A key foundational feature of many yoga classes and sequences are Sun Salutations. These sets of postures (or asanas) linked by flowing movement and the flow of the breath are often used as a warm-up at the beginning of a yoga practice - they warm and awaken the entire body, soften the muscles, and open the joints. The two most common Sun Salutations in yoga today are Sun Salutation A and B, with varying asanas in each. Sun Salutations contain everything needed for a complete yoga asana practice: forward folds, backbends, inversions, core work, and hip opening. The breath is also key to Sun Salutations, as the flow of the inhale and exhale initiates the flow from posture to posture. They are a brilliant way of getting you into your body and out of the thinking mind, by harmonising movement and breath.
But Sun Salutations offer us so many more benefits beyond the physical body - the combination of movements with the breath creates a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual syncopation. This leads to a balance between breath, body, mind, and spirit. In this sense, Sun Salutations are meditation in movement; they are a moment to pause, return to centre, and connect back with the present moment to promote balance of the mind, body and soul.
When we look at the ancient Sanskrit name for Sun Salutations - Surya Namaskar - we can begin to understand how they benefit us beyond the purely physical. In Hinduism, Surya is the deity of the sun, who drives his chariot across the sky each day as the most visible form of godliness that one can see. The sun is revered in many ancient religions as both the physical and spiritual heart of the world. Namaskar is from the root namas, “to bow” or “to adore”. So, Sun Salutations are a physical act of bowing to the sun, of praying to the solar energy.
The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying all elements of nature within our own beings, including the sun. The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our spiritual heart. So, Sun Salutations are also a reverence to our "inner sun," the spiritual light within us that guides us on our life path. In Surya Namaskar, we are bowing to the truth of who we are in our essence, connecting with our inner wisdom. As yoga teacher and author Richard Rosen says, “you are saluting the outside sun for providing life to the planet, and your internal sun for providing consciousness.” By flowing through the sequences of Sun Salutations, we are not only showing a deep reverence for the world around us, but for ourselves - when viewed in this way, Sun Salutations are acts of self-love.
As we can see, Sun Salutations are a powerful way to bring about balance in your body, mind and spirit, as well as promoting a deep acceptance and reverence for ourselves. They are a great place to start when new to yoga to grasp basic asanas and breath control. Learning the set sequences of a Sun Salutation are also a fantastic starting point for developing your own home practice.
A top tip for Sun Salutations is to let the breath lead the movement. Each inhalation and exhalation is the cue to travel into and through the next pose. Let the breath dictate the pace of the flowing movement, rather than trying to fit the breath to flow to a set rhythm. If the breath does not flow freely, ease off the pace slightly to ensure each inhale and exhale is full and long.
If this has inspired you to find out more about Sun Salutations, or deepen your own practice, you are in luck! Our next 3 week beginners yoga course at The Studio - Foundations of Yoga - is starting on Wednesday 15th June (6:30-8:00pm) and will cover Sun Salutation A and B in depth. Be introduced to key asanas and breathwork, and explore the power of Surya Namaskars to bring about balance in the body, mind and spirit. Book on to Foundations of Yoga by visiting our website.
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