Sun salutations are often used to celebrate a change in seasons — and with summer arriving, many are welcoming longer days and extra hours of sunlight.
“In Sanskrit, a sun salutation is known as ‘Surya Namaskar,’ which means ‘salute to the sun,’” says Rachel Ackley, elite yoga teacher and group fitness performer at several Life Time athletic country clubs in New York City. “Sun salutations are a sequence of 12 yoga poses done in a graceful flow and synchronized with the breath. They have been practiced universally for thousands of years as a way of honoring the sun and its life-giving energy.”
The Benefits of Sun Salutation
Sun salutations play an important role in many yoga practices. They are meant to be practiced in the morning to increase energy and allow you to feel more focused, centered, and grounded throughout the day. Yet they provide benefits at any time you practice them.
“A sun salutation sequence is a key part of any vinyasa flow,” Ackley explains. “It helps warm up and energize the entire body. Moving through several rounds can build heat while warming up the muscles and lubricating the joints.
“Sun salutations can also nourish the mind, body, heart, and spirit,” she adds. “They help establish a steady and focused mind and bring in strength, flexibility, and alignment to the body. They’re just overall good for your well-being.”
The breath is an especially central element for moving through the flow of a sun salutation. “Syncing your breath to your movement creates a rhythm and flow that helps to calm your mind,” Ackley says. “Our breath is what helps relax the body when moving from posture to posture. Typically, inhales inspire upward motion and exhales inspire downward motion. We inhale when we extend in a back bend, and we exhale when we fold. Inhales create space and give us length while exhales help us to ground and soften.”
How to Do Sun Salutation A
Although there are several different variations of sun salutations, the most common is Surya Namaskra A, also known as sun salutation A. To celebrate the change in the seasons and the presence of light in our lives, Ackley demonstrates how to do a sun salutation properly.
- Start by standing in mountain pose (straight up and tall) with your feet together, arms by your sides, and palms facing forward. Set an intention for your practice.
- Inhale as you lengthen your spine and sweep your arms up overhead, reaching up toward the sky. Look up at your palms and feel a gentle arch in your spine.
- Exhale as you fold forward over your thighs and bring your hands down to or near the floor next to your feet (pay attention to your unique range of motion). Keep a soft bend in your knees and relax your neck and head.
- Inhale and lift your torso halfway up, lengthening your spine and placing your hands onto your shins (or fingertips on the floor, whatever is possible for you). Look forward with your neck long and shoulders drawn away from your ears.
- Exhale as you place your hands on the floor, then step or jump your feet back so you’re in a high plank position. Slowly bend your elbows until you are in the bottom of a push-up position. Press into your palms and spread your fingers wide as you lower down.
- Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels: Keep your core engaged, legs active, and elbows close to your ribcage. Lower all the way down to your belly and shift your feet so the tops of them are touching your mat.
- Inhale as you press into your palms and lift your torso up and away from the mat, finding a gentle backbend (cobra pose or upward facing dog if your arms are straight). Open your chest and lift your chin while allowing your shoulders draw down; gaze softly forward. Lift your legs slightly off the mat but keep the tops of the feet flat.
- Exhale as you shift back onto your toes, then lift your hips up and back into downward-facing dog position (also known as home base or upside-down V-shape). Straighten your legs and press your heels toward the mat as you draw your belly toward your thighs. Keep your neck and head relaxed. Rotate your upper arms outward to widen your collarbones but keep your elbows facing backward. Your hands should be wider than shoulder width apart with your fingers spread wide. Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears. Hold downward-facing dog for a few seconds.
- Inhale as you bend your knees and lift your heels away from the mat.
- Exhale and walk or jump your feet to meet your hands at the top of the mat.
- Inhale and lengthen your spine as you lift halfway up, placing your palms on your shins or fingertips on the mat.
- Exhale as you fold forward, releasing your neck and the head toward the ground.
- Inhale as you rise to standing, keeping your chin tucked into your chest until the crown of your head is stacked over your shoulders. Ground through your feet, brace through your thighs and core, and pull in your ribs as you reach your palms up overhead.
- Exhale as you release your hands down to your heart center.
- Repeat this entire sequence at least five times.