Please do not fall afoul of the logical fallacy termed false dichotomy / false dilemma. This is when one thinks the answer can only be A (salat=follow divine laws closely) or B (ritual prayer), i.e. only 2 options, when in reality there can be other options. Most often, the truth lies in the middle of the extremes, the wasat.
Consider this, when the prophet received revelation, he was tasked with spreading the message, thus would have no doubt held public oratory sessions to inform believers/others of the scripture. This in Quran is the regular/timed salat, a minimum of twice daily, at morning/dawn and dusk/evening (the two most prominent and easily distinguishable times for people to congregate together).
It is our bond with God, through His revelation. Following closely the divine commands (i.e. application) is inextricably linked to understanding/learning what the divine commandments are. The two go hand in hand.
And lastly, sawm means abstinence, context will determine abstain from what.