The Sun Salutation (Sanskrit: Surya Namaskara) is a ritualistic, meditative set of movements often associated with the Hatha Vinyasa style of yoga. The series of roughly nine to twelve asanas or poses is named after the Hindu sun god, Surya.
Sun salutations are often considered a natural part of a yoga practice. However, although the inception of the sun salutation practice is vague, it was not initially thought of as a yoga practice. There is no record of the practice before the 19th century.1 In fact, it appears to be a separate practice altogether practiced in close proximity to a yogasala or a place where yoga is practiced. Due to their commonality in purpose, the practice was absorbed by the vinyasa asana developing at the time.
Modernly, the sun salutation and yoga are considered one and the same.
There are three variations of the sun salutations differentiated as A, B, & C. All slightly vary depending on the traditions therein.2 In this post, we’ll cover the flow of the sun saluations ‘A’.
What is common in all types, is the syncing of the movements with the breath. This is key to unlocking the meditative benefits of the practice. A general rule is that rising is associated with inhaling and lowering is associated with exhaling.
Sun Salutation ‘A’ Flow
The first asana or posture in the flow is Tadasana or Mountain pose. Begin by planting your feet firmly into the earth at the top of the mat. The shoulders rolled back and sternum shining forward, hands at your sides, palms facing forward. Take a deep breath in through your nose and sigh out your mouth.
Beyond this point on, breathe in through your nose and out through your nose in a controlled fashion.
As you gain control of thebreath, inhale your hands and gaze to the sky.
As you inhale the hands and gaze at the sky into Urdhva Hastasana (raised arm pose), make sure you do not extend your shoulders keep them relaxed. The fingers should be spread, a slight arch in the back (only if it is comfortable).
Feel the energy from the feet, through the spine, and out the tips of the fingers as you reach.
Exhale into Hasta Padasana or forward fold, pulling yourself into the stretch. The gaze should be between the legs. If needed, put a slight bend in the knees.
This stretch should be felt especially in the hamstrings and the lower back. But is also felt in the calves, neck, and hips.
Inhale into Ardha Uttanasana or half-standing forward bend, placing your hands on your knees for support if needed. The gaze should come forward (not shown in picture) unless there is a concern with a neck or shoulder injury.
Exhale and plant the hands at the top of the mat, extend your legs towards the rear of the mat into a plank positions. The elbows set to bend towards the rear, not to the sides like a pushup.
The shoulders should be aligned with one another and slightly ahead of your wrists. Your gaze should be at the mat. Slowly lower from a plank position or Chaturanga Dandasana.
This whole series should be one exhale.
Inhale, pushing yourself up into Upward Facing Dog or Urdvah Mukha Svanasana. Press your sternum forward bringing your gaze to the horizon or your neck slightly rounded back towards the spine. The shoulders should be relaxed and not raised to the ears.
Press the tops of your feet into the mat. If it feels right, lift your knees off of the mat.
Pull the shoulder blades together.
Exhale into Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana. Flip your toes pressing the hips to the sky, your body into an inverted V shape, and lengthen your spine. Your gaze between your knees. If it feels right, plant your heels firmly in the mat. Your fingers spread, pressing into the mat.
You’ll feel this stretch in many areas. Most will feel it in the calves, hamstrings, and hips. It should also be felt in the shoulders, back, perhaps the neck, and the arms.
Stay in this resting posture for three breaths. On the third exhale, inhale stepping to the top of your mat.
Inhale stepping to the top of your mat, then exhale into a forward fold. The hands at the back of your calves or ar your ankles pulling yourself into the stretch.
Slightly bend the knees, inhale in a reverse swan dive. Slowly and mindfully roll the vertebrae up to a straight spine reaching towards the sky.
Exhale your hands back to the heart center standing tall with your shoulders back and your sternum pressing forward.
There are several benefits of sun salutations. They can increase flexibility, significantly increases heart rate, and maybe more impactful than aerobic exercise at reducing anxiety and stress.5
Aside from stretching the body and increasing blood flow, the sun salutation can connect you with the body. This can create a sense of deep focus and embodiment causing a meditative effect.
As I work towards my initial yoga instructor certification, I recommend meditating for ten minutes prior to beginning this flow. Then, complete the flow five to ten times in a mindful, controlled way.
Let me know your thoughts…