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What is a Sun Salutation?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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The sun salutation is a series of yoga poses designed to help warm up the body and increase flexibility of the muscles. Its Hindu name, Surya Namaskar, translates as “to adore the sun.” In yoga philosophy, sun salutation is a way of honoring the sun and bringing its power into your heart.

Although sun salutation is a gentle series, pregnant women, people with hernias and those with acute back problems should consult a doctor before trying it. However, like many yoga poses, sun salutation is often used in physical therapy, to help increase spinal flexibility after injury. Experts also recommend it as a means of stress relief and relaxation. Some yoga instructors suggest doing the poses at least twice a day, to greet the sun in the morning and to bid it farewell at night. Following this practice will warm you up for the day ahead and relax your body before bedtime.

The goal of sun salutation is to move between each pose with grace and balance, remaining conscious of your breath the entire time. To increase flexibility, you should pause for a few breaths in each pose, trying to stretch deeper with each exhalation. Make sure as you move from pose to pose, that you inhale and exhale deeply.

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If you wish to better understand how the poses should look, several websites offer video or cartoon demonstrations of the movements. Many yoga DVDs and classes also use sun salutation as part of their routine, but if you only have a few minutes in the day, some experts recommend sun salutation as the best series you can do for your body. If you have never done yoga before, it's a good idea to take a class with a knowledgeable teacher, so you learn the poses in correct form. Most teachers can suggest modifications to the poses if you lack flexibility or are recovering from injury.

There are several different versions of the exercise, compromising of 8-15 yoga poses called asanas. Most feature twelve steps, but different practices have some variations. However, the basic steps in all versions are similar to one another and are as follows:

1. Begin with feet together and hands palm-to-palm over your heart.
2. Take a deep breath in and lift your arms over your head, bending backwards slightly.
3. Exhale as you bend all the way forward, resting your hands on your feet or the floor.
4. Place your hands on the floor, bending your knees if necessary, and step backwards with one foot into a deep lunge. Lift your head up.
5. Exhale as you bring the other foot back, lifting your hips up toward the sky and straightening arms and legs so your body forms an upside-down V.
6. Lower your body until you are at the top of a pushup, then continue lowering until your knees, chest and forehead all rest on the ground.
7. As you inhale, arch your back as you straighten your arms.
8. Lower your head and push your hips back up into the upside-down V.
9. Pull one foot between your hands into a deep lunge.
10. Bring your back foot up to join your front foot and straighten your legs.
11. Inhale as you raise your arms up over your head, straightening your body.
12. Bring hands palm to palm in front of your heart.

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Discuss this Article

truthunter
Post 4

Sun salutation? To adore the sun? Just more evidence that yoga is a religion (hinduism). Even the muslims realize that it is a religion.

serenesurface
Post 3

I've been doing yoga for some time now. I don't think that it's a good idea for beginners to start out with so many surya namaskars in one day. My yoga instructors have always said the same.

I started out with one per day for one week. Then increased to two surya namaskars the next week, then three and so forth. Rather than doing many every once in a while, it's much better to do two or three per day and every day. I think that taking the time to do it everyday is really important to get the long term benefits like improved strength and stamina. So please don't overdo the sun salutation yoga. Take it slow and increase incrementally.

bear78
Post 2

I was told that there are specific mantras for the sun salutation. Are there any benefits of the mantras?

I got a hold of a 13 line mantra. It says to say one mantra for one sun salutation. But that means I will have to do 13 sun salutations each with 12 yoga positions! That's a little too much for me. Also when exactly am I supposed to say them? After each salutation is over?

I would like to follow up my sun salutation with something like meditation so that I can relax more. The mantras may be a good idea, but I need to know more about how to say them during the salutation. Can any yogis comment?

candyquilt
Post 1

I had attended yoga sessions in college but then did not do yoga for several years. Recently I bought a yoga DVD to get back into it and watched the sun salutation poses. I realized that I had done these poses many times before in my yoga sessions. They are some basic movements but I think that they make up the core of yoga. I have a bad back that causes problems once or twice every year. But I am able to do these movements without having an problems or feeling any pain. Yoga in general is so beneficial for people like me because it makes the muscles stronger. I have trouble doing some of the more complicated and difficult poses though. So I am doing the sun salutation poses for now. I feel much more flexible afterward and I've noticed that I stand straighter too. It's great, I highly recommend it.

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