Rise & Shine: How to Practice & Benefit from Daily Sun Salutations
As we shift into new schedules and life rhythms now that the summer months have come to a close, we are presented with an ideal opportunity to both renew and reset a few important daily health commitments that are sure to facilitate balance and harmony in our lives. Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskar, as they are known in Sanskrit, the native tongue of yoga, have been performed daily with the rise of the sun by yogis and sages throughout the history of this 5,000 year-old practice. Surya is directly translated as sun and Namaskar to to bow or to honor. In yogic philosophy, the sun represents the source of all life on this planet, and thus, a daily tradition or ritual is performed every morning to both call upon and honor this life prana, or energy.
As the sun rises each day, we are presented with an auspicious time to engage in our daily yoga practice. Practicing at sunrise presents the opportunity to harmonize yourself with the environment around you, set intentions, and fluid rhythms for your day ahead, and all the while connect more deeply with the natural pulsations of life around you.
A seamless flow of movement from one asana, or pose, to another, sun salutations can be a moving meditation, guiding your body through a complete spectrum of multi-dimensional, multi-directional discovery. With practice, the flow between each pose and throughout the series becomes like a dance, an innate and spontaneous pattern that begins to slowly dissolve our tendencies toward more rigid, stiff, and linear habits of activity.
Steps to Incorporate Daily Sun Salutations into Your Life:
- Find a quiet and serene space in your home, ideally a space that allows you to face east towards the rising sun, that has the opportunity to be filled with natural light.
- Clear the area of any clutter, allowing for the creation of space in both your internal and external environments.
- Roll out your yoga mat, and if you wish, create a small alter where you can place a few meaningful life mementos that serve as reminders of your life’s commitments and loves.
- Begin in a standing position, with your feet hip distance apart, feet parallel to one another, an equilibrium of weight distributed throughout the soles of the feet. Engage the muscles in the legs by first grounding down into the earth beneath you, and then drawing the energy up the thighs. Continue to lift and lengthen through the core of the body, extending through your spine and beyond through the crown of your head. Allow your shoulders to relax down and away from your ears as you draw your palms together at the center of your chest. Allow your thumbs to graze your heart center as you tune into the slow and steady rhythm of your breath, finding a moment of stillness and silence to set an intention for your practice.
- Begin mindfully, allowing the breath to fill your body and inspire your first movements, lifting your arms over and above your head, touching the palms together, and then exhaling completely as you bend your knees deeply, hinge forward from you hips, and fold your belly to your thighs.
- Ensure you are folding forward with a long and extended spine, flat back, and soft enough bend in your knees so that once inverted your head can simply hang below your heart and the body can completely release. Pause and breathe.
- Inhale slowly with a flat back until the spine is parallel with the earth beneath you, and then exhale completely until you fold back forward over your thighs.
- Bending your knees, plant both palms down step both feet back into plank position (better known as the top of a push-up position). Feel free to release your knees to the earth for more support. Draw the abdominal wall in, lengthen the spine, and begin to slowly bend the elbows so that they graze your rib cage, lowering yourself until the elbows bend to a 90-degree angle. If you can, pause briefly, before extending the spine forward and rolling forward over the toes, lifting into Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). For the first few rounds, it is best to move into Bhujangasana (Cobra) first, to warm the spine before finding your way into Upward Dog. Should you prefer, or have any lower back instability in your body, please feel free to remain in Cobra throughout as opposed to rising into Upward Dog.
- Pause and breathe, with your shoulders back and down, your heart extending and expanding forward.
- Engage your abdominal wall and initiate the movement from your core to begin lifting up and over your toes, transitioning into Ado Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). Arriving here, ground your palms into the earth, drawing the energy up the arms and extending out through your spine. Ground both feet, allowing a soft knee bend if you like in order to allow for the complete extension of your spine, drawing the energy up your thighs. Allow your hips to peak in an inverted v-shape, and your head to gently hang as a direct extension of your spine. Pause and breathe.
- Begin to slowly send your gaze forward, bend your knees deeply, and step one foot and then the other to the top of your mat. Fold forward completely over your thighs. Exhale all of your breath out.
- Engage your core, take a slow complete breath in, and allow the breath to lift the spine, flat back, returning to an upright position, and extending the arms all the way over head. Touch the palms together, look up and pause, before guiding the palms as one down the mid-line of the body, returning to your heart, chin bowing to your chest.
- Pause, drink in the benefits of this dance, and notice the cultivation of energy within your body and the newfound space in your mind. Repeat again.
- If you have the opportunity, enjoy 5-8 complete cycles of Surya Namaskar, before closing your practice with a few moments of silence and stillness. Recall your intention and seal that promise and commitment with your breath so that you can carry it with you throughout your day ahead.
Your Wellness Tip To-Go:
In celebration of Yoga Month, the Fall Equinox, and UN International Day of Peace, join communities of yogis from around the world on September 21st for Global Mala Yoga for Peace. Dance through 108 Sun Salutations (yes 108!) as a collective offering of peace and service in action. For more information on how you can become involved and the sacred cycle of 108, visit www.globalmala.org.
Jennifer Findlay is the Founder at Core Essence. Core Essence specializes in the design, development and operation of innovative wellness and spa brand concepts as well as hosts wellness travel adventures and spiritually nutritious retreats worldwide.