“People of every class were bringing the Surya Namaskara described in the yoga shastra into practice. This they did with the feeling that they were performing a righteous action which was a daily duty, for they knew the blessings of the Sun God are essential to good health.” -Pattabhi Jois
I’ve started reading Yoga Mala (Pattabhi Jois, of course) and also realized the fall equinox is coming up on Tuesday, which is one of the four times a year yogis are instructed to perform the auspicious number of 108 sun salutations. I can’t seem to find any information why 108 is considered a sacred number, it’s also the number of prayer beads on a Japa Mala (Mala means garland and Japa means prayer or recitation of mantras). As I’ve been doing my sun salutations every morning, I’m getting more comfortable with the breath, and I’ve decided I should level up and add drishti and bandha and do the whole practice with a little more traditional intention.
It apparently was also a common saying that one should desire health from the sun (Arogyam bhaskarad icchet). Pattabhi Jois says, “The practice of surya namaskara has come down to us from the long distant past, and is capable of rendering human life heavenly and blissful. By means of it, people can become joyous, experience happiness and contentment, and avoid succumbing to old age and death.” Sun salutations: 5 stars, two thumbs up. Highly recommended.
In Yoga Mala, PJ specifies sun salutations must be completed with inhalation, exhalation, meditation, drishti, and bandhas in order to be true sun salutations, as opposed to just exercise (Iyengar makes a similar distinction, comparing yoga without breath to simple gymnastics).
“Therefore, people who practice yoga and the surya namaskara will not fall victim to maladies of any type. Hence, aspirants should engage in their practice and leave behind all fear and doubt.” Pattabhi Joi believed the sun salutations could cure literally anything, from mental illness to leprosy.
To simply the drishtis (I’ve written entire posts about all the many drishtis), you can start by looking up on inhales and looking down on exhales. That’s where I’m going to start, just to get back in the rhythm of things. There are three bandhas, and I’m only going to start with engaging uddhiyana bandha (lifting on inhales, locking on exhales). I was previously doing 5 Sun A’s and 5 Sun C’s, but since Sun C is not a traditional practice (but it feels awfully good for us runners with our hip flexor problems), I’m going to add 5 Sun B’s to make the practice official.
To close, I’ll leave you with Pattabhi Jois’s final words in the chapter on sun salutations, as I go to practice myself: “For those who practice asanas, the Surya Namaskara must be performed first and then followed by the asanas. This is the rule. Those who follow this rule will receive whatever they desire.”