The sun salutation is a series of yoga poses designed to help warm up the body and increase flexibility of the muscles. Its Hindu name, Surya Namaskar, translates as “to adore the sun.” In yoga philosophy, sun salutation is a way of honoring the sun and bringing its power into your heart.
Although sun salutation is a gentle series, pregnant women, people with hernias and those with acute back problems should consult a doctor before trying it. However, like many yoga poses, sun salutation is often used in physical therapy, to help increase spinal flexibility after injury. Experts also recommend it as a means of stress relief and relaxation. Some yoga instructors suggest doing the poses at least twice a day, to greet the sun in the morning and to bid it farewell at night. Following this practice will warm you up for the day ahead and relax your body before bedtime.
The goal of sun salutation is to move between each pose with grace and balance, remaining conscious of your breath the entire time. To increase flexibility, you should pause for a few breaths in each pose, trying to stretch deeper with each exhalation. Make sure as you move from pose to pose, that you inhale and exhale deeply.
If you wish to better understand how the poses should look, several websites offer video or cartoon demonstrations of the movements. Many yoga DVDs and classes also use sun salutation as part of their routine, but if you only have a few minutes in the day, some experts recommend sun salutation as the best series you can do for your body. If you have never done yoga before, it's a good idea to take a class with a knowledgeable teacher, so you learn the poses in correct form. Most teachers can suggest modifications to the poses if you lack flexibility or are recovering from injury.
There are several different versions of the exercise, compromising of 8-15 yoga poses called asanas. Most feature twelve steps, but different practices have some variations. However, the basic steps in all versions are similar to one another and are as follows:
1. Begin with feet together and hands palm-to-palm over your heart.
2. Take a deep breath in and lift your arms over your head, bending backward slightly.
3. Exhale as you bend all the way forward, resting your hands on your feet or the floor.
4. Place your hands on the floor, bending your knees if necessary, and step backward with one foot into a deep lunge. Lift your head up.
5. Exhale as you bring the other foot back, lifting your hips up toward the sky and straightening arms and legs so your body forms an upside-down V.
6. Lower your body until you are at the top of a pushup, then continue lowering until your knees, chest and forehead all rest on the ground.
7. As you inhale, arch your back as you straighten your arms.
8. Lower your head and push your hips back up into the upside-down V.
9. Pull one foot between your hands into a deep lunge.
10. Bring your back foot up to join your front foot and straighten your legs.
11. Inhale as you raise your arms up over your head, straightening your body.
12. Bring hands palm to palm in front of your heart.