Sūrya Namaskāra also known in English as Sun Salutation (lit. “salute to the sun”) is a common sequence of asanas.
This sequence of movements and asanas can be practiced with varying levels of awareness, ranging from physical exercise to complete sadhana which incorporates asana, pranayama, mantra and chakra meditation.
Without the Sun, there would be no life on Earth. Surya Namaskara is a series of twelve physical postures. These alternating backward and forward bending postures flex and stretch the spinal column through its maximum range giving a profound stretch to the whole body.
Often, after a hard day’s work, we just flop down on the couch “apparently” relaxing our bodies – but it is NOT so. The stagnant energies remain locked up and the organs remain de-oxygenated to a large extent. Surya Namaskar has a deep effect in detoxifying the organs through copious oxygenation and it has a deeper relaxing effect.
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a very ancient technique of paying respect or expressing gratitude to the Sun that is the source of all forms of life on the planet. Now, just knowing how to do Surya Namaskar is not enough. It is also important to understand the science behind this very ancient technique, because a deeper understanding will bring forth the right outlook and approach towards this very sacred and powerful yogic technique.
Why start the day with Surya Namaskar?
Surya Namaskar is a set of 12 postures, preferably to be performed at sunrise. The regular practice of Surya Namaskar improves circulation of blood throughout the body, maintains health, and helps one remain disease-free. There are numerous benefits of Surya Namaskar for the heart, liver, intestine, stomach, chest, throat and legs. From head to toe, every part of the body is greatly benefitted by Surya Namaskar, which is why it is highly recommended by all yoga experts.
These postures act as a good link between warm-ups and asanas and can be performed at any time on an empty stomach. However, morning is considered to be the best time for Surya Namaskar as it revitalizes the body and refreshes the mind, making us ready to take on all tasks of the day. If performed in the afternoon, it energizes the body instantly and if performed at dusk, it helps you unwind. When performed at a fast pace, Surya Namaskar is an excellent cardiovascular workout and a good way to lose weight.
Prayer of the Sun (chanted prior to Surya Namaskar practice):
Om yahi surya sahashramso
Tejo rashe jagatpate
Anukampaye mam bhaktya
Surya Namaskar Sequence:
- Pranamasana/Namaskarasana (Prayer Pose): Stand straight with feet together. Inhale arms up and exhale the palms together in front of the chest. Concentrate on standing straight, steady and in a prayerful attitude.This posture helps to induce a state of introversion, relaxation and calmness. It activates the anahata chakra. This is a pose where one meditates to the Sun God.
- Hastauttanasana/Urdhva Namaskarasana (Raised Arms Pose): Inhaling, stretch both arms above the head, palms facing upward. Arch the back and stretch the whole body. Try and reach as high as you can to get a better stretch.This posture stretches the chest and the abdomen and lifts the Prana (energy) upward to the upper parts of the body propelled by inhalation. It helps in stretching the whole body. It helps correct the spinal arch and also improves the integrity of the spine.
- Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose): Exhale, bend the body forward and down, keeping the spine straight. Avoid collapsing the chest or “over-rounding” the upper back. Keep the legs straight and perpendicular to the ground. The knees may be allowed to bend a little if needed.This posture massages the abdominal organs, especially the liver, kidneys, pancreas, adrenals, uterus and ovaries. A healthy flow of blood is sent to the spinal nerves as they are stretched and toned. The hamstring muscles and calf muscles are stretched and toned. Inversion increases blood flow to the brain. The Prana is channeled to the lower regions of the body propelled by exhalation.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose): Inhale and extend the right leg back and drop the knee to the ground and flatten the foot. The left knee is bent and kept between the hands keeping the foot flat on the ground. Lift the spine and open the chest. Concentrate on the eyebrow center.This asana improves the overall health of the body and strengthens the back, abdomen and thigh muscles. It promotes mobility of the knee joints, strengthens the body to maintain goodposture and prevents back problems. As there is a stretch on the neck, it is also beneficial to the functioning of the thyroid gland.
- Parvatasana (Mountain Pose): Exhale and bring the left leg back to join with the right leg. Simultaneously raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms, so that the body forms a triangle with the floor. Try to place the heels flat on the ground. Focus awareness at the neck area. Maintaining the posture take a deep inhalation.
This posture strengthens the nerves and muscles in the arms and legs, stretches the calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons and makes the spine straight and taut. This asana helps in boosting self-confidence. Because of the increased blood flow to the upper body and the shoulder stand it helps in improving brain function, and reduces anxiety and depression.
6. Ashtanga Namaskarasana (Salute with Eight Parts): Exhaling, gently drop both knees to the ground and slowly slide the body down at an angle as you bring the chest and chin to the ground. All eight limbs – toes, knees, chest, hands and chin – touch the floor. The buttocks are kept up.
This posture sends additional blood to the upper body area helping to rejuvenate the nerves. Besides strengthening the leg and arm muscles this pose develops the chest and gives flexibility to the region of spine between the shoulder blades.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): On the inhale, lower the hips while pushing the chest forward and upward, straighten the arms until the spine is fully arched and the head is facing up. The knees and lower abdomen remain above the floor. Focus the awareness at the base of spine and feel the tension from the forward pull.
This pose gives dynamic expansion to the organs of the chest and abdomen, relieving many ailments such as asthma, constipation, indigestion, kidney and liver problems. It is very helpful in relieving tension in the back muscles and spinal nerves.
- Parvatasana (Mountain Pose): Exhale and return to posture 5.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose): Inhale and swing the right leg forward between the hands. The left leg remains back. Repeating posture 4.
- Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose): Exhaling, bring the left foot forward. Join both legs. Repeating posture 3.
- Hastauttanasana/Urdhva Namaskarasana (Raised Arm Pose): Inhale, raise the trunk up and bend backward. Repeating posture 2.
- Pranamasana/Namaskarasana (Prayer Pose): Straighten the body and bring the hands in front of the chest. Repeating posture 1.
Repeat the entire series, alternating legs!!
Variations: One round of Surya Namaskar burns approximately 10 calories for the average person. To hold the interest of your students, increase their strength and stamina and to burn more calories you can incorporate a Dynamic Surya Namaskar sequences:
4595 -Lead up to Steps 4 & 5 and then jump to Step 9, then back to Step 5, then back to Step 4 and repeat several times as 4595 before moving to Step 10. Make sure that at steps 4 and 9 alternate legs are forward each time (ex. 4 is right foot back, 9 is right foot forward).
567 –Lead through Step 7 and jump back to repeat Step 5, 6 and 7. Repeat the sequence several times before moving through to Step 8.
Allow students to rest adequately by taking a break to breath after finishing the sequence and by taking the next sequence slowly, so that their heart rate can return to normal.
When the Surya Namaskar sequence is performed a little quickly, the gain is more physical, while if they are performed slowly with breath awareness, the gain is more mental and spiritual.
Surya Namaskar is a cardiovascular exercise. The benefits are far reaching being good for your heart, liver, intestine, stomach, chest, throat and legs. It purifies the blood and improves circulation throughout the whole body and also ensures proper functioning of the stomach, bowels, and nerve centers. Sun salutations also balance the three bodily constitutions – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Your flexibility is increased, especially when performed in the morning.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar:
- Tones up the digestive system by the alternate stretching and compression of abdominal organs.
- It activates digestion and gets rid of constipation and dyspepsia.
- Strengthens abdominal muscles.
- Thoroughly ventilates the lungs, and oxygenates the blood.
- Acts as detoxifying agent, by getting rid of enormous quantity of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.
- Promotes sleep and calms anxiety.
- Tones up the nervous system and improves memory.
- Normalizes the activity of the endocrine glands – especially the thyroid gland.
- Refreshes the skin. Prevents Skin disorders.
- Improves muscle flexibility.
- In women – stimulates the breasts to help firmness normally. Restores any lost elasticity, through stimulation of glands and the strengthening of pectoral muscles.
- Helps in cases of menstrual irregularity and assists in easy childbirth.
- Prevents loss of hair and greying.
- Helps reduce fat.
- Reduces abnormal prominence of Adam’s apple.
- Eliminates unpleasant smells from the body.
- Lends grace and ease of movements to the body.
- Revives and maintains the spirit of youthfulness.
- Broadens chest and beautifies arms.
- Makes the spine and waist flexible.
- Produces health, strength, efficiency and longevity.
Who should NOT do Surya Namaskar?
- Pregnant women should not practice this after third month of pregnancy.
- Those with hernias and high blood pressure are warned against this practice.
- People suffering from back conditions should seek proper advice before commencing Surya Namaskar.
- Women should avoid Surya Namaskar during menstruation.