London-based yoga teacher Kirsty Norton explains why fitting Sun Salutations into your daily routine brings a host of benefits.
It is said that if you have time to practice just one yoga sequence a day to ensure health and mobility, Sun Salutations should be your choice.
Also known as Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, Sun Salutations are a series of 12 postures, linked by the breath, in one single flow.
They have been a part of hatha yoga (the physical form of yoga) for thousands of years - and the ideal time to practice is in the morning.
As long as you have an empty stomach, early evening can also be a good choice: essentially, aim for sunrise, or sunset.
There are many benefits to Sun Salutations: they stretch, tone and massage the joints, muscles and internal organs of the body at the same time as stimulating and balancing the circulatory, respiratory, endocrine and digestive systems.
By linking the breath with the movement you increase mental clarity and it makes sure that for at least part of your day you are breathing deeply.
There are many variations of Sun Salutations; some are more dynamic than others, but here is a basic one you can follow:-
1. Stand with arms next to your body and feet together, distribute your weight evenly between your feet and stand tall like a mountain. On your next exhalation bring your palms together in prayer at your heart centre.
2. Inhale, take your arms out and then up over your head towards the sky, palms touching, look up as you bend back, arms alongside ears. Lift from the base of your spine and create space between the vertebrae of the spine.
3. Exhale and fold forward into a forward fold, hands alongside feet, fingers in line with toes. Bend your knees if you need to.
4. Inhale, right foot steps back into lunge position, you can take your right knee to the floor if you need to. Look up.
5. Retain your breath and you step the left foot back into a plank position with both hands under the shoulders. Feel your stomach engaged, imagine a string from your belly button pulling back towards your spine. Arms are pushing the body away from the floor and your body is in a diagonal line from heel to crown of head.
6. Exhale and lower knees, chest and chin to the floor (yes your bum is left sticking up in the air)
7. Inhale and slide the body forwards between your hands into Cobra. Your upper body is off the ground, lower ribs still in contact with the floor, your back will have a natural bend in this position. Keep your elbows tucked in towards the body and shoulders rolled back and elbows slightly bent.
8. Exhale as you tuck your toes under and push back from your hands to form an inverted V shape also known as Downward Facing Dog. Spread your fingers nice and wide and get a good firm foundation through the hands and the feet. Tailbone lifts to the sky to create length in the spine. Feet are hip width apart and hands are shoulderwidth apart.
9. Inhale and step the right foot forward back into a lunge position, look up
10. Exhale left foot forward to meet right and you're in a standing
11. Inhale arms reach up, tilt back, look up
12. Exhale hands in prayer come down the centre line to your heart centre
And now repeat on the left side. If you're new to this sequence start with two or three rounds and slowly work up to 12 rounds a day. It is good to relax after you practice or you can go onto do more postures.
Remember not to strain the body; go slowly until you are comfortable in the flow and enjoy the freedom it gives you. Drink your breath in and almost let the breath breathe you instead of forcing it. After you have completed your practice take time to notice how your body and mind feel.
Depending on the time you have available, you can go on to do a longer yoga practice, or you can just stop after your rounds of Surya Namaskar. Either way, make sure you take at least five minutes at the end of your practice to rest in Savasana.
Once you have developed your stamina in the flow and can move easily through the Sun Salutations you have at your fingertips a remarkable routine that energises the body and gives you optimal physical health.
In these ‘time poor' times, a few daily Sun Salutations, practised with commitment, are a fantastic way to maintain strength, flexibility and poise.
A word about the author
Kirsty Norton is a fully trained yoga teacher teaching in London. Kirsty is keen to encourage newcomers to yoga: so many people are worried needlessly about not being able to touch their toes. Yoga's benefits are endlesss; through the breathing techniques you learn to release built up tension and loosen muscles - increasing flexibility and range of movement.