What Is a Salute to the Sun?

Nicole Etolen

The yoga salute to the sun, also called the sun salutation or Surya Namaskar, is series of 12 yoga poses, performed in one fluid motion, that are designed to stretch the whole body and detoxify the organs. It is typically the first set of poses done at the start of a yoga session. Different instructors or practitioners may use different variations on the poses, but salute to the sun primarily consists of 12 core poses.

The sun salutation begins with the mountain pose.
The sun salutation begins with the mountain pose.

The 12-pose exercise begin with the mountain pose, in which the practitioner stands straight, feet hip-width apart, and hands together at chest level with the elbows bent. In a fluid movement, she sways back with hands up over her head, then down to a head-to-knees position. Sliding from that position, she thrusts her left foot back in a lunge, brings the other foot back, and supports her body on her hands and feet in a plank. She then lowers herself to the floor in the stick pose. From the stick pose, she pushes up on her elbows and arches backward as far as she can without straining her back in the upward dog, then stretches her back into the upward dog pose before cycle back through the poses from lunge to mountain.

The sun salutation is usually the first pose done at the start of a yoga session.
The sun salutation is usually the first pose done at the start of a yoga session.

The entire cycle of poses is repeated, with the lunge focusing on the opposite side the second time. During the series, the yoga practitioner inhales during each extending or stretching pose and exhales during each pose that requires folding or contracting. Proper breathing is the key to getting the most benefit from the salute to the sun pose, as the exercise is designed to deliver oxygen to the vital organs.

The salute to the sun series of poses helps stretch the body and prepares it for more intense yoga poses. Yoga in general has several health benefits, including stress reduction and the potential for improved heart rate and blood pressure. It also increases flexibility, balance, muscle strength, and range of motion. The salute to the sun may also help improve digestion, relieve constipation, and strengthen the abdominal muscles.

Those with certain conditions should not perform the salute to the sun poses without talking to a physician first. This includes people with hernias and those suffering from back conditions. Pregnant women should not perform the poses after the first trimester, and women who are menstruating are advised to avoid the salute to the sun. It is typically advised to speak to a physician before beginning any new type of exercise program, especially for those with preexisting medical conditions.

Some yoga practitioners prefer to do sun salutes in a class, while others opt for a more solitary practice space.
Some yoga practitioners prefer to do sun salutes in a class, while others opt for a more solitary practice space.

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