Rise with Sun Salutations: The How and Why of Saluting the Sun With Yoga

By Laura Waite,

For Active.com

Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara, is a series of postures performed in a single, graceful flow. This short practice is powerful and energizing, and is a great way to warm up and awaken the body. It can be a complete practice in itself or can be used in preparation for a longer asana (posture) practice.

Typically you do sun salutations in sets of five, flowing through the sequence linking each breath with a movement. You inhale as you extend or stretch and exhale as you fold or contract. Alternately stretching the spine backward and forward improves the strength and flexibility of the muscles and spinal column.

The practice of sun salutations helps build internal heat that oxygenates the blood, strengthens the heart and builds digestive fire. Pairing movement with breath helps calm the nerves, increase endurance and boost your immune system. Your muscles, joints and ligaments become stronger and your posture, flexibility and balance can improve. Sun salutations energize and rejuvenate the body while relaxing the mind. Stress, tension and anxiety are calmed through this focused, rhythmic practice.

Traditionally, sun salutations are performed at dawn facing the rising sun. The sun is the primary source of light and light is a symbol across many cultures for self-illumination.

By practicing sun salutations, you enhance your mind-body awareness discovering the present state of your mind and what parts of your body are blocked, strained or asleep. The practice empowers you to steady the mind and open the body. There are many variations of sun salutations depending on the style of yoga you practice; here is a traditional Surya Namaskara A sequence to get you started. Practice at sunrise or when you awaken in the morning on an empty stomach. You can start with three to five and build up as your strength and endurance increases.

Physical Benefits of Sun Salutation

  • Improves posture.
  • Tones abdomen and glutes.
  • Strengthens thighs, knees and ankles.
  • Stretches the abdomen.
  • Stretches the hamstrings, calves and hips.
  • Stretches the front torso.
  • Strengthens the back.
  • Strengthens the arms, wrists and spine.
  • Stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and armpits.
  • Stretches the arches and hands.
  • Energizes the body.

Surya Namaskara A: Sun Salutation Sequence

  1. Mountain Pose: Begin standing tall with feet together, heels slightly apart and hands alongside your torso. Breathe slowly and steadily.
  2. Upward Hand Pose: Inhale, lift your arms overhead pressing your palms together and drawing the shoulders down.
  3. Standing Forward Bend: Exhale, fold forward from the hips, hallow the belly and lengthen through the front of the torso as you draw your head toward your knees. Bring your hands down to the floor by feet.
  4. Half Standing Forward Bend: Inhale, lift your chest and head, gazing ahead and extending the spine.
  5. Plank Pose: Exhale and step your feet back, bringing your torso parallel to the floor. Hands are flat, shoulder-distance apart. Feet are hip-distance apart. Lift your thighs and reach back through the legs. Reach your head forward and gaze softly towards the floor. Lengthen through the spine.
  6. Staff Pose: Continue exhaling down; slowly lower your torso and legs a few inches above the floor. Keep your elbows aligned over the wrists and your legs activated. Keep your chest slightly lifted and shoulder blades pulled back. Elbows remain close to the torso, head is straight. Gaze forward slightly on the floor.
  7. Upward Dog: Inhale; press into the hands, lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor. Tip your head back, gazing upward. Lift your chest and drop your shoulders down and back. Relax the glutes.
  8. Downward Dog: Exhale; spread your fingers and turn your toes under. Pressing the floor away, lift from your belly and raise your knees away from the floor, bringing your hips toward the sky. Draw the tailbone down and spread the shoulders wide. Release your head down, gazing between the thighs. Stay in pose for five breath cycles.
  9. Half Standing Forward Bend: Inhale; gaze between your hands and step your feet forward to standing. Feet are together and heels slightly apart, hands remain on the floor. Lift your chest and head and extend your spine as you continue to inhale.
  10. Standing Forward Bend: Exhale; forward fold and draw your chest toward your legs. Lengthen through the front torso and stretch the back of your legs.
  11. Upward Hand Pose: Inhale back up to a standing position with arms overhead. Reach through the fingertips.
  12. Mountain Pose: Exhale your hands in front of your heart with palms pressing together. Stand tall with shoulders down.

Repeat sequence four to nine more times or practice for 15 to 30 minutes a day.

Laura Waite is a certified massage therapist and yoga teacher at Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala in Dana Point, California.

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