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The Underrated Surya Namaskar

By Carlos Pena

WED JUL 28, 2021

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The Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of yogic practices that, in my humble opinion, doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

Its benefits are many even if most of us know it only as a warm-up, practiced before asanas or Yoga postures.

It promotes circulation, enhances breathing and cardiovascular efficiency, and provides flexibility to muscles and joints.

Its circular motion provides a sense of spatial awareness and a feeling of being fully present.

When performed orchestrated with the breath as intended, it can be very powerful — think of it as a moving meditation.

In my classes, most students experience a sense of joy and well-being after the sequence, which we practice after Prānāyāma breathing exercises (breathwork).

Additionally, the Surya Namaskar is an excellent way to incorporate a brief yet complete Yoga routine when pressed for time.

It is in fact my go-to practice when all I can spend is 20-35 minutes for Yoga.

In that case I would, for instance, practice 4 rounds of Prānāyāma, 5 or 6 rounds of the Salutations, and a 5-7 minute meditation.

This short but powerful routine leaves me calmed, recharged, and feeling accomplished — but also ready to face any possible challenges of the day ahead.

One more great aspect I love about this overlooked sequence is that, it can be a simple launching pad for beginners.

With no knowledge of Yoga sequences, one can enjoy wonderful stretches simply holding each step a few seconds, while tanking several deep breaths.

I highly encourage you to give it a try and experience it for yourself! You may be surprised at how good you feel afterwards.

At the end of the day, a little bit of Yoga is always better than no Yoga at all.

Below are instructions and tips for practicing the sequence safely.

Instructions For Its Practice

Breathing will always be through the nose for the intent and purpose of this practice.

Also, note that this is as taught in the Sivananda lineage of Classic Hatha Yoga. Other styles or schools may practice it slightly or notably different.

Let's dive right in:

Standing with your feet together, arms hanging by your side with shoulders relaxed, take a breath or two to feel present and strongly rooted. This is similar to Tadasana (Mountain pose).

You can also keep the feet close to one another, if keeping them together poses a challenge to your ability to balance.

1. Deep breath inhale and then as you exhale, join your palms together in front of your chest — Prayer position.

2. Inhale deeply stretching your arms over your head while gently arching your back, and pushing the hips forward, palms faced forward. Greater stretch comes by reaching as if trying to touch the sky. Go gentle at first. After a few rounds you may go a little deeper in this step, as your muscles increasingly warm up.

3. Exhale slowly and reach forward then down. Knees bent as much as needed in order to touch your palms flat on the mat. Fingertips aligned with your toes. Let the head hang.

NOTE: The aim here is to eventually be able to keep the knees straight in this step. This can take some time depending on your flexibility and consistency of practice.

4. Inhale deeply and step your right foot as far back as possible. Palms still on the mat, drop the right knee to the mat and arch your back as you look up. Right toes pointing.

5. Briefly retain your breath and step the left foot back to a Plank (high push-up position), feet together. Body as straight and horizontal as possible. Look at the edge of your mat, keeping the neck in one straight line with your spine.

6. Exhale slowly and drop the knees, chest and forehead on the mat, Ashtanganamaskar. Here your toes are tucked, your abdomen and hips off the floor, buttocks pointing upward.

NOTE: this is not a Chaturanga, as commonly practiced in other styles.

It is a little odd and even uncomfortable for some, but much gentler than Chaturanga on your arms and shoulders. It also requires less arm strength.

7. With a deep and long inhalation bring your hips down to the mat as you slide your body forward and abdomen onto the mat. Lift your shoulders and head up looking up and back, shoulder blades pulled back. Elbows bent and touching the body. Toes pointed out. Think Baby Cobra (Bhujangasana) here. Not a Cobra pose in its full expression.

8. Exhale completely as you tuck the toes and push yourself up into an Inverted V. This is much like a Downward Dog but the feet remain together. Here we’re aiming to bring the heels toward the mat while pushing the floor with our hands, trying also to bring the chest toward the floor. You should look like an upside down 'V' when seen from the side.

9. Take a deep inhalation and step the right foot forward (between your hands). Drop the left knee to the mat and point the left toes out. Palms still on the mat, lightly arch your back, looking up and back. This is the mirror opposite of step 4.

10. Exhaling slowly step the left foot next to the right (feet together), knees bent as much as needed to keep the palms flat on the mat, the head hangs. This is exactly like the bent-forward position in step 3.

11. With a deep inhalation reach your hands forward then up gently arching your back. Palms forward, looking at the space between your hands. Same as step 2.

12. Exhale slowly and completely while swinging the arms forward and down until they’re next to your body.

You have now completed the full sequence on one side. Repeat it on the other side — stepping the left foot back on step 4. This constitutes as 1 round of the Surya Namaskar.

Final Thoughts and Tips

This is a very gentle version of the sequence making it great for all levels, including beginners and persons with low levels of flexibility.

While experienced practitioners can go deeper in each step, beginners should go easy with it at first, keeping in mind that flexibility will come with regular practice.

Be patient and don't be discouraged when seeing others go deeper.

Remember that Yoga — much like life itself — is a journey, and as with everything else it takes time to see results.

Honoring our current circumstances and limitations is part of the spiritual growth that Yoga teaches us.

Persons with injuries (or recent surgery) should consult with their physician before attempting any Yoga practice.

May you all be blessed with flexibility, peace of mind, and spiritual and material abundance.