Surya Namaskar (or the Sun Salute) made its way into yoga in the mid 1930s. For the decade prior it had developed into an increasingly popular form of exercise that supposedly stretched and strengthened every muscle and joint in the body - a perfect exercise.
The exercise was refined and popularized by Bhavanarao Pant Pratinidhi in the 1920s. He wrote a book about it in 1928 called Surya Namaskars (Sun Adoration) for Health, Efficiency and Longevity (1). The picture above is from his book, with Pratinidhi himself demonstrating the series of positions. They were done always in movement, synchronized with the breath, never held in static asana style. This was exercise.
In 1938, Pratinidhi wrote another short book called The Ten-Point Way to Health, which again gave a central role to Surya Namaskar. The drawings of the sequence from that book are pictured above, numbered 1-10. Notice that position #4 is different from the earlier version. In the original the position takes the form of a push-up or plank. In the later book it looks more like position #7, like the asana Downward-Facing Dog.
This was the period when Surya Namaskar began to bleed together with yoga asana practice, especially in Mysore where Krishnamacharya was teaching. In the early 30s Krishnamacharya was teaching yoga, and a separate teacher was leading a Physical Instruction Class where the students practiced Surya Namaskar (2). Not until later did the two practices get conflated.
Nowadays there is a lot of discussion about what is an "authentic" Surya Namaskar and whose is right. As different teachers developed their own systems of physical yoga, they often developed a unique Surya Namaskar.
Take the Ashtanga Vinyasa system that has two separate Surya Namaskars, neither of which are exactly like Pratinidhi's, but turned into something a little more athletic. Pattabhi Jois either learned these from Krishnamacharya or developed them on his own.
In the Ghosh Lineage, the Surya Namaskar incorporates a few more intermediate movements and a push-up, pictured above in Dr. PS Das's Yoga Panacea. The sequence has 15 (or 16) positions instead of the original 10 (3).
WHICH LEG STEPS?
In any version of Surya Namaskar where one leg steps back and then forward (as opposed to a jump-back with both legs simultaneously), the question often arises, "Which leg steps back? And do you then step forward with the same leg or the other?"
In all 3 of the sequences pictured above, the backward step and the forward step leave the same leg bent. For example, stepping back with the right leg (as pictured in Dr. Das's) straightens the right leg (pictured left, #5). Then, on the second page, the step forward occurs with the left leg, again leaving the right leg straight (pictured right, #6). Many practitioners choose to switch legs on the step forward to even out the legs.
But if we look at Pratinidhi's original sequence at the very top, he does the same thing with his step-back and step-forward. In his case, the left leg is straight both times. But he clearly instructs that Surya Namaskar is to be done many times, and the legs alternate with each repetition. So one only runs into the problem if practicing Surya Namaskar once.
1. Goldberg, Elliot, The Path of Modern Yoga, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 2016, p.189-207.
2. Goldberg, Elliot, The Path of Modern Yoga, 2016, p.214.
3. Das, Dr. PS, Yoga Panacea, Indian Publishing House, Kolkata, 2004, p.78-79.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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