The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara (SOOR-yuh nah-muh-SKAR-uh), is a sequence of extension and flexion postures practiced in a particular order that enhance strength and flexibility of every major muscle group while also building heat in the body. A Sun Salutation Series lubricates the joints, massages the internal organs and stimulates blood flow. It can also improve mental and emotional balance and stability. Sun Salutations are often used as warm-up sequences for a deeper yoga practice or other activity.
Each movement is coordinated with your breath. As you breathe through the nose, inhale as you extend, and exhale as you bend. Nostril breathing filters and warms air for optimal oxygen exchange. Breathing through the nose also accesses the lower lobes of the lungs. This is where maximum oxygen exchange happens. Deep nostril breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which moderates the heart rate, calms the body, and establishes an experience of comfort, even while being engaged in dynamic activity. When we inhale through the mouth, we access the upper portion of the lungs which activates the sympathetic nervous system, (which is “fight or flight” survival response,) increases the heart rate, and stimulates the adrenals. The body becomes agitated and overstimulated, leading to depletion. This is why we breathe deeply through the nose during standing postures, accumulating balanced energy and efficiency in action.
The poses included in a Sun Salutation make up a “vinyasa,” which is a sequence of movements. Sun Salutations vary between traditions, but include many of the same basic components. The sequence presented below is often referred to as Sun Salutation C (Surya Namaskara C). Make sure you are breathing through your nose when you practice, as it helps to warm the air entering your body. Breathing through your nose also helps to calm your mind, making your practice meditative. If you’re having trouble breathing, slow down and be gentler with your movements. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
1. Standing Mountain Pose — Tadasana
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Press your palms together in prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum and take several breaths.
2. Upward Salute — Urdhva Hastasana
Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and overhead. Gently arch your back and gaze toward the sky.
3. Standing Forward Fold — Uttanasana
Half Standing Forward Fold — Ardha Uttanasana
Exhale as you fold forward from the hips leading with the heart. Bend your knees if necessary. Rest your hands beside your feet or grab your elbows with the opposite hands.
Inhale as you lift your torso halfway, lengthening your spine forward so your back is flat. Your torso should be parallel to the floor. Keep your fingertips on the floor, or bring them to your shins. Reach forward through the crown of the head and draw the shoulders away from the ears.
4. Lunge, Right Leg Back
Exhale as you step your right foot back. Keep your fingertips and left heel on the ground. Reach back through your right heel. Beginners can place the right knee on the ground.
5. Plank Pose — Kumbhakasana
Inhale as you step your left foot back, coming into Plank Pose (also known as High Push-Up Pose). Spread your fingers and align your wrists directly under your shoulders. Your feet should be hip-distance apart. Draw back through your heels and lengthen your spine.
6. Knees, Chest, and Chin Pose — Ashtanga Pranam
Exhale as you lower your knees to the floor, keeping your elbows tucked in toward your sides. Keeping your hips lifted off the floor and palms flat, bring your chest and chin to the floor. Place your chest between your hands.
7. Cobra Pose — Bhujangasana
Inhale as you draw your chest forward, keeping your hands underneath your shoulders. Extend your legs along the floor and un-tuck your toes. Draw your shoulders back and lift your chest slightly. Keep your lower ribs on the floor.
8. Downward-Facing Dog Pose — Adho Mukha Svanasana
Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes placing the soles of your feet on the floor. Your heels do not need to touch the ground. Ground down through your hands and soles of your feet as you lengthen your spine. Lift your belly and sit bones to the sky. Stay here for five breaths. On your last exhalation, bend your knees and look between your hands.
9. Lunge, Right Leg Forward
Inhale as you step your right foot between your hands, coming into a lunge on the opposite side. Keep your fingertips and right heel on the ground. Reach back through your left heel. Beginners can place the left knee on the ground.
10. Standing Forward Fold — Uttanasana
Exhale as you step your left foot forward, coming back into the Forward Fold. Bend your knees if necessary. Rest your hands beside your feet and bring your nose to your knees.
11. Upward Salute — Urdhva Hastasana
Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and extend up once again. Gently arch your back and gaze toward the sky.
12. Mountain Pose — Tadasana
Exhale as you come back into Mountain Pose. Bring your hands into prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum. Repeat the sequence, stepping back with your left foot first this time.
Warm It Up
Use several rounds of Sun Salutations to warm up the body. Sun Salutations can be used in the beginning of a home practice before delving deeper.
You can also take a break in your day and do some Sun Salutations for a quick energy boost!
As you gain strength and flexibility, your practice will continually progress over time.
Sun Salutation Series C
About Hope Knosher, E-RYT500 Hope is a passionate yoga teacher, writer, breast cancer survivor, and healthy living coach who found her voice and her strength through her practice. Overcoming breast cancer 7 years ago, Hope turned to yoga to help her heal. After her practice lifted her mentally, physically and emotionally she experienced a heartfelt calling to share the healing qualities of yoga with others. She founded Hope’s Yoga and began sharing her experiences and her passion for yoga and healthy living through teaching, writing and speaking. Hope loves inspiring and empowering others to live a more joyful and connected life and to be more of who they truly are. Through sharing the practices of yoga, mindfulness, and healthy living she helps others reduce chronic stress, increase awareness, compassion, and mindfulness; while strengthening body and mind. Hope’s writing is featured by MindBodyGreen, Lucy Activewear, Mantra Magazine, Natural Awakenings, The Wellness Universe, as well as her own blog. Hope’s Yoga has been named Best Of Atlanta by Atlanta Magazine and Hope has been named one of Atlanta’s Over 40 and Fabulous by Best Self Magazine. Connect with Hope at www.hopesyoga.com for more information including her full schedule, retreat calendar; or to schedule corporate or private classes and speaking engagements.