Sun Salutations Are All You Need

On The Origins And Benefits Of Sun Salutations

Sun salutations (Surya Namaskara) are an essential part of Yoga practice.  Carefully designed by master Yogis, sun salutations comprise a series of key Yoga postures that are guided by the breath.  In combination, sun salutations deliver a multitude of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical benefits.  But getting them right is very important.

What Are Sun Salutation?

Sun salutations comprise a series of 12 physical postures performed in alignment with the breath.  They include a variety of forward and backwards bends which stretch the spinal column and massage, and tone and stimulate vital organs through alternately flexing the body forward and backward, guided by the breath.  In summary, the poses are:

  1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
  2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
  3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
  4. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)
  5. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
  6. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) or Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
  7. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
  8. Feet to Hands (Transition)
  9. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)
  10. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
  11. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
  12. Tadasana Mountain (Pose)

Sun Salutations In Summary

The following Infographic provides an overview of the key Yoga poses that form part of Sun Salutations.  The essential transition poses – that is movements that lead from one Yoga pose to the next – are not included.

However, a good starting point is to just start practicing the key poses and exploring ways of connecting them together – taking into account whatever you know or feel your limitations are.

Please refer to our post on common Yoga pose mistakes to quickly learn about how to get these key poses right and avoid the risk of any injuries.

Sun Salutations Infographic

On the Origins of Sun Salutations

Interestingly, the origins of Surya Namaskar lie not so much in the actual performance of physical postures.  Rather, they include practicing a sequence of special sacred words:

The Vedic tradition, which predates classical yoga by several thousands of years, honored the sun as a symbol of the Divine. According to Ganesh Mohan, a Vedic and yoga scholar and teacher in Chennai, India, Vedic mantras to honor the sun were traditionally chanted at sunrise. The full practice includes 132 passages and takes more than an hour to recite. After each passage, the practitioner performs a full prostration, laying his body face-down on the ground in the direction of the sun in an expression of devotion. (1)

Christopher Key Chapple is a professor of Indic science and comparative theology at Loyola Marymount University in Chapple.  Based on his reading of ancient Vedic traditions, he interprets Surya Namaskar effectively as sacred prayer to the sun:

As we sweep our arms up and bow forward, we honor the earth, the heavens, and all of life in between that is nourished by the breath cycle,” he says. “As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth. As we rise up from the earth, we stretch through the atmosphere once more, reaching for the sky.  As we bring our hands together in Namaste, we gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath, acknowledging that our body forms the center point between heaven and earth. (1)

Emotional Benefits of Sun Salutations

The ancient Rishis of India contended that different parts of the body are governed by different Devas (divine impulses or divine light).  In particular, the solar plexus which is located behind the navel and forming the center of the body is said to be connected with the Sun. As a result, the regular practice of Surya Namaskar enhances the solar plexus and thus one’s creativity and intuitive abilities.

All our emotions get stored in the solar plexus, and it is also the point from where one’s gut feelings arise. The size of the solar plexus is said to like the size of a small gooseberry. However, for those who do yoga and meditation, it becomes much bigger – almost three to four times bigger than the normal size. The more expanded your solar plexus, the greater is your mental stability and your intuition.

– Sri Ravi Shankar (3)

Physical Benefits

More physically speaking, regular practice of Surya Namaskar delivers many benefits for the body.  It achieves this by by straightening and lengthening the back, arms and legs, building core strength, boosting inner organs and simply building personal fitness.

Even 10 minutes of  sun salutations performed twice per day, plus 5 minutes of relaxation, will provide significant benefits. (4)

Practice Sun Salutations on YouTube

Video demonstration by Adriene of YogawithAdriene.