Surya Namaskara – The Sun Salutation
Surya Namaskara or the Sun Salutation has a great energizing effect on the body, prana and mind. In Sanskrit, ‘Surya’ means the sun and ‘Namaskara’ means the salutation. Surya Namaskara consists of a series of yoga postures. There are 12 yoga poses performed in sequence. Surya Namskara is usually done in the morning during sunrise, facing the rising sun. It may also be done during sunset, again facing the setting sun.
Surya or the Sun God has been given great importance from the Vedic culture which sees divinity in the whole of creation. The Sun is called ‘Pratyaksha Narayana’ or God in the living form, which can be perceived by our naked eyes. The sun provides the energy that makes life possible on earth. Surya Namaskara is a form of worship to the Sun God, Surya. Each of the 12 poses has a specific mantra that the practitioner may optionally recite mentally. Each of those mantras is a name of the Sun-God, describing his glory.
Surya Namaskara is not mentioned in the earlier yogic texts. But it has been taught traditionally by the yoga masters, as a potent exercise whose energizing benefits are seen both on the body and mind.
Surya Namaskara can be performed at various speeds. A slow rhythmic practice is recommended as it has greater effect on the mind. Surya Namaskara helps to attain a meditative mood when performed slowly, with attention on the breath and chanting the specific mantra. When performed with speed, it has more effect on the body, energizing it and burning extra calories. No matter what the speed is, one has to perform the 12 poses with breath awareness. The 12 poses and the associated mantras should be learnt from an experienced yoga instructor.
Surya Namaskara should not be practiced by those suffering from high blood pressure, coronary diseases and strokes. Also those with hernia should avoid this. Women should generally not practice it during pregnancy. People with spondylitis and sciatica should consult a doctor before practising Surya Namaskara.
How to do Surya Namaskara (The Sun Salutation)?
Surya Namaskara is series of 12 postures done in sequence. The first 7 postures are unique. The posture 8 is a repetition of posture 5. Posture 9 is a repetition of posture 4. Similarly, posture 10 is same as posture3; posture 11 is same as posture 2 and posture 12 is same as posture 1.
The 12 postures and their corresponding mantras is given below:
- Pranamasana or the Prayer pose: Stand erect with folded hands close to the chest. Relax and breathe normally. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Mitraya Namaha”.
- Hasta Uttanasana or the Raised Arms pose: Raise both the hands above the head. Inhale while raising your hands. Bend the trunk and neck slightly backwards. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Ravaye Namaha”.
- Padahastasana or the Hand to Foot pose: Bend forward till your hands touch the floor. Breathe out while bending forward. If it doesn’t touch, go as far as possible without straining. Try to touch the knees with the forehead. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Suryaya Namaha”.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana or the Equestrian pose: Stretch the left leg as far back as possible while inhaling in. At the same time, bend the right knee. The hands should be kept straight with fingers touching the floor. Arch the back a little with head tilted back. Look straight ahead. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Bhanave Namaha”.
- Parvatasana or the Mountain pose: While exhaling, take the right leg backward and place it along the left leg. Raise the buttocks. Let the hands be straight supporting the weight of the body. The head should be placed between the hands. The pose looks like a mountain from the side. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Khagaya Namaha”.
- Ashtanga Namaskara or the Eight-Limbed Salutation: Lower the body to the ground in such a way that it touches the floor in eight locations – The two feet, the two knees, the two hands, the chest and the head. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Pushne Namaha”.
- Bhujangasana or the Cobra pose: Raise the body by using the hands. Arch the head backwards. This position looks like the cobra which has raised its hood. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha”.
- Parvatasana or the Mountain pose: This is same as pose 5. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Marichaye Namaha”.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana or the Equestrian pose: This is same as pose 4.The mantra to be chanted is “Om Adityaya Namaha”.
- Padahastasana or the Hand to Foot pose: This is same as pose 3. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Savitre Namaha”.
- Hasta Uttanasana or the Raised Arm pose: This is same as pose 2. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Arkaya Namaha”.
- Pranamasana or the Prayer pose: This is same as pose 1. The mantra to be chanted is “Om Bhaskaraya Namaha”.
This is only half the round. The other round of 12 poses is done with the following changes:
- In position 4 (Ashwa Sanchalasana), stretch the right leg back, instead of the left one.
- In position 9 (Ashwa Sanchalasana), bend the right leg and bring the right foot forward.
This completes one round (12 + 12) of Surya Namaskara. Start with one round when you are learning the practice and then increase it up to 10 rounds.
Benefits of Surya Namaskara (The Sun Salutation)
- Surya Namaskara comprehensively includes asana, pranayama, mantra and meditative awareness. Hence it is good to start the morning yoga practice with Surya Namaskara.
- The sequence of asanas induces deep and rhythmic breathing.
- It loosens up the joints in the body.
- It tones the muscles and the internal organs.
- Surya Namaskara activates the Pingala nadi or the Surya nadi which enhances the energy level in the body.
- It removes lethargy and makes the mind alert.
- It helps to strengthen the back muscles.
- It balances the respiratory, circulatory, reproductive and the endocrine system.
- Surya Namaskara, when done briskly, is good practice to burn extra fat in the body.