If you read Part I of How To Develop Your Personal Yoga Practice, you’ll remember you were promised an introduction to Surya Namaskara—Sun Salutations. And here it is!
What are Sun Salutations?
Sun salutations are a sequence of postures and connecting movements which, when practiced together, make up a complete strengthening and stretching routine. Traditionally, sun salutes are at the beginning of a physical yoga practice. They warm up and stretch the muscles, and prepare the body for intensive energetic and meditative work.
There are two kinds of surya namaskar—simply titled surya namaskara A and surya namaskara B. The second round builds on the first by adding Warrior postures (or lunges, in the modified version) for a progression in physical intensity.
Because of the intention of preparing for work and drawing the physical and energetic bodies into a suitable state for practice, the postures and movements within the sun salutations are designed to stretch and strengthen all major muscle groups.
So when you’re in the process of building your own home practice, learning your sun salutes is invaluable. If you do just 5 surya namaskar A followed by 5 surya namaskara B, and finish with savasana (Corpse Pose) you’ll have given yourself a complete practice—in around 15 minutes. It’s the perfect place to start.
When it comes to developing your personal practice, the benefits of nailing your sun salutations are huge. The sequence gives you the opportunity to hone your proprioception and your skills in movement.
You’ll get to grips with the rhythm of a yoga flow and with the potential for progression within your own body. And you’ll come to understand your current limitations, which will both help you know when you need to modify postures to suit your body, and give you a clear idea of the areas you want to improve in your physical practice.
Increase strength and muscle tone in the upper body, core and legs
Improve physical endurance
Improve flexibility in the hamstrings; hips; shoulders; the superficial back line muscles; and the superficial front line muscles
Teach you how to move with the breath, and use the breath to support you through postures and movements
- Balance muscle work on both sides of the body
The matter of the breath is particularly important. Conscious and effective use of the breath is a crucial part of any yoga practice. And with sun salutations, each movement takes place in harmony with the breath. It can take a little time to really embody an understanding of this—but when it clicks into place, it feels a little bit magical!
The sun salutation sequences are ideal for learning how to move with the breath because the transitions and postures are simple, and you can move slowly to give yourself time to experience the difference between working in spite of the breath, and working with the breath.
The Breakdown: How It's Done
Surya namaskara A (Sun salutation A) is made up of the following postures:
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Surya namaskara B consists of the same postures but with the additions of Warrior I or High Lunge.
The best way to learn your sun salutations at home is by making use of the resources available to you online, and finding a high-quality instructional video to help you learn the ropes. We recommend Esther Eckhart’s simple guide to Surya Namaskara A and B—as well as this video, which will teach you how to safely modify each element of the sequence to suit your individual body.
Make sure you have a yoga mat, or suitably non-slip surface to practice on. Find a free 15-20 minutes in your day, and enjoy taking the time to get to know your body.
In Part III of this series, we’ll look at how you can use just a few simple postures as a starting place to develop a deep and exploratory physical practice at home—without having to have a big library of yoga postures stored in your head!