Sun Salutations are to yoga what push-ups are to strength training. Every time you practice, there they are! Have you ever wondered why? Sun salutations have amazing benefits to make you stronger, burn calories, and stretch nearly every muscle in your body. So let’s look at the who, what, why, and how of the sun salutation.
You, that’s who! Sun salutations are practiced by the true yogis who are on their mat every day, as well as the novice who steps into yoga for the first time. They can be tailored or modified as needed and you choose the pace at which you want to move. They are good for everyone.
What is a sun salutation? Sun salutations are simply a series of poses in which you move fluidly with your breath. In other words, you inhale into one pose then exhale to the next. In that sense, it allows you to move at a moderate pace so you can enjoy the stretch, but fluidly enough to keep you in a rhythmic motion.
Sun salutations provide multiple benefits!
- You achieve strength, particularly in your upper body and core, as you move through the planks and chaturangas.
- You burn calories during the continuous, fluid movement, going as vigorously as you desire.
- You stretch. The poses are designed so that you stretch and lengthen your muscles and connective tissue throughout the entire body
Create a nice space. Outside in the fresh air is the best, but most people practice indoors due to logistics.You will want a yoga mat or a flat, non-slippery surface to move on. Carpeted floors will frustrate you as your hands and feet slide out of poses. You don’t need much space at all, just enough for the length of your body! If the surface you practice on is hard and you want to put your knees down during the planks, just have a towel or sweatshirt available.
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Sun salutations originated as a morning practice to line up with the rising of the sun. Morning is still the best time to practice a sun salutation because it is an excellent way to open the body and create energy for a new day. Plus, your digestive system is clear from any “interruptions.” However, sun salutations are great any time! Really! They can be used as a “stand alone” workout, as a preparation at the beginning of a yoga practice, or even as a post-workout stretch. It all depends on how you choose to practice.
On to the part you were waiting for. Below is a traditional sun salutation series. There are pictures and descriptions to guide you through. Perform 2, 3, or 20 times! Just remember to listen to your body and honor the place you are in today.
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1. Start in Mountain Pose
- Place the feet together or 2-3 inches apart, parallel, and facing forward.
- Inhale lifting out of the waist and sweeping the arms up reaching towards the sky.
- The palms are lightly pressed together with the shoulders back and down.
3. Exhale into Forward Fold
- Press the palms flat to the floor; if necessary, bend the knees slightly. If you have the flexibility, bring the finger tips in line with the toes.
- Reach the nose towards the knees.
4. Inhale and step the right foot back into Crescent Lunge
- Make sure the left knee is directly over the ankle and the toes and knees are pointing forward.
- Shoulders are back and down, the chest presses forward, crown lifts up, and the back leg is straight.
5. Step the left foot back into Plank
- The body is one straight line and in a push-up position.
- Press the heels back and reach the crown of the head forward.
6. Exhale down into Chaturanga
- Bend the knees to the floor if desired, then bend the elbows to lower the chin and chest to the floor.
- Hips stay slightly above chest with abs engaged.
7. Inhale into Up Dog
- Scoop the chest forward, straighten the arms, and roll onto the tops of the feet.
- Reach the crown of the head up, press the chest forward, and lift the hips and legs off of the floor. Bend the elbows slightly if it feels like you are straining the low back.
8. Exhale into Down Dog
- Tuck the toes under, bend the elbows, and lift the hips up and back.
- Press firmly into the hands and arms to press the hips back. Relax the back of the neck. Press the heels into the floor. The legs are straight or can be slightly bent to flatten the back.
9. Inhale and step right forward into Crescent Lunge
- Step the right foot forward between the two hands. Adjust the leg so that the knee is directly over the ankle and the toes and knee are pointing forward.
- Keep the back leg straight as you sink the hips down. The crown lifts up, and the chest and gaze are forward.
10. Exhale into Forward Fold
- Press the palms flat to the floor. If necessary bend the knees slightly. If you have the flexibility, bring the fingertips in line with the toes.
- Reach the nose in towards the knees.
11. Inhale and come back to Mountain Pose
- Lift out of the waist and sweep the arms up reaching towards the sky.
- End by lowering hands down to your sides in mountain pose or continue on to another sun salutation.