I didn’t fully realize the power of daily sun salutations until I briefly stopped doing them. Wow, what it difference it made. It was like going off coffee. During this time, I began my mornings sluggishly and stressed. Tasks seemed unusually strained as if invisible weights hung from my limbs. Sounds that shouldn’t bother me, like a distant bark of a neighbor’s dog or the aggressive honk of a car at an intersection, irritated me more than they should. What’s more, my sugar cravings crept out as they do when my resolve has lost its footing. After raiding my son’s leftover birthday cake several times throughout the day, I felt bloated, restless, and generally defeated.
Am I getting sick, I wondered? Then, it dawned on me. I had recently abandoned my morning Sun Salute practice to save a little extra time. In an epiphany, I understood why my being had faltered. Something was missing from my life, and it wasn’t another piece of cake. It was, undeniably, the lull in my daily Sun Salute practice.
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What are Sun Salutations?
Surya Namaskara translates to English as Sun Salutation, which is often shortened as Sun Salute. Sun Salutations are a sequence of gracefully linked Asanas that are synchronized with your breath to create an intelligent and graceful flow of movement. The classical sun salutation contains seven asanas, and the other variations of sun salutes contain additional and different poses. Sun Salutations are often used as a warm-up for a more challenging yoga class, but they can be practiced by themselves.
How many Sun Salutation repetitions should you do?
Some yogis suggest at last six repetitions, others twelve, but you will find the magic number for your own practice. Even just a few Surya Namaskaras every day allows your body to move more freely with greater strength, stamina, and flexibility than without them. If your attitude is one of all-or-nothing, it’s easy to put off yoga, or any exercise. On the other hand, when your commitment is to complete a short series of linked poses, like those in Sun Salutes, it can be easier to get motivated, especially in the morning.
The powerful benefits of daily Sun Salutations
Sun Salutations offer a treasure trove of health and wellness benefits, even for a beginner. Though Sun Salutations are comparatively simple, the benefits remain significant. Indeed, just a little bit of stretching and breathing with focused intention has the potential to reset your mind and body for the rest of the day. For example, my own practice of three or four rounds in the mornings uplifts and revitalizes me in ways that few other self-care rituals can. After my daily Sun Salutes, I feel more centered, strong, flexible, grateful, joyful, and balanced. You can also experience similar benefits if you practice a few Sun Salutes on a regular basis.
1. Become centered and grounded
If you’re anything like me, you might wake up groggy, with one foot in dreamland and the other struggling to anchor itself in the reality of your morning. A ritual such as a Surya Namaskara series might help you to gently get grounded in the present moment. As you practice, focus on the connection of the breath with the sensations of the body flowing through each pose of the sequence to be centered and present in each moment. To feel more grounded, pay more attention to the feet and legs in each pose. Try engaging Pada Bandha by pressing evenly through the four corners of the foot, by slightly spreading the toes and engaging the inner arch.
2. Create focus for your day
As you begin your Sun Salutations, it’s helpful to set an intention, even if your practice may be brief. If done regularly, every time you bring yourself into Mountain pose at the front of your mat you will create more focus for your day. The act of surrendering to this intention allows you to begin letting go of control. For me, letting go of control sets the tone for my entire day as one of acceptance and openness. Additionally, when I let go of control, I begin to feel the quiet miracle of my existence. This remembrance of your intention can carry you through your day with grace and acceptance.
3. Gain muscle and flexibility
The more you do this series, the stronger and more flexible you will become. Scientific data supports the many physiological benefits of Sun Salutes. A 2011 study showed a significant increase in muscle strength and flexibility among participants who practiced daily Sun Salutes for six days a week for 24 weeks. Additionally, the study highlighted a notable decrease in body fat among the female participants and a significant weight loss in both genders.
4. Leave your ego behind
In our competitive, modern culture, it’s easy to let the ego dictate our experiences as we navigate life’s challenges. Yet, if we allow our self-conceit to take over, we are bound to find ourselves trapped in endless comparisons that may leave us unfulfilled and cynical. Sun Salutations provide a space where we can leave our egos behind and fully embrace our existence without self-judgment. The benefit of experiencing self-acceptance helps us to rise above the demands of the ego. Even if this experience is short-lived, it can help you feel more connected to your experience throughout your day.
Ultimately, yoga can help us to trust our own journey and listen to what our bodies need to tell us. During a Sun Salutation series, we can begin to let go of our false selves and to let our thoughts, feelings, and sensations pass through us without defining us. This practice reminds us that we are perfect, even with our “imperfections.”
5. Boost the immune system and overall health
As your body compresses and lengthens during your series, your body’s organs drink in nutrients while expelling toxins. With each breath in, your cells refresh themselves. Each breath out, your lung’s alveoli exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Enriched blood feeds hungry muscles, organs, and cells while restoring the proper function of the body’s systems. Digestive enzymes and hormones awaken as your cells energize. Inflammation decreases as your body finds homeostasis through movement and breath.
Like all yoga, Sun Salutes stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to feel relaxed. In turn, this kind of deep relaxation bolsters the body’s immune system, allowing it to fight off sicknesses. A consistent practice will increase your body’s ability to expel free radicals from your organs, which will strengthen your immune system even more.
6. De-stress and find inner peace
Throughout the linked poses of Sun Salutations, you will likely feel some of your stresses melting away and loosening the destructive hold they may have on you. This freedom from worry is part of the transforming magic of the series. As you move from Forward Bend (Uttanasana) to Flat Back pose (Ardha Uttanasana), on to Chaturanga, Cobra, and Downward-Facing Dog, your breath connects your movements like a kind of soothing celebration of life.
Each time you rise back into Mountain pose and then place your hands in Prayer, allow a sense of peace and purpose to settle into you. Allow this calming finale of your moving meditation to refresh and energize you so you may begin your day feeling joyful and renewed.
Realistically, we don’t all have time or money for a full yoga session at a swanky studio, but most of us can afford a 10- to 20-minute practice each day in our living room. There a few suggestions for a successful stand-alone Surya Namaskara practice but once you begin, your momentum will likely carry you the rest of the way.
- Keep breathing. Ideally, the sun salutes are performed one movement with each inhale or exhale. When you are first starting, you may need to double your breaths to make it easier to flow through the sequence while not straining or holding your breath.
- Take Breaks. Likewise, if you need to pause and take a break in the sequence, please do.
- Start small, aim big. Build up your strength by starting with one or two repetitions and slowly build up your reps over time.
- Dedication. The hard part for any ritual tends to be consistency. Yet, it’s not as daunting to commit to a daily Sun Salute series than, say, a 90-minute power yoga class. Make a realistic plan and find ways to stick with it.
- Integrate. After any yoga practice, take a few minutes in seated meditation, Shavasana, or even mountain pose to soak up the benefits of your practice before moving on with your day.
Ready to practice Sun Salutations?
If you are ready to begin a daily practice, check out the list of the many types of Sun Salutations in our yoga sequence section. You will find detailed step-by-step instructions and photos in each of these sequences to guide you through the practice.