If you have been to at least one yoga class in your life, you will recognize the above images and the sequence (or at least some form of it) The sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) are an essential part of any yoga practice. Typically, yogis practice this series of moves in the beginning of the day to welcome the sun, awaken their body, begin to establish cardiac rhythm, invigorate the digestive system and unite the mind and body through movement and breath.
Having said all of the above, this is where I begin to marvel at the intelligence of yoga and all that it has to offer.
So not only is the Surya Namaskar an excellent warm up as it targets all the major muscle groups in the body that are required for a yoga practice (hamstrings, quadriceps, core, shoulders, back) it is an entire exercise in itself. How cool is that?? So basically, if you wanted to get a complete work out, just repeat the sequence of moves shown above a few dozen times and I guarantee you will have broken a sweat. The reason that it is challenging? Each movement is linked with one breath.
As an example, please see the video below depicting the sun salutation movements done the Ashtanga-Vinyasa way. Note: Depending on the style of yoga class you take, your teacher may or may not have you hold for 5 breaths in downward dog. Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga has strict specifications on breathing. But, the Surya Namaskar movements and poses themselves will generally (I say generally as some teachers may offer modifications) be the same no matter what yoga class you take (Hatha, Vinyasa, etc).
A study was conducted in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine that studied the effectiveness of sun salutations in increasing one’s muscle strength, and general body composition. The study was conducted by having the subjects (49 male and 30 female) perform 24 cycles of sun salutation, 6 days a week for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, gains in muscle strength were measured by having the subjects perform bench presses, sit-ups, and shoulder presses.
The study further concludes: Results of the present study indicate that sun salutation has the potential to improve the muscle strength, general body endurance and body composition to the optimum level in healthy individuals. These components in turn, enhance an individual’s physical fitness. Sun salutation does not require any tools or gadgets, limited space is enough to perform them and only a few minutes are necessary to perform a given number of cycles. Generally, resistance training which improves muscle strength and aerobic exercises which improve body endurance and body composition are believed to be the essential components of a fitness regimen. However, from the present study, it can be concluded that sun salutation is an easier and less time consuming alternative to improve strength, body composition and general body endurance.
Aside from the physical benefits of sun salutations, I really enjoy doing the salutations for its mental aspect. It is a great way for me to quiet the chatter in my mind. As I inhale – I think – standing mountain pose (Tadasana) exhale – fold forward (Uttanasana) – inhale – Ardha Uttanasana – etc. It is a moving meditation. Honestly, after about 5 or 6 rounds of this, all I can think of are my sore shoulders, my tight hamstrings and my lovely sweat-bead mustache that has now formed. My physical tiredness begins to hush the other thoughts in my brain such as impending credit card payments, or my weekly to-do list. Yoga is sneaky like that.
So if you’re not up to going to an hour-long yoga class, just try doing a few of these at home. You may be surprised as to how effective these moves are for generating heat in your body, and most importantly: reducing chatter in your mind.
Thanks for reading!