Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar as it literally translates from Sanskrit, is a sequence of yoga exercises (asanas) performed in worship of Surya the Sun God.
It is a unique system which is handed over by the Hindu sages of the past for the development of an individual’s body, mind, and soul.
The sequence of poses can be practised just as a simple exercise for the physical body or in combination with breath control (pranayama) and meditation (chanting of mantras) for the benefit of the nervous system (pranayama and mantras).
It is practised as a series of positions that make one namaskar that follow in an unbroken rhythm.
Traditionally, it is performed either early in the morning (sunrise) or in the evening (sunset) in an open area facing the sun with the sun’s rays touching the practitioner.
There are 12 positions in each sun salutation. It would be of great advantage to get up early in the morning, have a bath, and then start doing surya namaskar in the open air.
SUN SALUTATION SEQUENCES
Spread a small towel on the floor so that you can maintain the position throughout the exercise. Stand erect facing the rising sun so that the rays of the sun fall straight on you body. Keep the feet and knees together, toes toughing the edge of the cloth and the hands folded in front of the chest with the two palms pressing against each other. This it the “pranam” position. Throw the chest forward, draw in your abdomen, and thus give a massage to the abdominal organs. Now straighten and stiffen the body and think and feel as if you are taking root on the ground. Put up a happy face.
Raise the hands over the head high up in the air and pulled upwards as if to reach a higher point above, while maintaining the stiffness of the body. Think and feel that you are growing taller and taller and breathe in as much air as possible slowly and steadily. This resembles the “parvathasan” which is said to do immense good to the upper part of the trunk.
The body is doubled at the hip and the two palms are placed on the ground by the side of the feet in such a manner that the root of the fingers are in a line with the toes, taking care not to bend the legs at the knees. While bending forward, breathe partially out and hold. Pull the abdominal wall backward. In the beginning stages, however, it will not be possible not to bend the legs at the knees, and it is advisable to bend them a little, but it is necessary to straighten them as much as possible immediately as the palms rest on the ground. Regular practice will make it easy later on for the knees to be kept straight. This position resembles the padahastasana in which the spine gets an upward pull at the hip region and is stretched. The partial breath held in this and the two following positions is what is called Kevala Kumbhaka pranayama.
Now, without moving the palms take the right leg backward and rest its toes and knee on the ground and look up; you other leg will now be bent at the knee and the chest will press against the left thigh. The holding of the partial breath inside (Kevala Kumbhaka) is maintained in this position.
Next is to take the left foot also back and place it by the side of the right foot, and the chin is pressed against the root of the neck. The Kevala Kumbhaka is maintained in this position also. The chin lock that is formed is called the Jalandara Bandha and acts on the nerve centres of the upper spine and the neck region.
Now, keep the palms and toes rooted and drop flat on the floor in such a manner that only your forehead, chest, and the two knees touch the ground. These four limbs together with the two palms and the two feet make eight and hence this position is known as the Sashtanga Namaskar, the eight-limbed prostration. Breathe out completely and hold breath outside. This emptying of the lungs of all air and keeping it so is what is called Sunyaka or the bahya kumbhaka pranayam.
In this, the entire body from the toes to the lower abdomen is made to lie flat on the ground and head is lifted and pulled backward thus giving the upper spine a backward pull. This resembles the Bhujangasan. A deep, slow, and stead breath is taken in this position and held. This is the antarkumbhaka pranayma.
In this, the whole body is raised at the hip region as high as possible without of course moving the palms or the feet and the body now assumes the shape of an inverted “V”. This resembles the ardhasirsasan. The two heels should touch the ground. This has a very good effect on the hamstring muscles and of the legs and the ankles. The antar kumbhaka is maintained.
This is the same as position 4 with the alternate leg forward. By this, it is meant that if the right leg was taken backward in position 4, in position 9 the same leg must be brought forward and the other leg kept backward. Breath is held inside in this position also.
This is the same as position 3 and all the air is breathed out.
This is the same as position 2 in which a deep breath is taken in.
This is the starting position number 1 in which all the air is breathed out and the mind concentrates on the good effects that are and will be derived out of the exercise.
In any form of physical exercise, breath plays an important part. In one sun salutation, we breathe thrice, but these 3 breaths are not of the same kind or duration. It takes 20 minutes to do one namaskar.
SUN SALUTATION BENEFITS
All the muscles of the body derive immense benefit out of this, and it can easily replace the morning “keep fit” exercises to great advantage. The technique is very simple and can be done without any fear or trouble by all alike, the weak and the strong, the sick and the healthy, the males and the females, and the young and the old.
The muscles of the forearm, upper arm, back, thigh and the chest become stronger by the practice of this simple and cheap exercise and the benefits to the stomach are many. This enables one to get the maximum energy out of the food one takes. More oxygen (pranic energy) is absorbed into the system from the air one breathes and from the atmosphere one is in as a result of this exercise.
Regular practice of the Surya Namaskar with correct breathing every day at the appointed hour and will naturally have a cumulative effect upon one’s normal way of breathing and make it a habit of him to breathe rhythmically always, besides giving him the emotional poise.
By doing this simple exercise we will get emotional poise, good health, happiness, and long life.