What are Sun Salutations and Why do we Practice them?
Surya Namaskar - Sun Salutation, is a sequence of 12 asanas performed in salutation to the Sun ('Surya'), and this is why it is often practiced at sunrise. The Sanskrit word 'namaskar' stems from 'namas', which means "to bow to" or "to adore." The Lord Sun is blessing us daily. He gives us so much nutrients, light and love.
"When I practice Surya Namakar my heart is full of gratitude and appreciation, and I practice with a smile on my face"
At the heart of any vinyasa flow, the Surya namaskar practice has many benefits. It serves as a full body workout, massaging all organs, strengthening the muscles and bones, increasing flexibility and strength. It involves movement of all the limbs, it gets the heart rate up and is excellent for the cardiovascular system. It massages all the internal organs and it is good for your digestion and endocrine system too.
However, it is much more than just a workout.
Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the hands in prayer position - Anjali Mudra. The practice honors the Lord Sun, praying that he blesses us, cleanses our intellect and psychic bodies. The sun is our primary source of light, energy and life. Practicing Surya Namaskar in the morning, facing the sun, allows the energy of the sun to be absorbed, charging and purifying the solar plexus and the entire nadi system. The prana, or energy, created in the body during the practice is detoxifying and moves stuck emotions. It is also a very grounding practice.
If you can’t see the sun when practicing, use your creative imagination and visualise the sun ahead of you. Imagine with each inhalation you are drawing in the sun rays which heals every cell in your body, rejuvenating you from head to toe.
How to Practice Sun Salutations - Surya Namaskar
While practicing, employ deep, conscious ‘ujjayi breath’ (ocean breath) so your breath moves with each movement. The more you align your breath with each asana, the easier it will flow.
The description of how to do sun salutations are below.
Step 1: Prayer Pose (Pranamasana):
Begin the Surya Namaskar practice with the Prayer pose. Stand upright, preferably on a yoga mat or flat surface, with feet closely aligned with each other, with your toe joints touching if possible. As you inhale, raise your arms and as you exhale, fold your hands in prayer position before your heart. It is the first namaskar towards the sun - Pratham Namaskar.
Step 2: Raised Arms Pose (Hastottanasana):
From the prayer position breathe in gently and deeply lifting your arms up, keeping your ears in line with your arms and lean slightly backward. Try to stretch your whole body upwards to loosen up the entire body.
Step 3: Standing Forward Bend (Hasta Padasana):
As you exhale slowly and completely, bend forward at the hip and bring your arms downwards towards the floor. Place the hands beside your feet, legs straight and spine erect. If your hands do not touch the floor, bend your knees slightly keeping the chest as close to your thighs as possible with your neck and head relaxed.
The pose strengthens the back, abdominal muscles, and nervous system.
Step 4: Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana):
As you inhale, extend your left leg behind along the midline of your mat as far as possible. Fold your right knee and draw it inwards towards the right part of the chest. Keep your hands grounded on the floor. Lengthen through your spine as you lift through your sternum and chin. Look forward and keep your neck in line with your spine.
This posture increases flexibility in the legs and massages internal organs.
Step 5: Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana):
As you exhale slowly, stretch your right leg behind and bring your body into a straight line. Keep your body parallel to the floor. Activate and squeeze the abdominal muscles as you push your heels away from you.
This pose tones the wrists, legs, arms and abdomen.
Step 6: Salute with Eight parts (Ashtanga Namaskar):
Holding the breath, slowly bring your knees to the floor, rest your chin, chest, hands, feet on the ground and raise your hips and abdomen high.
This asana strengthens the arms, hands and tones the abdomen.
Step 7: Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana):
As you breathe in, press your palms into the mat and lift your chest and head off the ground. Relax your shoulders down as you tuck your elbows to the side of your body. Rotate your shoulder blades away from the ears and arch your neck slightly backward. Gaze in an upward direction.
It is a perfect pose to treat a headache and a backache.
Step 8: Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana):
As you exhale transition into the downward dog from Bhujangasana by elevating your hips, aiming the heels towards the ground, and making an inverted-V shape with your body. Keep the shoulders away from your ears. Lengthen your spine as you push your sitting bones away from you.
This pose strengthens the whole body and relieves back tension.
Step 9: Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana):
Turn into the equestrian pose from adho mukha svanasana. Repeat the step (4) again but with the opposite side. Inhaling deeply bring your left foot forward and place it between your hands and then rest your left knee and toes on the ground. Look forward, continuing to lengthen your spine.
Step 10: Standing Forward Bend (Hasta Padasana):
As you exhale bring your right foot next to your left foot. Keeping the position of your hands intact with straight legs if you can. Tuck your chin in and relax your neck.
Lift through your sitting bones as your upper body hangs like a rag doll.
Step 11: Raised Arms Pose (Hastottanasana):
Take a deep inhalation, soften your knees, tuck your tailbone under as you lift the body up. Stretch your arms up overhead keeping your ears in line with your arms and slightly arch your back. Try to stretch your body upward instead of backward.
Step 12: Mountain Pose (Tadasana):
Finally, straightening the body, exhale completely and bring your arms down and stand upright in a relaxed manner. Feel the positive vibrations within your body and mind. Experience an unparalleled serenity and refreshment. Repeat starting with the other leg bringing your hands into prayer pose.
Practice 3 rounds first, and work your way up to 12, even 24, and eventually 108! Some yogis practice 108 Sun Salutations on World Yoga Day, or New Year’s Day to celebrate the new year, and for other big life events, such as a birth or a marriage. Most importantly, remember to listen to your body.
Note, the postures are different to Sivananda’s 12 Basic Asanas.
In anticipation of World Yoga Day, I have started a #FACESyogachallenge on my Instagram and Facebook pages where I share practices that help you build your flexibility, agility, confidence, energy and strength as we prepare for 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) on the 21st of June, 2020. It's not too late to join in, so please do!
You can also find a guided Sunrise Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) video on my Practice Online section of my website.
I hope this helps you with your yoga practice. Let me know any thoughts by leaving a comment below.