come by Your Yoga Louisville for a class. That way, our awesome instructors can guide you through them and help you make modifications as necessary.
Learning to be mindful of what our Sun and Moon Salutations do for us is a small step you can take to have a big impact on your yoga journey. So let us know in the comments below if you have any questions we can answer. We hope to see you in the studio soon!