It is not by coincidence that most yoga classes incorporate several rounds of Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutations. The sequence of movements is known to, not only strengthen the physical body, but also contribute greatly to the mental and spiritual health. Moving through the twelve powerful postures helps to keep the body healthy and the mind calm. Sun Salutation benefits are available to everyone, since every asana in it can be adapted to every body and stage it might be in (pregnancy, joint injury recovery, etc.). Below are some of the most remarkable benefits of Sun Salutations.
Three physical benefits of Sun Salutations
Increased Heart Pumping
The asanas practised during Sun Salutations stimulate the cardiovascular system of the body, causing the heart to beat faster and therefore oxygenate the entire body. This is extremely important, since serious imbalances in the body can happen when there is oxygen-deprivation at the cellular level. Providing large amounts of oxygen to the blood improves brain function and increases the level of energy.
Improved Flexibility of the Spine
Each one of the 12 asanas that compose a round of Sun Salutations has its very own physiological profits whilst compensating at the same time the previous posture and preparing the spine and muscles for the one which follows. For example, Bhujangasana, or Cobra as it is commonly known, is the seventh asana in the Surya Namaskara sequence. It expands the chest, opening up the neck and shoulders, improving the flexibility of the upper and middle back. This gained flexibility is then maximized in the following asana: Adho Mukha Svanasana, where the the shoulders, legs, spine and whole body are stretched.
Relaxed Joints and Muscles
Different joints and muscles of the body are engaged throughout the sequence of Surya Namaskara, even those which are rarely used, like the muscles of the chest or the ones of the groin. Allowing to get into and open new spaces in the body, releases tension and prevents contractures caused by shortened muscles or tendons due to having remained too tight for too long.
Three mental and spiritual benefits of Sun Salutations
Each asana in Surya Namaskara is matched with a deep breath, inhaling when the chest is opened and exhaling when it is not. Matching each movement with each breath provides an opportunity to enter a meditative state. The regulating breathing offered through the series combined with the focus on the posture series clears and refreshes the mind, improving memory and bringing calmness to the rest of the body.
Expanded Solar Plexus (Manipurna Chakra)
The Manipurna Chakra is located midway between the navel and the base of the sternum. It is the centre of self esteem, where the ability to build a strong sense of self is created. Surya Namaskara offers the opportunity to balance this chakra, to move away from confusion and depression and feel more self-confident and joyful.
Expression of gratitude
The sequence in Surya Namaskara is designed to salute the sun and offers an excellent opportunity for individuals to express their gratitude to it for being the sustainer of life in planet Earth. If practising in the morning, it is recommended to do it facing the East direction where the sun rises and if doing it in the evenings, to face the West direction to salute the sun as it falls. To make Sun salutations more sacred, they are often practised chanting mantras, adding a deeper spiritual dimension.
Becoming aware of the different benefits of Surya Namaskara can help yogis enhance their practice, making the whole experience more intense and mindful.