I have decided, once again, that I love sun salutations.
For two years I’ve taught a weekly vinyasa class and while I do not adhere to a specific sequence, school or style, I always include sun salutations in the practice. I also include sun salutations in my personal home practice. Every now and then I feel like I want to get back to basics in my life. This process usually involves asking myself the question, “Why?”
Why do I habitually do the things that I do in my practice? Do those things still bring value to my life or am I just repeating patterns? Should I consider a new direction? Why am I doing this? Lately, these questions have been directed towards the practice of sun salutations.
After carefully observing my experience of practicing sun salutations here are eight reasons why:
1. They’re fun!—Sun Salutations offer the opportunity to move playfully in the practice. The back and forth, up and down actions remind me of being on a swingset when I was a child. To this day, swingsets are one of my favorite things.
2. They prepare my body for the practice.—For me, there is no substitute for Sun Salutations when it comes to bringing that initial warmth and expansion into the body. The rest of my time on the mat is so much more open and capable.
3. They work the heart muscle.—In William Broad’s recently published book, The Science of Yoga,he refers to a study on the cardiovascular benefits of yoga. Results revealed that sun salutations provided the best overall benefit for the heart, specifically the left ventricle. Why is exercising the left ventricle important? Here is what a Wikipedia entry on the subject has to say:
For excellence of health, the left ventricular muscle must:
>>Relax very rapidly after each contraction so as to fill rapidly with oxygenated blood flowing from the lung veins, i.e. diastolic relaxation and filling.
>>Contract rapidly and forcibly to force the majority of this blood into the aorta, overcoming the much higher aortic pressure and the extra pressure required to stretch the aorta and other major arteries enough to expand and make room for the sudden increase in blood volume, i.e. systolic contraction and ejection.
4. They bring the mind to a calm, serene yogic state.—When I practice, I do the first few sun salutations more slowly. Each pose is held a little longer, five to ten breaths, to allow my body to open up a little bit. It also feels great to do it that way. Eventually I begin flowing through the sequence at a pace of one inhalation or exhalation per pose. This part of the practice joins the body, the breath and my own conscious awareness (Iyengar) into one unified whole. A sense of calmness and presence is established in the mind. In addition to bringing warmth and openness to the body, this state of mind is great preparation for the practice that lies ahead.
5. They open up awareness and intuition.—When I practice at home I do not adhere to a specific sequence of poses, such as the Primary Series. I think established sequences are great and a fantastic way to practice yoga, but I like to move in a way that serves the needs of my body at that particular moment in time. For me, practicing sun salutations heightens my awareness to the needs of my body and provides direction for my practice. If I have an hour or two hours or even 30 minutes, what shall I do with that time? What poses will best serve my needs right now? Sun Salutations help me to intuitively recognize the answers to these questions.
6. They help to overcome motivation issues.— I am a huge advocate of home yoga practice. To me, there is no substitute to standing on my mat and engaging in a practice that is completely self-guided. One of the problems that come up with home practice is that it is sometimes too easy to be distracted. Too easy to sit on the couch and watch TV or read, or, well, the list goes on and on. I have learned to play a trick on myself that helps. Give it a try if you find it hard sometimes to get on your mat and move. I’ll make a deal with myself by saying, “Just get on the mat and do 15 or 20 minutes of sun salutations. That’s all I’m asking. You’ll know exactly where to go and what to do; you won’t even have to think about it.”
Without fail, by the time I’m done I intuitively flow into the next pose, the next pose, the next pose and before I know it I get in an hour and a half practice. It’s like magic! See if it works for you.
7. They do everything.—Even if I only have fifteen or twenty minutes to practice, Sun Salutations alone cover all of the bases. Even the basic Sun Salutation, including Tadasana, Urdva Hastasana, Uttanasana, Ardha Uttanasana, Plank, Chatarunga, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog and Warrior One, gives the body a complete yogic makeover. In those few poses you get flexion and extension of the ankles, knees, hip sockets, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
You get backbends, forward bends, hip openers, inversions and even something like an arm balance with chatarunga and plank. Heck, you can even get a twist in there if you place an elbow over the opposite thigh before you finish. All the bases covered, jump in the shower, get dressed and you are ready for the day. The whole body is expanded, strengthened and ready for more.
8. They keep your skills sharp.—If you only can make it to one or two yoga classes in a studio per week, doing a few sun salutations every day will keep your body strong and open so you are not starting from zero every time you walk in to class. Your endurance, strength flexibility and the quality of your alignment will grow very rapidly. This will help a lot with your technical skill in the practice of yoga.
So there it is! There’s room for two more if you’d like to round this out and make it a top ten list. Now get out there and do some Sun Salutations!
Matt DuDonis is a full time inventor and entrepreneur in the health care industry and a devoted practitioner of yoga. Matt started practicing yoga off of a poster he found in a Seattle incense shop fifteen years ago and he has been fascinated ever since. A few years ago, Matt was looking for a new yoga class. One which combined the technical refinement of an alignment based class with the vigor and challenge of Vinyasa. Unable to find exactly what he was looking for, he began to teach what he had been practicing on his own in his living room. Finding the words to promote alignment without breaking the flow is the hallmark of his challenging classes offered in Sarasota, Florida.
Editor: ShaMecha Simms