The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar, is a set of poses you can practice as a way to physically demonstrate gratitude. Where that gratitude is focused is really up to you. While it traditionally means being grateful for having another day on earth, and serves as a salute to the sun high above, you can also recognize and appreciate any other aspect of your life. Every series of poses that you perform in Sun Salutation can give you a spiritual boost and inspire your soul as you acknowledge everything for which you are truly grateful.
Besides showing gratitude, there is a second component to the Sun Salutation and it's the physical benefits that your body can enjoy when you perform this sequence of poses. These benefits are numerous: you can do a Sun Salutation in just about any style of yoga you prefer to practice; you can increase your strength and flexibility when you perform a sequence; and it's an ideal way to start a class or private practice because it builds heat in the body. Think of a Sun Salutation as a preliminary method for warming up and getting ready for the challenges of the day's practice.
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Why Should You Do Sun Salutation?
One of the best reasons for doing a Sun Salutation is to keep your practice active and consistent. We all live active lifestyles, and despite our commitment to our practice, there are days when we can't get to that class because we just don't have the time. Think of a Sun Salutation as a way to do yoga when everything else in your life is taking you in other directions.
Even a little bit of yoga is infinitely better for you over the long-term than letting a day go by without doing a single pose at all. You can finish a handful of Sun Salutations in the span of just fifteen minutes and that's enough time to stay committed to your practice.
But there are more good reasons for doing Sun Salutations on a routine basis:
There's no better way to start the day than showing gratitude for a new day with a Sun Salutation. Performing a sequence before you do anything else will not only get you in the proper mindset, but it can quicken your heart rate, increase circulation, and clear away any blockages preventing good, vital energy from coursing through your system. The lungs, the muscles, and your joints will all benefit as well.
Better Flexibility and Greater Strength
We all want to feel fit and healthy, and yoga provides the body with all of the advantages necessary to become stronger and more flexible. Sun Salutation offers these benefits and more as the poses incorporated in common sequences can work to open up the shoulders and chest, the hamstrings, and the spine.
Speaking of the spine, routine Sun Salutations are excellent for releasing tension in your spine. This is a key area of your body and contributes to the flexibility and range of movement that you're seeking to improve from yoga. Since a Sun Salutation is about motion, an emphasis is placed on preserving the health of the joints in your arms, legs, shoulders, and wrists.
Focus on Breathwork
There are many different sequences that exist for doing Sun Salutations. Each one consists of a number of different postures that strung together. Your breathing plays a critical role during any Sun Salutation sequence as you are meant to follow your breath as you move from one asana to the next. Each breath brings the body and the mind together increasing your capacity for meditation and reflection.
Emphasis on Being Centered and Present
When we are able to reflect on the moment, we are able to give thanks and show gratitude. Don't think about how you got to that moment or even which round you're on in that particular Sun Salutation. Just remain centered and present in the now, staying connected through your breath and bringing that gratitude into your heart. Be grateful about yourself and who you are right now.
How To Do Sun Salutations
You have roughly twenty-four possible variants of Sun Salutation asana sequences to choose from as you perform your rounds. But the two variations that you will find in most classes for all skill levels are Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B. You can perform several rounds of each as you please, switching it up from one to the other and increasing or decreasing your repetitions depending on how much you feel like doing at any given opportunity.
Here are the asanas associated with each of the two most popular sequence orders and remember your breathing as you move from one pose to the next. Your breaths correspond to each movement, inhale as you lengthen or extend the body, exhale as you bend or contract the body or core.
Sun Salutation A
Begin with mountain pose, move your hands up over your head and bend backward slightly. From there, transition to standing forward fold and place your hands in front of you on the floor. Slowly move into a half-standing forward bend, head facing forward, positioned on your fingertips. After that, fold back to your mat with the palms placed flat on the surface. Move one foot back into a low lunge position, followed by moving the other foot back so you are in a plank position.
Drop down into chaturanga, followed by cobra or upward-facing dog before you lift the hips up and backward as you perform downward dog. Go into a low lunge with one leg forward followed by the other foot and bring up into standing forward fold. Come back into a standing backbend and return finally to mountain pose.
Sun Salutation B
Start this variation with the same four asanas – mountain pose, hands above the head with a slight backbend, followed by a standing forward fold with hands on your mat and into a half-standing forward bend with your head facing front. Place your hands flat on your mat.
From here, things get a little different. You'll bring both feet backwards into plank pose and then lower your body into chaturanga. Lift up into cobra or upward-facing dog and transition into downward facing dog. Now you'll bring your right foot to the front of your mat into Warrior 1 pose. After that, place your palms back on your mat as you return to plank, then lower into chaturanga. Then, lift back to cobra or upward-facing dog and then come back and lift up to downward dog.
This may all seem familiar by now as you bring your LEFT foot forward for Warrior 1. Place your palms back on your mat and step backwards to go back into plank yet again. Drop down to chaturanga, lift back up into cobra or upward-facing dog and then transition into downward dog. Bring both feet back to the front of your mat and finish the sequence in mountain pose.
Can Sun Salutations Help with Weight Loss?
They sure can! Even as your strength and flexibility are increased, your weight can be decreased. That's because Sun Salutations bring up the heart rate for a challenging cardio workout. The pace of your movements from one pose to the next can help to burn calories, losing fat and gaining muscle mass in the bargain.
Best of all, consistent practice of Sun Salutations can actually encourage you to exercise more. It can take a lot for someone to get up and get going, but just one round of asanas can put you in the mood to work out and break a sweat.
Expressing your appreciation for the sun and the start of a new day can inspire you to respect who you are and how far you've come. No matter what style of yoga you practice most often, there is definitely a Sun Salutation variant to go along with it. Even two to four rounds of your favorite sequence can prepare you to take on anything the day may bring.
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