Benefits of Sun Salutations

Among many Sun Salutation techniques, Sivananda Sun Salutation stands out. It was developed by Swami Sivananda, a practicing medical doctor (MD) before taking up monasticism, therefore developed by a person with knowledge of the human body.

The Sun Salutation is a graceful sequence of twelve positions performed as one continuous exercise. Each position counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing.

One round of Sun Salutation consists of two sequences, the first leading with the right foot  the second leading with the left. Try to co-ordinate your movements with your breathing. Start by practicing four rounds and gradually build up to twelve rounds.

  • Stand erect with feet together and hands in the prayer position in front of your chest. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Exhale.
  • Inhaling, stretch your arms up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Relax your neck.
  • Exhaling, fold forward, and press your palms down, fingertips in line with toes – bend your knees if necessary.
  • Inhaling, bring the left (or right) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.
  • Retaining the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.
  • Exhaling, lower your knees, then your chest and then your forehead, keeping your hips up and your toes curled under.
  • Inhaling, lower your hips, point your toes and bend back. Keep legs together and shoulders down. Look up and back.
  • Exhaling, curl your toes under, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted “V”shape. Try to push your heels and head down and keep your shoulders back.
  • Inhaling, step forward and place the left (or right) foot between your hands. Rest the other knee on the floor and look up.
  • Exhaling, bring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist.
  • Inhaling, streach your arms forward, then up and back over your head and bend back slowly from the waist.
  • Exhaling, gently come back to an upright position and bring your arms down by your sides.

The key of success with Sun Salutation, is to stay within the physical limits of your body. Do not push it. You are supposed to feel good practising Sun Salutation.

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is part of Hatha Yoga (the “physical” part of Yoga).

Sun Salutation has multiple mental and physical benefits. In only ten minutes you can achieve a low impact workout that combines both Resistance Training (e.g. weight lifting) and Cardiovascular (“Cardio”) Training.

The fitness community accepts the fact that cardiovascular exercise has reduced benefits (e.g. fat burning ends once the cardio exercise stops). It also has disadvantages like tear and wear of joints.

Resistance Training on the other hand, has multiple benefits: increases muscle mass hence more fat burning capability, increases bone density to mention just a few. The drawback: it is painful (I know I don’t like the feeling of burning in my muscles, even though I know it is good for me). Resistance training is also time consuming and it may increase blood pressure momentarily if not done properly.

A good compromise is Interval Training that consists of hard alternated with light pace cardio exercise. And this is exactly where Sun Salutation comes in. It is similar with Interval Training by combining a low impact resistance training (push-ups, squats) with cardio exercise. Even better, the benefits of Sun Salutation don’t stop at the physical level: your mind benefits as well.

Regular practice of Sun Salutation benefits your body with:

Increased blood oxygenation by copious lung ventilation and this is great news for your heart.

Stretches and tones your muscles keeping them supple and flexible.

Clears your elimination channels helping your body rid itself of toxins. This is especially good in the morning after many hours of lack of movement during sleep (the lymphatic system eliminates toxins through movement).

Stimulates and tones your Endocrine system (especially the Thyroid, the master gland that controls all the other glands).

Tones up the internal abdominal organs by alternate stretching, compression cycles that results in better digestion and bowel movement.

Increases spine and waist flexibility.

The mental benefits of Sun Salutation are similar with meditation. You can look at Sun Salutation as meditation in movement. It is not random that Tai-Chi (Chinese) or Kata in Karate, have a similar focussed mind on movement approach at the core of their practice. Sun Salutation helps to:

Increase your mental focus and concentration.

Reduce depression, anxiety and stress by reducing key markers like Cortisol.

Increase the quantity of “good mood” neurotransmitters like Serotonin.

Increase mind to body coordination which is very good especially for older persons.

If done properly, twelve repetitions of Sun Salutation (six pairs of Sun Salutation starting with one leg and then the other), go a long way. It takes roughly 30-40 seconds for one complete cycle (twelve postures flowing from one to the other). Add two minutes of relaxation at the end, to allow your body implement the “reset” you just performed, and you are ready for the new day.

Ten minutes all together in the morning will help you look at the unwinding life from a different perspective.

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