The sun salutation (surya namaskar) is an asana sequence made up of 12 postures that is traditionally practiced at dawn or dusk to cultivate a connection with the sun as it rises or sets. With July typically being the warmest month of the year across most of the United States, now couldn’t be more of a perfect time to master your sun salutation.
Sun salutations can be performed using different styles and modifications to suite anyone of any yoga skill level, from beginner to advanced. In many yoga traditions, it’s common to perform 2 to 12 repetitions of the full sequence to kick off the session by warming up the body, but you can do as many as you like, whenever you like. In fact, a study from the International Journal of Yoga found that a 20-minute session of sun salutations was all it took to help people calm their minds and reduce stress levels.
Anyone can go through the motions of performing sun salutation or any other sequence for that matter, but the full experience of the sequence requires deeply integrating the mind, breath, and spirit into the physical postures. Here are some tips on how to improve yours.
Start at Sunrise
Surya namaskar literally translates to “salute the sun,” meaning that this is an ideal sequence to perform with the intention of awakening your inner sun in the morning, which located within the navel center. As you begin in mountain pose, regulate your breathing to a slow rhythm to help you find your center before saying this short mantra out loud or in your head: “I salute the sun, source of light and power.”
Synchronize the Breath
Your breathing should flow with each posture to help you quiet your mind, focus your awareness, and support your physical body as it bends, stretches, and pushes against gravity to hold itself up. After centering yourself for a few moments in mountain pose, synchronize your breath with each of the following postures that are a part of the sun salutation sequence:
Upward salute: Inhale as you sweep your arms up overhead.
Standing forward bend: Exhale as you sweep your arms down to your feet.
Half-standing forward bend: Inhale as you flatten your back and exhale as you go back to standing forward bend.
Lunge: Inhale as you step each foot back separately or jump back.
Plank: Exhale and inhale while keeping the abdomen engaged.
Chaturanga: Exhale as you lower your body to the floor.
Upward-facing dog: Inhale as you lift up to open your chest (and complete as many breaths here as you like).
Downward-facing dog: Exhale as you push back to lift your hips into the air (while continuing to inhale and exhale as long as you like).
Half-standing forward bend: Exhale as you jump your feet forward.
Standing forward bend: Inhale and then exhale as you bend back down toward your feet.
Upward salute: Inhale as you lift up and you extend your arms overhead.
Mountain: Exhale as you lower your arms to your sides or in prayer.
Fan the Flame
Once you’ve completed several sun salutations (ideally six or more), you can finish in mountain pose by closing your eyes, folding your hands near your heart, slowing your breathing, and visualizing a flame at your navel. Take several deep breaths, feeling the flames grow stronger as it expands from your center while exhaling. Feel as if you’re soaking up the infinite light and warmth of the sun by imagining your whole body filling itself up with sunlight.
You can flow into your regular yoga practice, move into meditation, or go ahead and start your day from here whenever you’re ready. However you choose to practice, you can bet that a properly executed sun salutation sequence will definitely make a difference in boosting your confidence, courage, and inner strength.
Photo (edited) via Michael Pravin