In a sense, the Surya Namaskar or sun salutation, is the core of yoga: it improves overall body strength, builds stamina, and develops flexibility. The benefits of both Asanas and Pranayama can be attained in this series of 12 postures. It should ideally be done early in the morning, facing the rising sun, and each movement of the body is synchronised with a breath, exhaling at the folds and inhaling as you lengthen or stretch out the body. However, nothing in yoga is cast in stone, and it may be practised at any time, as long as it’s on an empty stomach.
Sun salutations are also a very good cardiovascular exercise, helping to increase the metabolic rate of the body, and in turn aiding in weight loss. Those who are from the Hatha Yoga school know that it is an essential part of the asana practice.
The series of 12 poses of Surya Namaskar are all linked in a Vinyasa. In yoga, we believe that the right step comes on the heels of the right thought. With the Surya Namaskar, this means that we must concentrate on the right breath, so that the alignment and breath in the following pose is correct. When we practise this way, we are mindful of all our movements. It is best to learn the steps to the Surya Namaskar from a good teacher, who will give you variations which are suitable for your body.
A number of people I meet say they do 108 in one go, which is fine for an advanced practitioner, but for someone who is beginning, it is not a good idea, because the synchronisation of breath and movements may go awry. Here are other common mistakes people make.
Mistake #1 Sacrificing the breath for movements
Synchronise each step with the movement, beginning with breathing in as you arch your back, and then out with the next movement and so on. Surya Namaskar is never done at a fast pace, as the essence of the whole practice is lost.
Mistake #2 Barely lifting the spine in the half lift
You might skim over Ardha Uttanasana, barely lifting your spine. But if you give this transitional pose short shrift, you’ll skimp on your breath and potentially strain your neck. You’ll also miss the main benefits: strengthening and decompressing the spine. I often watch students skipping this pose as the lift up from the forward bend uttanasana to half uttanasana is so small that students keep skipping it. The idea is to inhale and lift the front of the chest, stretching the entire spine and placing the finger tips on the floor or the palms on the shin bone.
Mistake #3 Dropping the lower spine in the plank
Students tend to put pressure on the lower spine and drop it towards the floor in Ardha Chaturanga. This can lead to lower back pain. Simply learn to press the palms and the toes deep into the earth, engaging the upper body and the abdominals.
Mistake #4 Getting mixed up between cobra and upward-facing dog
Students tend to do neither Bhujangasana or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, and instead do some in-between pose. Master the cobra, so you gain strength for the advanced variation of upward-facing dog.
Mistake #5 Struggling to bring the foot forward in the low lunge
It can be a struggle for students to get the foot forward all the way between the hands when one is transitioning from the Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) to Anjaneyasana. Students end up in a pose where the knees are hyperextended and regular practice done this way will put too much pressure on the knees and not stretch the hip flexors. Try to drop the knees down for a second and then gently bring the foot forward, or just walk through the pose.
Seema Sondhi discovered yoga when she suffered three lumbar slipped discs and was advised complete bed rest. Over the last 18 years, she has trained and been certified from the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre and Matthew Sweeney. She has also written six books on the subject