Stand on your mat with your feet pressed firmly into the earth. Inhale and exhale from deep within your belly. Place your hands at the heart center. Do you feel your body awakening from deep within yet? You're now ready to begin your Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutation.
Why Salute the Sun?
Surya Namaskara, in its many variations, is a fundamental routine and forms the core of nearly every yoga practice. A tradition that originates from the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, Surya Namaskara is typically practiced an hour before the sun rises. It teaches us to worship our largest source of light and life -- the sun -- and has countless benefits for both our minds and our bodies.
Like food, water and shelter, Earth’s largest star is vital to our very existence. Not only does it make the world turn, but we depend on it for warmth, light and vitamin D. The name of Surya Namaskara carries a meaning of humble adoration of light. In practice, we are worshiping our most primitive symbol of life while awakening our own consciousness.
Surya Namaskara A Series
- Samasthiti (Tadasana or Mountain Pose)
- Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog Pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose)
- Transition – feet to hands
- Ardha Uttanasana
- Urdhva Hastasana
To begin Surya Namaskara A, start in samasthiti. Inhale and lift your arms overhead to urdhva hastasana, then exhale while lowering the arms. Fold your body into uttanasana then inhale into ardha uttanasana and exhale as you move through chaturanga dandasana. Then, take a deep nasal breath and transition into urdhva mukha svanasana. Exhale back to adho mukha svanasana. Hop or step your feet to your hands. Inhale, lift your chin and chest, straightening the spine through ardha uttanasana. Exhale and fold forward completely, softening the back. Lift your torso and reach your arms overhead on an inhalation to urdhva hastasana before returning to tadasana.
New yogis may find it helpful to practice each asana in isolation before weaving them together in a more harmonious way. If you’re more experienced, be mindful of the breath and be open to exploring new variations of Surya Namaskara. Between each asana, inhale and exhale deeply to reap the physical benefits. (Here's more on why Conscious Breathing Will Boost Your Yoga Practice.)
The wonderful thing about flowing through Surya Namaskara is that it can be beneficial on its own or as part of a longer practice. Always be mindful of how you feel as you move, starting slowly with five to 10 rounds and building up as your body becomes stronger and more familiar with the postures. Did you know that the traditional Surya Namaskara has 108 rounds? Devote time and consciousness to each movement and turn your awareness inward toward the heart if you require a source of strength. Breathe deeply. Yoga is a practice of patience, concentration, and mental and physical awareness. Always be mindful of this and respect yourself.
Soak in the Sun's Energy
To an inexperienced yogi, Sun Salutations may seem like minimal physical effort is exerted; however, they require a great deal of concentration and strength. Surya Namaskara not only helps us feel more energized, it also improves our circulation throughout the nervous system and vital organs such as the lungs, kidneys, liver and heart. The deep breathing from asana to asana also helps purify our bodies, aids in digestion and balances our mind-body connection. The next time you’re on the mat, bring awareness to your physical self and the benefits of Surya Namaskara. Do you feel more whole, pure and mentally alert? (Learn more about the link between Mind-Body Health and Happiness.)
Harvest the Benefits
One of the most important reasons why we salute the sun is to show gratitude from deep within ourselves. This is, by far, the ultimate way we can exhibit self-respect, give and receive love and reach our full potential. Sun Salutations bring us closer to santosha, or contentment, and urge us to appreciate life as it comes, changes and flows.
After performing a Sun Salutation, do you feel more connected and grounded? Can you find true joy in life regardless of external circumstances? Do you notice how it calms and centers you like the sun shining from above? (Read on in Getting Grounded: What it Means and How to Get It.)