HISTORY OF PROSTRATIONS/SUN SALUTATIONS
Prostrations are at least three thousand years old, but the exact origin is unknown. Prostrations have been used in most, if not all systems of yoga for many centuries. The modern day “Sun Salutation” finds its roots by way of Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya the guru of Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois were using prostrations in their yoga routines in the 1930s, but changed the form to the modern day Sun Salutation. It comes to the modern world through Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and integrates the familiar danda (“stick”) movements (updog, downdog, plank and chaturanga). Krishnamacharya learned these dandas from Indian wrestling and taught them to Jois and others. Jois made them world-famous through his international teaching of Ashtanaga Vinyasa yoga, which began in 1975 with a teaching trip to Encinitas, California.
In Tibetan, the word prostration is translated as chak tsal. Chak means to “sweep away” harmful actions and obscurations. Tsal means we receive the blessings of an enlightened body, speech and mind. This practice dissolves all impurities, regardless of their kind, because they were all accumulated through our body, speech, and mind. Prostrations purify on all three levels.
To advanced tantric practitioners, prostrations help us work our subtle bodies—”energy-wind body” as it’s sometimes translated. The energy of the subtle body—known variously as Chi, Prana, Winds—is visualized in this practice.
Prostrations work on pride and ego. In fact the main preliminary practice focused on cutting the ego is prostrations. Motivation is the key to a proper salutation. Importantly, we set our motivation “to benefit all sentient beings.” Without the motivation, the practice is purely physical. When we set the motivation, it becomes a Mahayana Buddhist practice, focused on Bodhichitta—on kindness and regard for all sentient beings. The benefits then become as wide and expansive as the collective of sentient beings. When we do the practice using our body, speech, and mind, we offer our energy to others wishing that it brings them happiness. We should be happy about this fact and do prostrations with joy.”
How to Prostrate
The body aspect of the practice is purely physical, involving the whole body, and pressing the entire body flat to the ground at the lowest point, in full contact with the earth. The speech aspect is normally the mantra (OM AH HUNG) we chant as we prostrate (mentally, or aloud). The mind aspect involves visualizing yourself prostrating fully and diminishing the power of the negative afflictions over the mind.