Sun Salutations are yoga sequences with a rich history that have vast benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. It is a great practice for warming up the body and is usually performed at the beginning of a yoga class.
The combination of yoga asanas creates a balance of strength and flexibility in all major muscle groups, making it a great stand-alone practice.
If you have been to a yoga class you will have most likely come across this fundamental series of poses. It is one of the first things you learn as you start your yoga journey.
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned practitioner, it is worth spending time learning and perfecting these poses for their numerous benefits of sun salutations.
Read on to learn about:
- What are sun salutations?
- History of sun salutations
- 4 Physical and Physiological benefits of sun salutations
- 4 Mental health and other benefits
- How to start your own practice?
What are sun salutations?
The traditional Sun Salutation includes 12 postures linked together and synchronized with the breath to create a flow of movement. It is often practiced one breath per asana using a technique called ujjayi pranayama.
There are many variations of this sequence that include different combinations of poses. Sun Salutation A is one of the most popular versions and is great for beginners. Sun salutation B contains a longer flow of poses and is a bit more challenging.
It is recommended to do 6, 12, or 24 repetitions but it is up to the practitioner to find their own ideal practice.
History of sun salutations
The name Sūryanamaskāra has its roots in the Sanskrit words, Surya, “Sun” and Namaskara, “Salute”. There is uncertainty surrounding the exact origins of this practice but it is believed to date at least 2,500 years back.In the past, sun salutations were practiced ritualistically as a dedication to the Hindu deity associated with the sun (Surya).
An ancient text called the Vedas (10th to 12th century BCE) contains evidence of prayers and rituals dedicated to the worship of Surya. These included the original forms of the sun salutations which were devotional prostrations practiced whilst reciting a mantra (Sanskrit prayer).
The modern version of this practice was developed by Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century, the founder of the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga. This became the foundation for variations of sun salutations across Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, and other yoga schools.
4 Physical and Physiological Benefits of sun salutations
Surya Namaskara is a simple sequence of poses that has a multitude of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
It is designed to strengthen, align and invigorate the whole body whilst helping the practitioner to enter a meditative state. Just a few rounds a day are enough to improve overall health and well-being.
#1: Increases muscle strength and flexibility
These asanas are ideal for increasing strength and length in the muscular body. Particularly good for toning the muscles of the legs, abs, shoulders, chest, and arms.
A study showed that regular practice of sun salutations improves muscle strength and general body endurance.
With regularity, you can also expect an increase in flexibility in the whole back, upper body, and back of the legs. You will likely notice a big difference in particular muscle groups such as the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons.
These exercises are also great for improving spinal alignment and reversing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Forward bends and back bends are great for releasing tension and lengthening the spine.
#2: Improves joint mobility
Whilst flexibility involves the lengthening of muscles, mobility is about how far the joints can move. Sun salutations help extend the range of motion that happens around the joint.
They are great for increasing joint mobility in the entire spine and all major joints in the body. Keeping your joints in a healthy condition will help prevent injuries and stiffness.
#3: Increases circulation and energy levels
When you practice sun salutations first thing in the morning you feel incredibly energized and refreshed. These movements help increase blood circulation, warm up the body, and get your cardiovascular system going.
Additionally, this flow helps loosen up the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds organs and muscles.
The fibers of this connective matrix tend to become sticky and thick overnight causing a feeling of stiffness in the morning. With yoga, the fascia begins to release making one’s body feel free and invigorated.
#4: Stimulates metabolism and supports weight loss
Practicing this sequence is a great cardiovascular workout that can help burn some calories, increase muscle mass, and boost metabolism. An increase in lean mass leads to a quicker metabolism which makes it easier to lose weight.
It is important to note that pace, intensity, and regularity of practice will have an impact on the effectiveness of weight loss.
4 Mental health and other benefits of sun salutations:
#1: Destress and find inner peace
Flowing through the movements with breath awareness can help shed the effects of stress and anxiety.
It is like a form of moving meditation, simply surrendering to the current of the breath and asanas. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces stress hormones and leads to feelings of deep relaxation.
Scientific data supports the many psychological benefits that can be experienced with this practice. A study examining the effects of practicing sun salutations every morning for two weeks on college students showed that they were more physically relaxed, at ease, and rested compared to those that didn’t practice.
It was also found that people had less stress, worry, and negative emotions.
#2: Enter a meditative state
Sitting still in meditation is a challenge for most, but moving dynamically in a sequence can really help develop one-pointedness of mind.
When one practices Surya Namaskara the aim is to focus the mind on the breath, as a result, the mind quiets from the constant stream of thoughts.
The repetitive rhythm of the movements and deep breathing anchors one back to the present moment.
#3: Develop discipline and focus
Clearing the mind and taking a step away from daily tasks can help to create a more relaxed state of mind. This, in turn, improves mental clarity and focus after practicing.
Most people tend to feel more grounded, centered, and ready to take on the challenges of the day ahead.
Additionally, choosing to perform sun salutations requires discipline and shows dedication to improving one’s physical and mental state.
#4: Practice gratefulness
Yoga can be used as a doorway into the more spiritual side of oneself. Surya Namaskara was originally performed to honor the sun, a great metaphor for dispelling our inner darkness and inviting light into our lives.
You can view your yoga practice as a gesture of gratitude and a way of honoring yourself. Focusing on the good can create a more positive and balanced outlook on life. This is an enriching practice that is spiritually uplifting and inspiring.
How to start your own practice?
Surya Namaskar is great as a warm-up, a full-body practice, or a simple morning routine. It is the perfect sequence for starting your own home practice.
The best time to do this is first thing in the morning but it can also be practiced in the evening for anyone looking to unwind and relax. It can be a nourishing self-care ritual that can leave you feeling uplifted, revitalized, and joyful.
The poses can be adapted to suit different bodies and abilities, making it an accessible practice for all levels. It is important to perform the poses correctly with good alignment, especially if you are a beginner.
Take your time, go slowly, and always listen to your body. Even though there are plenty of online resources, it is always best to learn from a teacher to ensure a safe, injury-free practice.
But it’s not just getting the moves right that’s important. Linking the poses with mindful breathing is essential to gain the full benefit of the practice.
This will have a big effect on calming your nervous system and helping you enter a meditative state. One breath per movement is how the series is normally performed but this can be adjusted if needed.
A good place to start is with a few rounds in the morning working up to 6 or 12 a day. Even if there is no time for a full yoga session, a few sun salutations a day will still be of great benefit to overall health and well-being.
Take a look at this article for detailed instructions on how to do Sun Salutation A.
Sun salutations are dynamic sequences that have many benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. The combination of movement, breathwork, and meditation provides the perfect medicine for the pressures of modern life.
For just a few minutes a day, you can enjoy the benefits of sun salutations, flowing at your own pace and choosing from a range of accessible variations.
If you want a more in-depth understanding of the physical, energetic, and spiritual sides of the practice I would recommend checking out the book “Surya Namaskara: A Technique of Solar Vitalization” by Saraswati Satyananda Swami.