To truly understand what sun salutation yoga is, there are two things you need to become familiar with: the physical practice and the spiritual one.
As with any series of yoga poses, sun salutation yoga is both a great way to stretch and tone muscle, but also has a deeper spiritual side to it. What you get out of each yoga session is down to you. Whether you want to see it as just an excellent way to kickstart your day, or as a way to deepen your spiritual connection with the world around you. Or both, the choice is yours.
Given that it’s a multi-faceted definition, we’ll spend some time talking about both the physical practice and the poses involved as well as the Hindu mythology that inspires the sun salutations positions.
First we’ll dive into the spiritual element of sun salutation yoga, and then we’ll take an in-depth look at how to do sun salutation, and the physical side of the practice.
The first thing you should know about sun salutation yoga, is that it is also known as ‘Surya Namaskar’. This Sanskrit name loosely translates to ‘I bow my head in gratitude for that which illuminates the earth’.
This of course is open to interpretation, but the main thing most people take from this is that the yoga series is dedicated to the sun. Even if you’ve never had any deep spiritual thought about nature or the sun, you will surely be able to relate to the warming sensation from the sun that can feel like a hug just when you need it. Or the majesty of a sunrise as it begins to illuminate everything around you.
If you can connect to any kind of gratitude or appreciation for the sun’s rays or the light it provides, then that’s a start. To begin with, you can use this gratitude as fuel for your practice.
To get the most out of the practice, some people like to do it in alignment with the sunrise first thing in the morning. This way as you open your body up in the arms raised position (the second pose in the series) it’s as if you are opening yourself up to receive the sun’s warm embrace. This can feel empowering, and for many it gives them that extra boost of energy they need to kickstart their day.
As for the tradition of sun salutation yoga, in times gone by it was a practice that Hindus adhered to at the time of morning prayer. It can be seen as a sort of dynamic movement-based form of worship. But it also served the purpose of warming up the body and preparing the mind for the day head. While meditation is what most of us think of when we hear the word ‘mindfulness’, yoga is like an active form of staying present and calming the mind.
When it comes to the physical element of the sun salutation yoga series, there are a few things you need to know.
First, the series comprises 12 poses, although there are variations of this and some people will cite a different number.
The second is that sun salutation benefits are numerous. The practice is excellent for providing an energy boost, improving flexibility, and working on your breath.
Lastly, sun salutation yoga is a series of poses that is usually completed several times across rounds. While it’s common in san salutation for beginners to do two to four rounds, the more experienced yoga practitioner may do as many as twelve rounds in a single session.
Sun salutations yoga is often thought of as one of the best yoga series for beginners, and as one of the best for starting your day. So if you’re looking for way to boost your morning energy level to start your day right, regardless of whether or not you have previous yoga experience, this is the series for you.
Each pose in the series can be modified easily to become more or less difficult, so you can tailor each session how you feel in the moment.
You can also mix things up depending on what your fitness goals are. If you want to develop and tone your muscles then you can spend more time in each pose, and focus on engaging the relevant muscles to get the best out of them. Or, if your main goal is to lose weight, you might find that going through the series of poses quicker can make it a solid cardio workout to do first thing in the morning.
To give you a clear idea of what to expect in a series of sun salutation yoga, we’re now going to take a look at each pose in the series and provide an overview for each one. Notice that certain poses are repeated, and some poses are modified versions of others in the series.
The main thing to keep in mind as you look at the poses and try them out for yourself is that your breathing should remain consistent throughout, and (ideally) each pose should flow into the next one.
The prayer pose (Pranamasana) is the first in the sun salutation series, and it’s simple enough.
To perform this pose, stand with your feet together and your palms together as if you were in prayer.
The raised arms pose (Hasta Uttanasana) is just how it sounds.
With your feet still planted together, raise your hands over your head and do your best to bend backwards as much as possible while reaching back.
Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward bend (Hasta Padasana) is a pose that anyone who has done yoga before will be familiar with.
This pose requires you to bring your hands from the ceiling to the ground, while bending at the hips.
The low lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana) is an excellent stretch for the legs and hips, and is the first pose in the series on the ground.
With one foot forward, shoot your other leg back and sit into your hips until you feel the stretch. The toes of your back foot can either be curled or flat, depending on what feels most comfortable to you.
Plank (Dandasana) is exactly what it sounds like.
To get into the plank from a low lunge, simply move your front leg to the back until it is parallel with your rear leg.
With both palms firmly planted, try to even out your back until you feel like a straight line could be drawn from your heels to your head. Don’t let your butt sag in this position, and try to engage your core muscles to keep your abdomen elevated.
Knee-Chest-Chin (Ashtanga Namaskara) is self-explanatory, as it requires your knees, chest, and chin to be in contact with your yoga mat.
This pose requires you to lower your knees to the ground from plank pose, push your weight back with your hips, and then slide forward until your chest and chin are touching the ground.
Cobra pose (bhujangasana) will have you looking like a serpent ready to strike.
To slither into this position, slide forward and raise your chin and chest until you are looking up towards the ceiling. You can bend the elbows to make this pose easier.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) is the one yoga pose that just about everyone who doesn’t do yoga knows about.
As such, you should have a clear image of what it looks like in your mind even if you’ve never set foot on a yoga mat before.
To get into this pose from cobra, use your feet to push your hips high into the air and shift your weight backwards until your hands are stretched out in front of your head and you are looking at your feet.
The first repeat pose of the series, this second low lunge is an excellent opportunity to work further in your hips and stretch them out now that they are limbered up.
Standing Forward Bend
The second standing forward bend, this one should feel more fluid, since you have been moving your body and stretching out your stiff limbs.
A good way to look at the second raised arms pose in the sun salutation series is as a triumphant pose.
Imagine you’ve just won Olympic gold and you raise your hands in pure ecstasy. Just remember to bend backwards once you’re done soaking up the imaginary win.
Mountain (tadasana) is a modified version of prayer pose, and a great way to cap off the session.
Standing with your feet together, let your arms rest by your sides and breathe deeply.
To ensure you are standing with perfect posture, try to roll your shoulder back and have your palms facing forward.
This is one of the best yoga poses you can do throughout the day, whenever you need a moment to ground your energy and gain a moment of mental clarity.