The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a basic movement sequence in Vinyasa yoga.

Prasana---sunrise-sun-salutation-yoga-water-beachIt became central to our modern practice in the early 20th century; however, it is rooted further back in time than our contemporary yoga of the body.

New research by Chris Tompkins discovered the series of movements in the Tantra tradition (450–1200 CE). His work shows that as early as 100 CE, a small Proto-Tantric sect called the Pasupats had transformed Surya Namaskar into a practice that circumambulated a linga (phallus), representing both the Shiva and the sun.

The Pasupats incorporated linked poses inspired by the sacred dance tradition described in the c. 100 commentary on the Indian arts called the Natya Shastra. The Pasupat Sutra commentary that reveals this information was known to Krishnamacharya, the father of our modern Sun Salutation tradition.

Apparently, the ensuing Tantra tradition built on work of the Pasupats, further transforming an orthodox Vedic technology that had been in use for centuries. Tantra integrated Surya Namaskar into a larger cycle of everyday rituals performed by householder initiates.

We find variant chants for Surya Namaskar in the books called Vedas (c. 1500 BCE). Daily sun worship was meant to fortify the body and mind for a householder’s affairs du jour but not to take one to moksha or liberation, like the later yoga traditions first initiated in the Upanishads.

How Surya Namaskar was re-integrated into Hatha yoga in the early 20th century is told in Mark Singleton’s revolutionary book on modern yoga history, Yoga Body (2010). He tells us that, in the mid-1930s, “Suryanamaskar was not yet considered a part of yogasana.”

This essay presents divergent information.

Classic Surya Namaskar is a rite of sun worship. It includes 12 points of prostration, each with its own pose and complex mantra connected to the 12 houses (or dasas) of the sun.