Ever heard of Sun salutations in yoga and wonder why people practice them?
Sun Salutations, or ‘Surya Namaskar’ are a set of 10 fluid movements in a sequence, in synchrony with the inhale and exhale and are a staple part of most Yoga styles. You may already be familiar with them and are likely to have come across these when trying a yoga class.
Why do them?
Historically, yogis began saluting to the Sun in gratitude for each new day and would go through this sequence of movements as the sun rose. The Sun is our life source with our world literally revolving around it, so in the gesture of the salutes we show gratitude for the nourishment and warmth it brings to our lands, bodies and hearts. This recognition of something immense, and bigger than ourselves is very much a part of the spiritual yogic journey, to reaching the spiritual enlightenment and contentment.
Philosophically, the physical body is recognised as a reflection of our universe, with the heart viewed as the metaphoric sun, upon which all else revolves around. Interestingly, the brain is known as the ‘moon’ because its light is a reflection of the sun; i.e. how we think is based on what lies in our hearts.
From an anatomical view point, these movements help build strength and flexibility equally and the muscles are worked by engaging and contracting both the front body and the back body, making this a complete practice for the body. To add to this, each movement is synchronised with the breath. This is known as Vinyasa, a popular style of Yoga commonly practised in studios throughout the world, including at the Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Guildford studio. Check out our yoga and pilates class timetable for classes with ‘flow’ in the title. Here’s our lovely yoga teacher Charlotte Temple demonstrating a few rounds of sun salutations (sped up of course – generally Sun Salutations are a little slower than this!)
Once you’re familiar with the poses and have adding the breath, sun salutations become very meditative and calming for the mind. The marriage of body and breath is seen as the gateway to the mind, so when practised properly and with intention, the results of practising sun salutations are reduced anxiety and stress, harnessing peace and comfort. This deeper inner movement, ultimately shifts our internal perspective and inevitably our outward behaviour and relationships.
Pattabhi Jois, regarded as one of the fore fathers of Yoga, who helped bring the practice to the Western world famously said that Sun Salutations
‘Bestow upon us the good fortune of having good thoughts, of hearing and speaking only good words, and of attaining a sound and strong body, so the we may have a long life and, one day, achieve oneness with God.’
This outlines a way of living many of us are trying to attain or live by. By moving through the Sun Salutations our minds can quieten, we have space to think clearly and can work towards leading a more enlightened life.
So how many should you practice?
Lots of people practice 3, 5 or 10 rounds at the start of the day or as a way of warming up at the beginning of their practice. Many also regularly move through 108 Sun Salutations – although this may be too many and more suitable on special occasions such as the winter or summer solstice. 108 is thought of as a scared number in Hinduism and Yoga and interestingly is also the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth according to their respective diameters. The Mala beads you often seen worn by Gurus and Yogis have 108 beads, to count over as a Mantra is repeated 108 times.
A fun fact: the world record for the greatest number of Sun Salutations is 7,777 rounds! This was completed by a group of students at the Om Yoga and Wellness Hub in Vietnam and took just over 60 hours!
Luckily, any number of Sun Salutations will quickly bring you benefits to both your body and mind. Stepping onto your mat and completing any number of Sun Salutations will leave you feeling centred, more present and grateful for all. The time you spend moving through these poses, is time out of your day, just for you. It creates routine, discipline, stability and builds a solid foundation for your wellbeing and the rest of your yoga practice.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to break down the sun salutations with options of modifying for your body, as well as learning good alignment throughout, why not book a space on our upcoming workshop with Charlotte Temple at our Guildford yoga studio on the high street ‘Breaking down Sun Salutations’? Remember – Mary Ann Weeks Studio members get 10% off!