What are sun salutations?

sun salutations

Sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, are a classic sequence of 12 poses that are traditionally performed twice through, flowing to match movement with your breath – for example, you inhale into one pose, then exhale into the following pose.

This sequence was first recorded around the beginning of the 20th century, but it’s thought that the series of poses has potentially been around for a lot longer.

What are the 12 poses?

If you’ve ever done yoga before, most of these poses will seem familiar to you:

  1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with hands in prayer position (Anjali Mudra)
  2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) – INHALE
  3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) – EXHALE
  4. High or Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) Right foot back/left forwards – INHALE
  5. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – EXHALE
  6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight Limbed Pose) – INHALE/EXHALE
  7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) – INHALE
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – EXHALE
  9. High or Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) – Left foot forward/right back – INHALE
  10. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) – EXHALE
  11. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) – INHALE
  12. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) – EXHALE

For the second round, the lunges switch sides. Some classes stick to this traditional sequence, however, the majority of modern classes play around with it to create different variations, inserting additional poses.

At Grace, Grit & Gratitude, we tend to swap Ashtanga Namaskara/Urdhva Mukha Namaskara for a Vinyasa sequence that’s kinder on the joints and body:
Kumbhakasana (High Plank) > Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff) > Bhujangasana (Mini Cobra)

Why do Sun Salutations?

This is a challenging series of poses that can require a bit of athleticism – although like any type of movement there are alternative pose variations you can do if you struggle with the traditional poses for any reason. For example, you can do Chaturanga on your toes or with your knees on the ground, or you could perform a low lunge instead of a high lunge.

Sun salutations:

  • Shift energy and get it flowing throughout your body
  • Encourage improvement in flexibility
  • Build internal heat which is said to be cleansing/detoxifying for the body
  • Give the cardiovascular system a workout

Surya Namaskar is traditionally performed in the morning to welcome the day and quite literally salute the sun; to share in the energy of the day – as the sun is the provider of life – and to invigorate your mind and body. While it’s probably not ideal to do it just before you go to sleep (as it’s designed to wake up your energy!), it’s fine to do it at any time of day and you can always spend several breaths in each pose if you’d prefer to slow it down.

108 is a special number in yoga that pops up repeatedly in its philosophy, so it’s not uncommon to find classes that repeat the Surya Namaskar sequence 108 times – though you definitely don’t need to do it that many times! Even performing just one single round will be beneficial to your mind and body.

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