Sun salutations are the main part of many of our yoga classes. They are a way of expressing thanks to the sun for giving life to the planet and are best practiced when the sun is rising. You will often hear them referred to as Surya Namaskar, as this is their Sanskrit name. A sun salutation is a series of poses that are performed together using one breath per movement. Before practicing sun salutations, you should make sure that you have an empty stomach. There are three variations of Surya Namaskar.
Many of us begin our journey in yoga by attending a hatha yoga class. While hatha yoga concentrates on the physical side of yoga, it can be quite a gentle class that is great for beginners. Hatha yoga aims to bring breath and movement together to create a healthy body and clear mind. The sun salutation learned during this class is often the first variation people learn. In this version, instead of going into a full Chaturanga, students are told to lower their knees, chest, and chin to the floor and push up into a baby cobra pose from here. It also consists of crescent lunges with the back knee lowered. To do one cycle of this, you must practice all the poses leading with the right leg and then the left.
The other two variations are used in Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is a specific sequence of poses that are put together using one breath to one movement. It is considered a stricter type of yoga class by some.
Surya Namaskar B is similar to Surya Namaskar A but requires students to take warrior 1 pose after the Downward dog on both sides. Ashtanga yoga focuses a lot on engaging Bandhas and Drishti’s. Advanced yoga practitioners will jump or float through from Uttanasana (standing forward bend) to Adho Mukha Savasana (downward facing dog).
Sun salutations (either version) are beneficial to us in so many ways. Practiced slowly they will improve flexibility and strength. If they are practiced quickly, they will improve stamina and can help with weight loss. Overall sun salutations will help to improve both blood flow and circulation. They also focus on the whole body, so are great for warming up prior to more yoga or other exercises. Calming the mind and improving concentration is also a major benefit of practicing Surya Namaskar. They are therefore amazing to do before a big day at work or school. You should always keep in mind that you are your own yoga master, so make sure that you listen to your body and don’t overstretch.