Below are 8 versions of the 1st Vinyasa (position) of the Sun Salute. Where I couldn't find a picture of the yogi/teacher themselves, I chose a picture of a student under the direct guidance of the teacher.
To begin with, let's discuss what is the same in all of these postures. Feet are together, legs straight, arms lifted overhead. All of them are taught on the inhale. Most have the palms together pointing straight up, with the head tilted back to some degree looking up.
4 of these yogis represent the Ashtanga Vinyasa tradition: Pattabhi Jois, the founder, Gregor Maehle, David Swenson and Kino MacGregor. Their postures are very similar, coming from the same source: Pattabhi Jois. Both PJ and KM have their heads thrown back, while GM and DS have a more subtle tilt to the head.
Notable differences in execution of this posture come from Dharma Mittra and Srivatsa Ramaswami.
Dharma Mittra has arms apart, hands facing forward. Instead of reaching straight up, he stretches backward, making this posture a moderate backward bend. Both Rodney Yee and Baron Baptiste also have a bit of a backward bend, though their hands are joined together.
Srivatsa Ramaswami has fingers interlaced and palms turned upwards, opening the shoulders. Arms are stretched backward past vertical, and the chin is tucked to the chest.
I have never been a fan of the Sun Salute, Surya Namaskara (blasphemy, I know!), what many consider to be a foundational element to modern yoga. I have never felt particularly comfortable or profound when practicing it, even when I could execute it proficiently. I have always felt like it was a bit athletic, an idea that was reinforced when I read that it was an exercise in the early 1900s practiced by wrestlers and adopted later by yogis (Yoga Body by Mark Singleton). It seems more like a wrestling exercise than a yogic one.
It doesn't help that my tradition, Ghosh, doesn't really incorporate the Sun Salute. So I have never practiced it with much devotion, and I have never been taught it with any precision or inspiration. I have practiced it thousands of times, been guided through it (with questionable guidance) on many occasions, but still can't find its resonance.
It's hard to deny that the Sun Salute is an important part of modern yoga. As far as I know, it dates to Krishnamacharya in the 1930s, trickling down to us (alongside the idea of vinyasa) through his students Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar and Desikachar. Now it is the backbone of every "power flow" class that draws its inspiration from Jois' Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (AVY), and that is most of them.
I am curious about it now, though. My respect for Krishnamacharya's teachings has grown tremendously in the past year, and I am beginning to see great depth in Jois' system of AVY. So there must be something to this Sun Salute thing.
I am going to study Krishnamacharya's writings and descriptions of the purpose and execution of the Sun Salute alongside the writings of Pattabhi Jois and some of his senior students (namely Gregor Maehle, Richard Freeman, David Swenson and Kino MacGregor). I will also look into Iyengar's writings and Desikachar's. Same for Srivatsa Ramaswami, one of Krishnamacharya's longest standing students. I will post my findings and comparisons, trying to shake out the source and purpose of this commonplace exercise.
Oh, and I will practice Sun Salutes with devotion as I try to understand them.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga