Sun salutations, known in Sanskrit as surya namaskara, include a number of beneficial yoga asanas which you can flow through during home practice every morning. They are a well-rounded set of poses which open the body, elongate the breath and support your day so that it’s the best it can possibly be. Here are eight health benefits of surya namaskara, the yogic salute to the sun. (Read more in Wake Up and Salute the Sun.)

Sun Salutes Open Your Pranic Body

When you flow through the various yoga poses of the sun salutations in the wee hours of the morning, you are opening your energetic pathways after lying in bed all night. This sets a positive tone for your day. Your body, mind and spirit need opening each morning, and a regular sun salutation practice is the perfect way to get your prana flowing.

Opening Your Heart With Surya Namaskara

Sun salutations have multiple backbending poses within them, and anytime you move your body into a backbend, you’re in the process of opening your heart. Every time you physically open that heart space, you’re also peeling away layers of blockages that might be restricting heartfelt expression.

To truly live and express yourself from an openhearted place and to experience your life with an open heart, practice surya namaskara each and every morning. (Read more in Integrating Feelings of the Heart.)

Improve Cardiovascular Support

Sun salutations are a great way to support your cardiovascular system because they link the breath to movement. If you do them at a fairly rapid pace, they can really get your heart pumping - and that’s always a good thing if you want to upgrade your cardiovascular health. Try picking up the pace a bit when you move through your next set of sun salutations. Perhaps, set a timer on your phone and move continuously through the asanas for 20-30 minutes. This is an incredibly effective cardio workout for the day.

Increase Spinal Flexibility

Yogis believe that one of the keys to a long life is a really flexible spine. Sun salutations work to elongate and move the spine so that it remains malleable and limber. During a sun salutation, you move fluidly through standing in mountain pose, downward-facing dog and cobra pose, working the spine in beneficial ways. The next time you flow through your morning sun salutations, consider bringing your attention to your spine as you move. Anytime you place attention on a particular body part, you’re bringing more life and energy to that area. (Learn more in The Power of Vinyasa.)

Surya Namaskara as a Gratitude Practice

Sun salutations were born out of deep reverence for the sun, that great ball of fire that warms us, makes plants grow and makes all of nature flourish. The yogis created the sun salutation to pay homage to the sun each morning at sunrise. In doing so, they were practicing gratitude. Whenever you move through your sun salutations, you’re also practicing gratitude, whether you realize it or not. And now you do! Gratitude is a great thing to practice when you’re feeling low or depressed. Moving through sun salutations brings your awareness into this state of gratitude, which is infinitely healthy for your body, mind and spirit.

Focus Your Mind

Sun salutations can be thought of as tools for the mind. They get you focused and on the right track, especially first thing in the morning. When you attune your breath to your movement, you’re bringing your attention into the present moment, which supports clarity of mind and present-moment awareness. These are really essential characteristics to have if you want to evolve on the yogic path.

So, set an intention to discipline your mind before jumping into your daily set of sun salutes. It’s a powerful practice for mental strength and fortitude. You'll also want to sit in meditation when you're finished moving through your salutations. This will take your mental training to the next level. Sitting in meditation is actually an advanced practice, and sun salutations will help you get there. (Learn How to Start Meditating.)

Decrease Anxiety With Sun Salutations

Sun salutations are infinitely relaxing. Try moving through a half hour of continuous sun salutations and watch just how relaxed you progressively become. One way to do this is to check in with your body and breath before you begin your sun salutations. Then pay attention to the tension in your body as it melts away. Notice how your inhalations and exhalations become longer when you link each movement to each inhalation or exhalation. Then, after you’ve finished 15, 20 or even 30 minutes of sun salutes, check in with your body and breath once more. You'll notice how much more relaxed you feel now that you’ve worked your body and mind. (Learn more in Discovering Your Mind Through a Body Scan Meditation.)

Oxygenate Your Cells

As you increase the length of your inhalations and exhalations, you are bringing an increased supply of oxygen to your cells. Increased oxygenation of your cells is believed to prevent fatal diseases like cancer. It also improves lung health the body’s ability to detox. Because of this, statistics show that cancer patients are now increasingly considering oxygen therapy. When we increase our blood oxygen levels, we're fighting free radicals, which also helps cognitive function. This means our mind will function better as we age. Therefore, sun salutations can actually slow the aging process of the mind.

Sun salutations are a potent way to increase your health and boost longevity. The more regular your practice, the better. So, take to your yoga mat each morning and pay homage to the sun and your body. You'll be doing yourselves and those around you a world of good.