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Mastering Surya Namaskar: A Complete Guide to the Sun Salutation Yoga Flow

Author: The Yoga InstituteTime: 2024-01-26 11:35:00

Table of Contents

Introducing Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar, also called Sun Salutation, is a sequence of 12 yoga poses that has been practiced in India for thousands of years as a way to show respect and gratitude to the Sun. The flowing movements are synchronized with the breath and together they stimulate and strengthen the entire body.

The name Surya Namaskar means "salutation to the sun" in Sanskrit. The practice is seen as a tribute to the sun's life-giving energy. As we flow through the sequence of poses and breaths, we absorb this vital energy into our bodies, bringing balance, strength and calmness.

The History and Significance of Surya Namaskar

There are several origin stories for Surya Namaskar. One account dates it back to Vedic times when people would face the rising sun and offer water and sandalwood paste as an act of worship. Over the centuries, this ritual evolved into a set sequence of yoga postures to express respect and appreciation for the nourishment provided by the sun. Ancient yogis recognized the sun as the source of all life and created Surya Namaskar as a tool for spiritual and physical wellbeing.

Benefits of Practicing Surya Namaskar

Regular practice of Surya Namaskar offers wide-ranging health benefits. As a cardiovascular workout that stretches and strengthens all the major muscle groups, it improves circulation, flexibility, muscle tone, and balance. It boosts energy levels and stamina. On a mental and spiritual level, the coordinated breathing helps calm the mind, relieve stress and anxiety. The practice also has a detoxifying effect, stimulating the internal organs and glands to improve and maintain overall health.

Learning the 12 Poses of Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar consists of 12 graceful postures performed in a sequence that flows smoothly from one pose to the next. The postures fall into two rounds. The first round moves with the breath from standing position through to a forward bend, progressing down to hands and knees, lowering all the way to the floor until you are flat on your belly. You then reverse back up to return to standing position.

In the second round, the same sequence is repeated but starting with the opposite leg back. The full Surya Namaskar practice completes one round on each side. Most traditions also integrate sacred Sanskrit mantras, with one mantra chanted aloud or silently for every pose.

The First Round Flow with Mantras

To see the full first round flow with the mantras at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai:

  1. Pranamasana (Prayer pose) - Stand upright with palms together at chest in prayer, chant Om Mitraya Namaha (Salutations to the Universal Friend)
  2. Hastottanasana (Raised arms pose) - Inhale arms up overhead with backbend, chant Om Ravaye Namaha (Salutations to the Radiant One)
  3. Padamasana (Hand to foot pose) - Exhale to forward fold, hands down to mat or blocks, Om Suryaya Namaha (Salutations to the one who Stimulates and Enlivens)
  4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose) - Inhale step right leg back to lunge, hands down, look up, arch spine, Om Bhanave Namaha (Salutations to the Light of Lights)
  5. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight limbed salute pose) - Exhale step left foot back to plank pose, Om Khagaya Namaha (Salutations to the All-Pervading One)
  6. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) - Hold breath and lower to floor, chest down snake pose - Om Pushne Namaha (Salutations to the Nourishing One)
  7. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight limbed salute pose) - Inhale slide chest forward and up into cobra pose, Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha (Salutations to the Womb of Gold/Generous Source)
  8. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) - Exhale glide back to downward dog, Om Marichaye Namaha (Salutations to the Lord of Dawn/New Beginnings)
  9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose) - Inhale right foot fwd high lunge, Om Adityaya Namaha (Salutations to Son of Infinity & Mother of Compassion)
  10. Padamasana (Hand to foot pose) - Hold breath bring left foot fwd to meet right, hands down, Om Savitre Namaha (Salutations to the Creation Sustainer)
  11. Hastottanasana (Raised arm pose) - Inhale sweep arms overhead and arch back gently, Om Arkaya Namaha (Salutations to the Thousand-Ray One)
  12. Pranamasana (Prayer pose) - Exhale return to prayer pose at heart center, Om Bhaskaraya Namaha (Salutations to the Divine Light)

The Second Round Reverse Flow

The second round reverses the sequence starting by stepping the left foot back first on the Inhale rather than the right side, then following steps 7-12 to return to standing. Practitioners often repeat several full rounds of the complete sequence on each side, in a continuous synchronized dance-like flow from one pose to the next.

Who Should Avoid Surya Namaskar?

While suitable for most people, Surya Namaskar is an active sequence that requires strength, flexibility and coordination of breath. Those with certain health conditions should check with a doctor before attempting the practice.

People with high blood pressure, back injuries, recent surgery or pregnancy should take precautions or avoid Surya Namaskar poses that exacerbate their condition. Those with medical issues such as heart disease, eye issues like glaucoma or retina problems, vertigo or equilibrium disturbances should also use caution or avoid the practice, especially the transitions between positions.

Tips for Safely Incorporating Sun Salutations

For beginners or those returning to exercise after illness/injury, start slowly with a few rounds of the sequence and gradually build up. Allow the breath to set the pace rather than pushing beyond your limits.

Practice on a soft surface with some cushion to protect joints. Avoid overexertion - doing numerous rounds can deplete energy reserves and strain muscles. Hydrate well after practice to counterbalance any excessive sweating.

Listen to your body and don't ignore warning signs of fatigue, strain or discomfort. As a warm up and cool down, do some gentle stretches before and after attempting Surya Namaskars.


Surya Namaskar is a revitalizing yogic practice that connects mind, body and spirit. These sun salutations offer a perfect exercise solution for modern busy lifestyles - stimulating yet relaxing, strenuous yet gentle. Regular practice boosts strength, flexibility, stamina and mental clarity, allowing us to shine brightly.

The synchronous flow of movement and breath leaves one feeling calm, focused and energized. By honoring the nourishing solar energy source, we come into greater harmony with nature's cycles. Surya Namaskar is truly the ultimate salute to the divine light within us all.


Q: How many rounds of Surya Namaskar should a beginner do?
A: Beginners should start with 3-5 rounds of Surya Namaskar and gradually increase to 10-12 rounds as their body adapts and gains more flexibility and stamina.

Q: When is the best time to practice Surya Namaskar?
A: Practicing Surya Namaskar early in the morning facing the rising sun or in the evening facing the setting sun is considered most beneficial.

Q: What mantras should one chant during Surya Namaskar?
A: The traditional Surya Namaskar sequence includes 12 mantras, one for each pose, glorifying Surya, the Hindu sun god. However, chanting is optional.

Q: Can Surya Namaskar help me lose weight?
A: Yes, practicing Surya Namaskar regularly can aid weight loss by burning calories and boosting metabolism. Combine with a healthy diet for best results.

Q: How does Surya Namaskar benefit skin and hair?
A: The yoga asanas increase blood circulation carrying nutrients to skin and hair follicles, improving tone and luster. Sweating also clears toxins.

Q: Is Surya Namaskar safe for seniors and pregnancy?
A: Seniors and pregnant women must practice Surya Namaskar slowly with care, avoiding over-exertion. Check with your doctor before starting.

Q: Can Surya Namaskar be harmful if done incorrectly?
A: Yes, improper alignment or over-exertion can strain muscles and joints. Beginners should learn under an experienced teacher before practicing independently.

Q: How many calories does one round of Surya Namaskar burn?
A: Approximately 15 calories are burned per round of Surya Namaskar. So practicing 10 rounds burns 150 calories - a great cardio workout!

Q: Does Surya Namaskar build core strength?
A: Yes, moving through the poses engages and tones the entire core area including abs and back muscles for improved strength and stability.

Q: Will Surya Namaskar help my digestion?
A: The alternating stretch and compression aids digestion by stimulating abdominal organs. It regulates bowel movements and improves gut health.