April 21, 2023

Beginner’s Guide to The Practice and Benefits of Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)

Step into the sunlight and let your day unfold with the grace of the Sun Salutation. This empowering practice isn’t just a series of stretches and bends; it’s a gateway to discover the incredible synergy of mind, body, and spirit for holistic wellness.

If you’re just stepping onto the mat for the first time, you may find the sequence challenging but highly rewarding. This blog post offers step-by-step guidance designed to help newcomers find their footing and build a solid foundation in their yoga journey.

On top of the well-known benefits of flexibility and strength, we invite you to explore the Sun Salutation sequence beyond the physical level. As you advance in your yoga practice, you might start noticing subtle energies activating, increased awareness, and a deeper connection with your Higher Self.

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a gateway to discover the synergy of mind, body, and spirit for holistic wellness

So, gear up for an enlightening journey that will help you master the practice of Sun Salutation and offer you insights into its meaning and benefits. Keep reading, and you’ll soon realize why the Sun Salutation is so much more than just a morning routine!

What Is the Sun Salutation and its Meaning?

Sun Salutations – we use the plural as there are different versions – are called Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit and are one of the most popular practices in modern yoga. You’ll find them in many yoga styles, including Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga Yoga.

In some traditions, this sequence is used to warm up the body before other standing and seated asanas. However, Surya Namaskar can also be practiced on its own. It combines asana, pranayama, mantra, and awareness techniques. Therefore, it is a holistic spiritual practice in itself.

Surya Namaskar literally means “salutations to Lord Sun.” In ancient times, the sun was revered as a deity. It represented spiritual consciousness and was considered the source of all life. Therefore, people worshipped the sun daily.

Surya Namaskar means salutations to Lord Sun. In ancient times the sun was revered as a deity

This prayer was codified into the practice we know today. In fact, some yogis believe that Surya Namaskar was handed down from the Vedic Age (1500 – 500 BCE). Others view it as a relatively modern practice, developed in the 20th century. 

Although its exact origins are unknown, Surya Namaskar retains its spiritual significance. One round contains twelve postures, reflecting the zodiac phases of the year. The poses are practiced twice, on the right and the left side, therefore a complete set represents all twenty-four hours of the day. In this sense, Sun Salutations help us align with the rhythms of nature.

When to Practice Surya Namaskar

The best time to practice the Sun Salutation is at sunrise, usually between 3 am and 6 am. This period of the day is known as Brahma muhurta, the most conducive time for yogic practices. During Brahma muhurta, the levels of cosmic prana (vital energy) are highest, the atmosphere is peaceful and quiet, and the mind is empty of thoughts.

The best time to practice the Sun Salutation is at sunrise

If you can, practice outdoors while facing the rising sun. Although your muscles might feel extra stiff in the morning, taking this time to practice will positively impact the way you move through your entire day.

If practicing at sunrise does not fit into your schedule, you can also practice at sunset. Sun Salutations can be a great way to unwind after a busy day, loosen up tight muscles, and find more clarity of mind. In general, you can practice anytime, as long as your stomach is empty (three to four hours after a big meal, less for a light snack).

How to Practice the Sun Salutation

While advanced practitioners can practice twelve sets of Surya Namaskar daily, beginners should start with two or three rounds to avoid fatigue and muscle strain. They are also advised to hold each pose for a few breaths. This slow pace gives your body time to get used to the shapes, promotes mindfulness, and lowers the risk of injury.

Once you’re familiar with the sequence, you can flow from one pose to the next with each breath. When practiced at a fast pace, Surya Namaskar is a great cardiovascular workout. Synchronizing the movements with the breath ensures that you breathe deeply and rhythmically. This brings freshly oxygenated blood to the brain, increasing mental focus.

When practiced at a fast pace, Surya Namaskar is a great cardiovascular workout

As you progress, you may add to the spiritual element of the practice by focusing on the chakras. Each pose has a corresponding chakra, or energy center, that can be activated through focused awareness. Read our post What Are the 7 Chakras? if you want to know more about their meanings and locations.

Eventually, you can integrate mantras. Mantras are sacred sounds or syllables with powerful spiritual and psychological effects. The twelve Surya Namaskar mantras praise different qualities of the sun. You can either chant these mantras out loud or repeat them silently in your mind. Learn some of the most typical ones in our dedicated post!

The Surya Namaskar Sequence

Nowadays, many different sequences are known under the name of Surya Namaskar. This article explains the steps of the classical Sun Salutation. Below you’ll find guidance for each pose, including instructions on your breath, as well as the corresponding chakra and mantra.

If you are looking for a great online course to help you master the correct alignment through the different variations of Sun Salutations, One Yoga Online Studio is your next stop! In her Mastery of Sun Salutations series, Shashi guides you to progress from easy to the most advanced asanas in a comprehensive and gradual way.

In either case, we recommend you read the steps below to familiarize yourself with the technique step-by-step.

Step 1: Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 1: Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

This posture is also called Tadasana or Mountain Pose.

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet firmly rooted into the earth, big toes touching and heels slightly apart.
  2. Gently tilt your tailbone down, lengthen your spine, and roll your shoulders back.
  3. Bring the hands together in front of your chest – this is known as Namaskara Mudra.
  4. Gaze down to the fingertips to cultivate humility and awareness of the heart center (Anahata Chakra).

Breath: Normal
Om Mitraya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the friend of all

Step 2: Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 2: Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)

This pose is also known as Urdhva Hastasana or Upward Salute and is related to Vishuddhi Chakra, located at the throat.

  1. Inhale and lift your arms overhead.
  2. Your gaze follows your fingers.
  3. Gently bend your back, lean the pelvis forward, and keep pressing the heels to the earth.
  4. Only bend back as much as feels comfortable for you. Be especially mindful of your lower back.
  5. Focus your awareness on the opening in your upper body – the stretch of your abdomen and the expansion of your lungs.

Breath: Inhale
Om Ravaye Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the shining one

Step 3: Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 3: Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

This pose is often called Uttanasana in Sanskrit or Standing Forward Bend in English and focuses on Svadhisthana Chakra, the sacral energy center.

  1. Exhale and bend forward, diving down through the midline.
  2. Rest your hands or fingertips on the floor or your shins.
  3. While you’re in the forward bend, emphasize the lengthening of your spine.
  4. If your back rounds, bend your knees slightly to release the hamstrings and lengthen your spine.
  5. Focus on the sensations in the back body and the pelvic region.

Breath: Exhalation
Om Suryaya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the who induces activity

Step 4: Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 4: Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)

This pose is also called Anjaneyasana, or simply Low Lunge in English.

  1. Inhale and step your right foot back, lowering the knee to the ground.
  2. At the same time, bend your left knee, keeping the foot in the same position.
  3. Frame your front foot with your hands.
  4. Arch your back and look up toward your eyebrow center, called Ajna Chakra.

Breath: Inhalation
Om Bhanave Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to he who illumines

Step 5: Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 5: Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

Most people know this pose as Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog.

  1. Breathe out and step your left foot back beside the right foot.
  2. At the same time, lift your tailbone up to the sky and lower your head between the arms.
  3. If you feel tension or your back rounds, keep both knees bent. Again, this will allow you to lengthen your spine.
  4. With practice, you may be able to straighten the legs and bring your heels down to the floor.
  5. Concentrate on your throat center. Before moving into the next pose, hold your breath at the end of the exhalation. 

Breath: Exhalation
Chakra: Vidhuddhi
Om Khagaya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to he who moves quickly in the sky

Step 6: Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with Eight Parts)

Sun Salutation Step 6: Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with Eight Parts)

This pose is frequently cued as “knees, chest, and chin,” describing the order in which you lower the body parts to the ground. This pose is usually performed while holding the breath. If the breath retention strains your lungs, you may breathe normally.

  1. Drop your knees to the floor.
  2. Lower your chest in between your hands, keeping the elbows close to the body.
  3. Touch your chin to the ground and continue gazing forward.
  4. Keep your toes tucked under and your hips and abdomen raised up.
  5. Focus on your abdomen and your Manipura Chakra, the navel center.

Breath: External Retention
Chakra: Manipura
Om Pushne Namaha 
Meaning: Salutations to the giver of strength

Step 7: Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 7: Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
  1. Inhale and slide your chest forward.
  2. You can keep a bend in the elbows and hug them toward your body.
  3. For a more challenging backbend, you can straighten the arms.
  4. Bend your head back and look up toward the eyebrow center.
  5. Drop your shoulders down, away from the ears, and firm the shoulder blades against your back.
  6. Continue to lift through your chest while pressing your legs and the tops of your feet into the mat.
  7. Focus on your Svadhisthana Chakra, located at your sacrum.

Breath: Inhalation
Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the golden, cosmic self

Step 8: Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 8: Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

From now on, you will repeat the poses from the beginning of the sequence – in the opposite order. Therefore, the instructions will be shorter. Focus on the same chakras as before, but be aware that the mantras keep changing.

  1. Exhale and tuck your toes. Alternatively, you can roll over the feet.
  2. Send your hips up and back into Parvatasaana.
  3. Send your chest toward your thighs and lengthen through your arms and shoulders.
  4. Stay grounded in your hands by spreading your fingers wide and pressing your knuckles into the mat – this is called Hasta Bandha, the hand lock.

Breath: Exhalation
Om Marichaye Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the Lord of the Dawn

Step 9: Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 9: Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)
  1. Inhale while stepping your left foot between the hands, bending the knee.
  2. Simultaneously, lower the right knee to the floor and push your pelvis forward.
  3. Arch your back and look up toward your eyebrow center.

Breath: Inhalation
Om Adityaya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the son of Aditi, the cosmic mother

Step 10: Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 10: Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

Exhale and step the right foot forward to meet your left foot. Fold forward, bringing the forehead as close to the knees as possible without straining. Remember that you can bend your knees or straighten your legs depending on your flexibility.

Breath: Exhalation
Om Savitre Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to the Lord of Creation

Step 11: Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 11: Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
  1. Inhale to lift up into Hasta Utthanasana.
  2. Keep the spine straight and engage your core muscles as you dive upwards.
  3. Reach your arms overhead, bend back as much as feels comfortable, and look toward your hands. 

Breath: Inhalation
Om Arkaya Namaha
Meaning: Salutations to he who is fit to be praised

Step 12: Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

Sun Salutation Step 12: Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)
  1. Exhale and lower your arms down in front of your chest, bringing the hands together in prayer pose.
  2. Then release your arms down by your sides, relax your body, and focus on your breathing until it returns to normal.

Breath: Exhalation
Chakra: Anahata
Om Bhaskaraya Namaha
Meaning: Salutation to he who leads to enlightenment

Additional Notes

In order to complete the full set of twenty-four poses, you need to do the same sequence again – with two small changes. When stepping back into Ashwa Sanchalanasana (the fourth pose), take your left foot back instead of the right. And when coming forward into Ashwa Sanchalanasana (the ninth pose), bring the right foot between the hands.

At the end of your practice, take a few minutes of rest in Savasana. This final relaxation allows your heartbeat and respiration to slow down, your muscles to relax, and your body and mind to integrate the effects of the practice. 

The final relaxation pose in the Sun Salutation sequence is called Savasana

The Multifaceted Benefits of the Sun Salutation

You will have realized by now that the Sun Salutation offers a great number of benefits at all levels. On top of physical asanas, it also includes breath and chakra awareness, mantras, and meditation techniques. That’s why it’s considered a holistic practice.

Physical Benefits of the Sun Salutation

Because of its dynamic nature, Surya Namaskar can be a great way of warming up the body for more demanding postures. It loosens up stiff muscles and joints. In addition, it tones and massages the internal organs which may improve digestion and help to detoxify the body.

In the long run, the practice helps you build flexibility, strength, endurance, and the coordination of body and mind. It balances all systems of the body, such as the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, and endocrine systems.

Emotional and Mental Benefits of the Sun Salutation

While the Sun Salutation certainly tones your muscles and boosts your physical vitality, its gifts go beyond the skin deep. On a more subtle level, Surya Namaskar cultivates emotional balance, motivation, focus, and heightened awareness.

Practicing this sequence can be akin to pressing the reset button on your mood, allowing a sense of peace to replace stress or anxiety. Each movement is an invitation to release pent-up emotional baggage, making room for positive energy and a more balanced state of being.

Spiritual Benefits of the Sun Salutation

Spiritually, the Sun Salutation serves as a silent homage to the life-giving force of the sun. As you flow through each asana, it’s an opportunity to connect with a sense of gratitude, oneness, and a deeper understanding of your place in the grand scheme of life.

Moreover, as you practice the Sun Salutation sequence with mindfulness you flow into a meditative state that may take you through different degrees of absorption. The deeper you internalize this practice, the stronger the connection with your Higher Self leading to spiritual awakening.

The Sun Salutation offers a great number of benefits at all levels, that's why it’s a considered a holistic practice

Closing Thoughts

In the ever-changing landscape of life, the Sun Salutation serves as an enduring anchor, offering a balanced blend of physical rejuvenation, emotional peace, and spiritual clarity. For beginners, the sequence provides a comprehensive introduction to the world of asana.

At the same time, it lays the foundation for a more nuanced and introspective practice in the long run. The true essence of this age-old ritual goes beyond flexibility or strength. It becomes a form of moving meditation that reconnects us with our deepest selves. This connection, in turn, sets the stage for a life better lived, imbued with emotional harmony and a profound sense of purpose.

So the next time you find yourself on the mat, remember: each pose is a dialogue, each breath a whisper, and the entire sequence a conversation between you and your truest self. Here’s to unearthing new layers of your being with every sun-kissed stretch and mindful exhale.

The Sun Salutation is balanced blend of physical rejuvenation, emotional peace, and spiritual clarity