As we enter a new season here in south Florida (when the snowbirds fly north avoiding our extreme heat), we transition from short days of winter to long, bright days of summer known as summer solstice. The summer solstice occurs when one of the earth’s poles has its maximum tilt towards the sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the summer solstice is when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky and is the day with the longest period of daylight.

So, why is this day so symbolic to the yoga community? What does saluting the sun mean and what are the benefits of sun salutations?

We know that the sun is the giver of life. It’s what makes the world go around. A sun salutation, Surya Namaskar (in Sanskrit), is an opportunity to give thanks to this bright, beautiful ball in the sky for all it does for all living things and our planet. The sun is the world’s number one source of light. For thousands of years, Hindus have thought of the sun as being sacred as it is the heart of our physical and spiritual world. It’s no coincidence that most sun salutations begin and end with our hands at our heart center. Sun salutations are not just about the spiritual. They also have a lot of physical benefits. As powerful yoga poses have an impact on the heart, liver, intestines, stomach, chest, throat and legs, it is pretty much a whole body workout. A sun salutation will also purify the blood by improving circulation to all the major organs throughout the body, ensure proper functioning of the stomach, bowels and nerve centre. You will also of course find that muscles are strengthened in a sun salutation, particularly in the arms and waist, as many of you will know from doing those challenging chaturangas.

During this year’s summer solstice, I was able to experience the sun from a whole new view point. I took a trip of a lifetime and spent 10 days in Israel. While in this historic and gorgeous country, as our sun shined brighter than ever, I saw it in a whole new light (pun intended 😉). On the 3rd day, while staying at a kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee, I led a yoga class to a group of individuals who I met 3 days ago at the airport. More than half of them had never practiced yoga before yet showed up on top of this hill overlooking the mountains and the stunning body of water just beneath us. The sun was beating down on our skin allowing us to build heat rapidly through our salutations. My students may not agree, but I felt as though the practice flew by and I found myself in tears of gratitude having led my first yoga class overseas.

It wouldn’t be long before my emotions flooded me again. (I actually cried a lot on this trip)

3 days later I had to dig deep into my yoga and meditation practice more than I ever have in my life. After spending the night in the middle of the dessert in a Bedouin tent, we got up before the sun to ascend Masada. Masada is a giant fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea that shows the sunRISE like you’ve never seen it before. Most people can’t wait to experience this but I was not one of them. I was terrified. Recently I’ve developed a fear of heights and the idea of hiking to the top of this mountain did not excite me. I actually was looking for ways to get out of it but really wanted to conquer all my fears on this trip. From the very first step all the way to the top of the fortress, I meditated. It was what I would consider a moving meditation but I inhaled and exhaled all the way there, conscious of my breath and my body and didn’t allow the fears and anxieties that I had created get the best of me. I got to the top and immediately began to cry. The first thing I did was call my dad. It was 5am in Israel and 10pm the night before in Florida. I caught him just before he went to sleep but I wanted him to know I did it. The second thing I did was watch this bright, beautiful ball RISE above the clouds. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. In that moment I was saluting the sun, the giver of life. I kept coming back to my breath, which is also a crucial part of life. Two things that are constant; breath and the sun. Both giving us life.
Whether you have a yoga practice or not, here at RISE31 we have created a space and a community that is inviting to all. Come salute the sun with us and Rise about your fears. If I can do it, you can too.