Sun salutations (called Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit) are one of the most well-known yoga sequences and are practised in different variations in many different yoga styles. But what exactly are Sun salutations, and why should you do them?
What are Sun Salutations?
The Sun salutation is a dynamic yoga sequence in which you flow seamlessly from one asana to another as you inhale and exhale. Moving into or out of an asana is always done in conjunction with an inhalation or exhalation. Sun salutations can be carried out at different paces for different purposes:
- Sun salutations carried out at a faster pace (holding each asana for one or two breaths) are great for warming up, getting a cardio workout, and burning calories.
- Sun salutations carried out at a slower pace are good for building muscle strength (because you hold each asana for numerous breaths) and for achieving a state of relaxation.
While Sun salutations are included in almost all styles of yoga classes, usually as the warm-up, they are essential to Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic yoga style where you flow rhythmically from one asana to the next, just like you do with the sun salutation. In Vinyasa yoga, the transitions in the Sun salutation may be carried out as jumps instead of steps, adding to the cardio element of the sequence.
The most simple version of the Sun salutation sequence includes the following asanas:
- Mountain pose or prayer pose
- Upward salute
- Standing forward bend
- Half standing forward bend
- Downward-facing dog pose
- Plank pose
- Four-limbed staff pose
- Cobra or upward-facing dog pose
The Sun salutation starts and ends in mountain (or prayer) pose, and some of the asanas will be repeated towards the end of the sequence.
What are the advantages of doing Sun Salutations?
Sun salutations are great for your overall physical and mental health. One of the reasons why they are so important in most forms of yoga is because they work almost every part of the body.
Here are some of the other reasons why regularly doing Sun salutations is good for you:
- It invigorates the body and increases your energy levels.
- It warms up and strengthens your muscles.
- It increases flexibility.
- It improves your circulation.
- It calms the mind, increases focus, and can help you enter a meditative state.
- It reduces stress levels.
- It helps you feel more balanced, both physically and mentally.
- It can be a great cardio workout if you do it at a relatively fast pace.
When should you do Sun Salutations?
Sun salutations can be practised on their own or as a warm-up sequence for a yoga class.
As the name suggests, Sun salutations were initially done at sunrise, but this is definitely not necessary. While these sequences are a great way to set your intention for the day and boost your energy in the morning, they are also suitable for being carried out at other times of the day. Do you feel sluggish in the afternoon and stiff from sitting at your desk all day? Then doing a few rounds of Sun salutations is a great choice for getting your blood flowing and increasing your energy levels.
How many Sun Salutations should you do?
If you are just starting out, it is a good idea to start with 2 to 3 rounds of the full Sun salutation sequence, and to build up the number of rounds you do per session from there.
In general, 6 to 12 rounds are regarded as sufficient, while the traditional number of rounds, often carried out around the changing of the seasons or around the time of an important personal event such as a wedding, is 108. This is at least partly due to the fact that the number 108 has important spiritual significance. If you want to progress to the point where you are able to do 108 rounds of the Sun salutation in one session, then it is essential that you build up to this number slowly, otherwise you are likely to injure yourself.
What is the best way to learn how to do Sun Salutations?
You can learn how to do Sun salutations at home using an app or online videos, but these can be tricky to follow and you are unlikely to get advice on how to modify the sequences based on your needs.
The easiest way to learn how to do Sun salutations is by attending a yoga class. As we’ve already mentioned, most yoga classes will include the Sun salutations in some form or another. During a class, the instructor may demonstrate or describe the sequences, guide you through the breathing, and give you tips for how you can modify the sequences according to your own needs and capabilities.
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