7 Rituals to Turn Your Sun Salutations Into a Moving Meditation

Want a juicier, more meaningful flow? Shiva Rea sets you up with add-on rituals steeped in tradition.

Photo: Primipil/Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Standard Sun Salutations as we know them in a modern practice are anything but basic. Yet it is possible to take them to next-level bliss. Here, Shiva Rea shares seven rituals, including some practiced by yogis nearly 3,500 years ago, that will transform your Surya Namaskar into meaningful movement meditations. To begin, simply turn your body and your mat to face the sun, and then…

1. Set your drishti

“Wherever you send your awareness, there is greater circulation and presence. So, gaze from the back of your eyes to the sun in your heart. Try it: Pay attention to the backs of your eyes and then look inwardly to your heart; you may feel a corresponding somatic sensation. When you gaze into the heart’s center, it facilitates a more loving, more devoted, and more open feeling. You are also redistributing all the excess thought waves generated throughout the day. You don’t have to monitor inner or outer thoughts during your practice—this is a place you can land.”

2. Start your invocation

“Come into Hasta Mudra (hands out in front of you with both palms open) before bringing the hands together at the heart. You can make this into a ritual by turning your hands down toward the earth as if emptying the cup, letting go of the details of everyday life, and taking one breath or five. All along you are listening with your whole body and offering your full attention, awareness, and heart presence.”

3. Cultivate your sense of awe

“Vital health is linked to spiritual realizations, an awakening of universal awe that doesn’t belong to any one religion. Perhaps for several breaths, or as your hands are in Hasta Mudra, contemplate the sun. It’s something that helps me. Isn’t it incredible that I’m receiving this photon of light that takes about 8 minutes to get here from the surface of the sun? Isn’t it amazing that we have this fireball that we’ve barely begun to use for renewal energy?

4. Dedicate your practice

“In the ancient tradition of linking sun mantras to health and vitality, just hearing the solar mantras was helpful for the elderly or anyone who was sick and couldn’t come to the temple. So, before Namaskar you can dedicate your practice to anyone who has any kind of health challenge—or to your own health. If you are modifying [asana in your practice], that helps you remain respectful.”

5. Add pranayama and mantras as you begin moving

“Krishnamacharya’s Surya Namaskar teachings included breath retention and mantra. Inhale into the movement and pause, adding the Kumbhaka [breath retention] and feeling the vital energy of the sun. Then exhale through your next movement as you say your mantra. Pause for the Kumbhaka after the exhale, and begin the process again. For the mantra you can chant aloud or even think Om or Om suryaya namaha.”

6. Shift into bhava

“The idea is to cultivate the bhava state, this feeling in your heart of wholeness. The sun gives us circulation, growth, and evolution. Embody the qualities of the sun, such as the feelings of radiance, vitality, humble confidence, luminosity, vision, clarity, empowerment, and fearlessness. Or it can be an emotion, such as compassion or tenderness, that is mounting for you in that moment. You decide. When people are under stress, if they focus on gratitude, you can see their brainwaves and heart rhythms come into a syncopated state pretty quickly. That’s all part of bhava, circulating the healing inside of you through your heart, which you can do through movement.”

7. Harness the light

“Literally embody the sun as you extend your arms in that wide circle above your head, and then as you flow down. Our heart generates an electromagnetic field that surrounds the body and is often felt literally as an inner heat—and that’s why the world traditions predominately view the heart as a semi-sun quality.”

Inspired to learn more?
Join Shiva Rea’s six-week Master Class to go deeper in your Sun Salutations and integrate the benefits of meditation in your practice. Sign up now!

You Can Do This 15-Minute Yoga Flow Anytime, Anywhere

Ah the hour-long yoga class. It’s quite luxurious, isn’t it? But let’s be frank—some days, it seems impossible to carve out a large chunk of time for your practice. If you ever feel this way (and who hasn’t?) know this: even a few minutes of movement can make a huge difference in how you approach … Continued