Ever wondered why yogis practice a yoga sun salutation? Maybe you love to watch the sunrise or sunset over the hills but don't connect it to yoga. Wherever in the world, you are today the sun is the one constant every day. Giving thanks and appreciation to the sun and all it provides can strengthen our connection to the world around us. Let's find out more about the meaning of and the beautiful benefits of yoga sun salutations.
What do the yoga sun salutations signify?
Sun salutation or Surya Namaskar (translated to bow to the beautiful light) is a sequence of yoga postures designed to show gratitude and respect to the sun. For centuries many civilisations have created symbolism, meanings and rituals connected to the sun. The yearly cycle of the sun was believed to symbolise the life of all beings. The birth date of the sun being 3 days after the winter solstice, as the sun starts to grow and the days get longer again. This symbol of life is also observed in traditions that believe the sun is immortality and is reborn every morning to restore life again. Whether you like to attach symbolism or simple science to the rising sun you can be sure that its appearance signifies the start of a new day and is the one constant we can rely on in times of uncertainty and change.
What are the benefits of yoga sun salutations?
The physical postures of a yoga sun salutation are combined with synchronised breathing to maximise the benefits of the sequence. Traditionally the practice is combined with mantras for each position, syllables or phrases that evoke sounds and vibrations. Although not always included in the more modern sequence, the names of the sun they call are beautiful; friend, shining, beautiful light, brilliant, who moves in the sky, the giver of strength, golden centred, lord of the dawn, beneficient, energy and leading to enlightenment.
Surya Namaskar yoga sun salutation is traditionally practiced in the morning and facing the sun but can be performed at any time of the day. Synchronised breath and movement can create a sense of meditation when performed at a slow pace. A high paced yoga sun salutation has been shown to meet the criteria for moderate to vigorous-intensity activity (1). The benefit of regularly practicing yoga sun salutations over a period of months can even result in the conditioning of the cardiorespiratory system (2). The continuous repetitive movement creates warmth and energy in the body and makes the practice ideal on its own or as part of a longer yoga sequence.
What are the components of a yoga sun salutation?
Two distinct types and many variants of sun salutation exist; Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B. Variants allow you to change the practice to suit your level as a student. Each round of a Surya Namaskar A includes 12 yoga postures repeated on both sides with a balance of backbends and forward bends synchronised with each inhalation and exhalation. The 12 postures completed with the right foot leading is a half-round and the second half-round with the left foot leading.
1. Mountain pose - tadasana with anjali mudra
Stand grounded on your mat with your feet hip-width distance apart. Place your hands together in a prayer position (anjali mudra) in front of your heart space. Close your eyes, focus on your breath and take a moment to connect to yourself and the sun.
2. Upward salute - urdhva hastasana
Inhale and take your arms out to the side and overhead in a wide arch to reach the sky. Keep your gaze ahead or if comfortable look upwards and allow your head to drop back gently.
3. Standing forward fold - uttanasana
Exhale and release your arms to fold forward at the hips. Keep a soft bend in your knees to release pressure from your back. Touch your fingertips to the floor or rest on your shins.
4. High lunge -alanasana
Inhale and step your right foot back into a high lunge. Keep your front knee directly over your ankle and press into both feet to stabilise the pose. With your fingertips on the floor gently gaze straight ahead.
5. Downward facing dog - adho mukha svanasana
Keep your hands in the same position, exhale and step your left foot back to meet your right foot. Ground evenly through your palms and feet as you reach your hips and pelvis up to the sky. Keep a soft bend in your knees if you have tight hamstrings.