Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) originated as a series of prostrations to the sun. Traditionally is was practiced at dawn facing the sun as a way of welcoming the new day. This is still a lovely practice in our modern-day life.
This sequence is a vinyasa flow linking the breath with a continuous flow of motion. As a result, practicing Sun Salutations can be physically challenging and also a cardiovascular workout (depending on the intensity of which you choose to practice) or a lovely slow and meditative flow.
Sun Salutations can be practiced ay time and with any frequency. Traditionally, practicing 108 Sun Salutations was reserved for the change of the seasons (Winter and Summer Solstice and the Spring and Fall Equinox). Although completing 108 rounds of Sun Salutations is a vigorous challenge, it is not necessary for our day to day practice. As each student begins to modify a yoga practice to suit their own needs, any number of salutations they choose to explore is a worthy practice.
Typically a round of Sun Salutations will include the following poses (which can be modified and varied as you will see in our Sun Salutation Variations). This is the basic list of poses.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Uttanasana (Forward Bend)
Plank Pose (with knees on or off of the ground)
Upward Dog or Cobra Pose
Downward Facing Dog
The cycle will begin with Tadasana (standing mountain pose). With an inhalation, there is a reaching up to the sky and followed by an exhale and a fold forward / Uttanasana “bowing to the earth”. This will invite a good lengthening and stretch of the backline of the body particularly the hamstrings, calf muscles, and lower back.
With the next inhale, the hands stay on the ground yet the chest is lifted and there is a flattening and lengthening of the spine. Exhale the right foot reaches back towards a lunge position with the knee to the ground in a Low Lunge. In the low lunge, as the inhalation arrives, the arms reach up and then exhale to bring the hands back to the ground and stepping the left leg back to arrive into a plank pose. In the Plank Pose, the knees can remain lifted off of the ground or the knees can come to the ground for extra support. Traditionally, the Salutation moves forward with a Chaturanga Pose (push up position down to the ground), followed by an inhalation up into an Upward Dog or Cobra Pose. This section of the Salutation is often modified depending on the experience and strength of the student.
Moving away from the ground, with an exhalation the body moves up and back into Downward Facing Dog Pose. The body can rest here for a few breaths if you choose. With an inhalation step the right foot forward back into a lunge, followed by the left lifting the pelvis up and into Uttanasana. Inhale up into the flat back and exhale back down again into Uttanasana. Finally with an inhalation, lifting all the way back up into standing Tadasana with the arms reaching high and then down into a prayer position. Usually, this sequence is repeated with the left foot leading, alternating the right and left leg for as many rounds as one feels appropriate at the time.
Variations and modifications with the sequence are encouraged to suit the need of each student. It can be sculpted to be more challenging and invigorating, or a gentle flow by playing with the tempo or the speed of the sequence. Try exploring with the movements in a really slow and deliberate meditative use of the flow. Or, see how it can be sped up to feel the physicality and the stimulating features of the sequence. The Sun Salutation sequence can be a practice in on itself or, it can be incorporated as a warm-up or, before the cooldown sequencing of your practice. It is a wonderful full body practice however, the gift of Sun Salutations comes with the repetition and the seamless flow that eventually comes to the breath and the body in motion. The key is to modify and allow your movements to be appropriate to where you are in your evolving practice.
Have fun exploring this ancient yoga flow!