Ever watch a cat wake up from a nap? They always do a deep back stretch before they pad off to do their cat stuff. Sun Salutations are very similar to the way a cat wakes up from a nap, it’s a way to flex and limber the spine. When you first get up your body has been laying inert in the same position for 8 hours. Sun Salutations shake out any stiffness and get you ready for the day. Here is what I recommend you try: do 12 Sun Salutations every morning, first thing after you wake up. Before you even eat breakfast. Try this for 12 days and you’ll be hooked. (Some people recommend 8 rounds, I say the number is up to you and how much time you have in the mornings. Even one is better than none obviously. But most of us can manage to spend 15 minutes a day, often this is about equal to the time you would otherwise be lounging in bed hitting the snooze button.)
If you are not a yoga expert Sun Salutations are a great place to start. They are a pretty basic sequence of poses, but they form the backbone of a lot more complicated asana sequences. The Sun Salutation is very easy to learn, You are basically doing a cycle of down ward dogs and upward dogs. However the simplicity is deceptive. If you do 12 Sun Salutations that works out to 288 asanas.
However the nice thing about the Sun Salutations as a way to start your day is you don’t have to think—what pose do I do next. If you are like me you are pretty groggy in the morning. For a long time I would try to get into the habit of doing a yoga routine in the morning, but it was hard to stick with because I would do a couple downward dogs and then be like, “uh now what?” And spend my time trying to remember some obscure hip opening sequence or having to stop and look at a yoga book. The Sun Salutation frees you from having to think —what next?
In it’s repetition it becomes a form of mediation. You don’t have to think, you just get into the flow. It is also a perfect flow to work on your pranayama, your breath. Each asana (pose) in the Sun Salutation sequence fits perfectly with your alternating breath. After you become familiar with the sequence you are no longer having to think about your balance or what foot to put where, you are able to focus on being mindful of your breath. In this way it is a moving meditation.
I’d say each set of Sun Salutation takes about one minute to cycle through. If you do 12 Sun Salutations that works out to 288 asanas. Twelve is a good amount to start your day off. A set is doing the sun salutation on both legs, right and then left. So that is actually 24 downward dogs, 24 upward dogs ( and you are also getting in 24 push ups without even thinking of them as pushups.) Really the hardest part is just keeping track of where you are in the flow. I actually say out loud what number I am on “1, 2, 3 etc.” when I come up to standing position so I don’t lose track.
A ritual is an opportunity to repeat the same action day after day, and thereby to increase it’s significance and meaning. The power of a ritual is that eventually the mood, the meaning, the mind set that you want to achieve with the ritual becomes automatic. The feeling that you want to impart to you sun Salutations is one of gratefulness for the day, as well as optimism and enthusiasm ( the vigor of the movements feel invigorating.) With the power of ritual this mood of gratitude can become yours easily and automatically every morning. And that is a great way to start the day.
While you could approach Sun Salutations as a spiritual exercise, the physical benefits cannot be over stated. my yoga teacher has said that a lot of people get to caught up in the physicality of yoga, but you can get 80% of the benefits of yoga just from doing Sun Salutations. It limbers the spin, expands the lungs, strengthens the muscles in the arms and legs and stretches them. It’s basically the best most efficient stretching and strengthening series squished into a very compact set of movements.
The movement and breathing gets your blood pumping and oxygen flow to your brain. It’s better than a cup of coffee.
It is great to start the day knowing you are doing something good for yourself. You begin the day knowing that no matter what you have already done something healthy for yourself on multiple levels and that sets the tone for the day. Another reason that I think it is a good way to begin your mornings is if you do Sun Salutations first thing in the morning you automatically start the day feeling rejuvenated and energized, and you don’t give your self time to start the day off on the wrong foot.
If you have ever taking any Hatha yoga the Sun Salutation is already familiar to you because it is generally used by many yoga teachers as the backbone for many other sequences. Because of this if you want to add on more poses to the sun salutation it is a great place to begin and then you can start adding scorpion to your downward dog or a crow to your plank pose etc. The possibilities are endless once you have the basics going.
While some yoga asanas are very calming or are referred to as revitalizing and restful. The Sun Salutation s definitely energizing, because you are flowing from standing to downward dog and back again. Because of this it is the best yoga for giving your morning a burst of vitality and energy.
When you start your day feeling energized and awake you are setting yourself up for a good day. A recent study of 124 college students who just did Sun Salutations for 20 minutes for two weeks (and did not do any other yoga) found they reported feelings of a quieted mind, feelings of rest, joy and less worry than the control group. If you want the benefits of yoga in a simple, easy to establish home practice morning Sun Salutations are the way to go!