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Surya Namaskar: Start Your Day with an Attitude of Gratitude

Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation

“begets and feeds mankind in various manors” – Rig Veda III.55.19

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) means to bow to, adore, salute or honor the Sun. Surya Namaskar is traditionally twelve graceful Asanas (postures) performed in sequence as an exercise honoring the external source of life; the Sun. The external Sun corresponds with our own internal Sun; our internal energy and source of life. When performed we are also honoring and opening up our own internal Sun, light, energy, heart and the whole of Nature. (Honoring the creation brings in a sense of sacredness to your Yoga practice.).

Traditionally, it is performed at dawn (or at the beginning or practice), facing the rising sun. In time, each of the twelve positions came to have its own mantra, celebrating aspects of the sun’s divinity (though most modern Yoga practioners practice without the mantas). Each Asana counteracts the preceding, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing.

Incorporating the Surya Namaskar into your daily routine can make a positive difference in your life. When done correctly, it provides a complete body warm-up, mental awareness; it will bring great flexibility to your spine, joints and trim your waist. It limbers up the whole body in preparation for the Asanas during the rest of the practice. Additionally Surya Namaskar has many other benefits:

Improves digestion – It also improves one’s digestive system by the alternate stretching and compression of the abdominal organs. People who suffer from constipation and dyspepsia or indigestion should practice Surya Namaskar every morning on an empty stomach.

Gives you rock-hard abs – Your abdominal muscles are strengthened when the Asanas are performed on a regular basis; meaning that your core muscles including your abs get a great workout!

 Helps you detox – Due to the active inhalation and exhalation process, the lungs are thoroughly ventilated and the blood remains oxygenated. This also helps in detoxifying one’s body by getting rid of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.

Keeps anxiety at bay – It helps improve your memory and nervous system and also helps calm you down and get rid of anxiety. It normalizes the activity of the endocrine glands, especially the thyroid gland.

Improves flexibility – The Asanas performed in Surya Namaskar workout your entire body, making you more flexible and agile.

Promotes regular menstrual cycle – If you have an irregular menstrual cycle, then this exercise will help you suppress the irregularity.

Tones the arms, strengthens the spine – If toned arms and a broad chest if what you want, then Surya Namaskar is for you. It also makes your spine stronger and your waist more flexible.

Keeps you youthful – Incorporating it in your routine will keep you youthful and healthy even in old age.

Helps in weight loss – It will help you lose weight faster, much faster than dieting.

Though Surya Namaskar should be a part of your morning routine, there are certain exceptions when it comes to who cannot practice this exercise.

  • Pregnant women should not practice this after their third month of pregnancy.
  • Patients of hernia and high blood pressure are advised against this practice.
  • People suffering from back pain should seek proper advice before commencing Surya Namaskar.
  • Women should avoid Surya Namaskar and other asanas during their periods.

So start your day with Surya Namaskar and see the difference in your physical and mental state within a short period.

How to Perform Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar

There are many variations of Surya Namaskar that are practiced throughout the world by different schools of Yoga that can be practiced fast or slow for different benefits. Fast warms the body and exercises the heart; slow strengthens and tones muscle. Weather you practice fast or slow it is always best to practice with Gratitude. Dedicate your practice and be grateful for your practice, for your health, life etc. Be grateful for the Sun the external light that gives and sustains life on the planet as well as the internal Sun the light which give your body life and energy. Practice with Gratitude and you will be amazed with the changes that befall your life.

Below is the traditional sequence followed by a few variations.

One round of Sun Salutation consists of two sequences, the first leading with the right foot in positions 4 and 9, the second leading with the left. Keep your hands in one place from positions 3 to 10 and try to co-ordinate your movements with your breathing. As you expand and open the chest inhale as you fold over and compress the chest exhale. Start by practicing four rounds and gradually build up to twelve rounds.

  1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose, Namaste) Stand tall and strait with feet together and hands in the prayer position in front of your chest. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Exhale.
  2. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon, Back Bend) Inhaling, stretch your arms up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Relax your neck.
  3. Pada Hastasana (Hand to Foot, Forward Bend) Exhaling, fold forward, and press your palms down, fingertips in line with toes – bend your knees if necessary.
  4. Ashwa Sanchalasana (Equestrian/Horse Pose) Inhaling, bring the left (or right) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.
  5. Chaturanga/Dandasana (Stick Pose, Plank) Retaining the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.
  6. Astanga Namaskara (Caterpillar, 8-Limbed Pose) Exhaling, lower your knees, then your chest and then your forehead, keeping your hips up and your toes curled under.
  7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) Inhaling, lower your hips, point your toes press up on the hands, bend back press hips forward. Keep legs together and shoulders down. Look up and back.
  8. Ado Mukha Svasana (Upward Looking Dog) Exhaling, curl your toes under, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted “V”shape. Try to push your heels and head down and keep your shoulders pressed back while looking towards your naval.
  9. Ashwa Sanchalasana (Equestrian/Horse Pose) Inhaling, step forward and place the left (or right) foot between your hands. Rest the other knee on the floor and look up, as in position 4.
  10. Pada Hastasana (Hand to Foot, Forward Bend) Exhaling, bring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist, keeping your palms as in position 3.
  11. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon, Back Bend) Inhaling, streach your arms forward, then up and back over your head and bend back slowly from the waist, as in position
  12. Tadasana (Mountain Pose, Namaste) Exhaling, gently come back to an upright position and bring your arms down by your sides.

Another version is the Ashtanga Sun Salutation A and B or Surya Namaskar A and B. These are two variations performed in Ashtanga Yoga.

 sun_salutations-2

Ashtanga Surya Namaskar Sequence A

  1. Samasthiti (Standing with Attention) – Toes together, heels slightly apart, spine long. Relax shoulders and the jaw and gaze softly ahead. Begin to connect with the breath.
  2. Urdhva Vrikshasana (Upward Salute) – Inhale fully; draw arms above the head, allow the gaze to follow the thumbs.
  3. Uttanasana (Forward Bend) – Exhale, fold forward hinging from the hips, send the forehead to the knees. Feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings, depth will come in this posture, but maintaining a straight spine is far more important. Take 5 deep breaths……. This posture can help relieve those suffering from headaches and insomnia.
  4. Ardvha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend) – Inhale, gaze forward, lengthen the spine, if it’s difficult to do this with the palms on the floor, bring the hands to the shins and open the heart or slightly bend the knees.
  5. Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank, Stick Posture) Exhale, step or jump back to a plank position and slowly lower to the ground, keeping the elbows in. the feet should be hip with apart. This posture is great for core strength, toning the abdomen and strengthening the back.
  6. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) – Inhale, roll onto tops of feet and gaze to sky opening the chest and engaging the legs into an upward dog. Try and keep space between the shoulders and the ears also lifting the chest.
  7. Ahdo Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Exhale, push back into downward dog. Lift the hips, spread the fingers and toes wide and open the backs of the knees to the sky sending the heels towards the ground. Take 5 deep even breaths. Enjoy this posture, it is very energizing and stretches and strengthens the entire body. If you want to, you can pedal the feet, or gently turn the head from side to side to relieve any tension.
  8. Uttanasana B (Forward Bend) – Inhale, jump or walk the feet to the hands and gaze forward with a straight spine.
  9. Uttanasana (Forward Bend) – Exhale, swallow dive the hands to the feet gazing at the tip of the nose.
  10. Urdhva Vrikshasana (Upward Salute)-Inhale, raise the arms above the head, gaze at the thumbs and grounding the feet into the earth beneath you.

 

Ashtanga Surya Namaskar Sequence B

  1. Samasthiti (Standing with Attention) – Toes together, heels slightly apart, spine long. Relax shoulders and the jaw and gaze softly ahead. Begin to connect with the breath.
  2. Utkatasana (Chair Pose) – Inhale, bend the knees and send both arms to the sky.  The back stays straight, shoulders away from the ears. The drishti (gaze) point is to the thumbs.
  3. Uttanasana A (Forward Bend) – On the next exhale fold fully forward taking the chest towards the knees.  Both hands are placed flat on the ground, if possible, beside the feet.  Drishti should be to the nose.
  4. Uttanasana B (Forward Bend) – Inhale and lengthen the spine to a flat back.  Drishti should be towards the nose, forward to the horizon.
  5. Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank, Stick Posture)- On the next exhale bend the knees and step or jump back and lower down to chaturanga dandasana.  Your feet should be hip width apart and elbows kept close to the body line as you lower down
  6. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) – Inhale and push up into upward dog.  Straighten the arms, tops of the feet are flat on the floor and legs are fully engaged so that thighs are lifted off the ground.  Shoulders should be away from the ears, open the chest.  Drishti point is the nose.
  7. Ahdo Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Exhale and push back and lift the hips into downward dog.  Then step the right foot forward between the hands and turn the left foot 45 degrees. Drishti point is the nose, navel or between the feet.
  8. Virabhadrasana A (Warrior 1) – Right side- Inhale and bend the right leg keeping the left leg straight, raise both arms to the sky and gaze to the thumbs.
  9. Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank, Stick Posture) – Exhale and frame the foot with both hands and step back and lower down into chaturanga dandasana. Your feet should be hip width apart and elbows kept close to the body line as you lower down.
  10. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) – Inhale and push up into upward facing dog. Straighten the arms, tops of the feet are flat on the floor and legs are fully engaged so that thighs are lifted off the ground.  Shoulders should be away from the ears, open the chest.  Drishti point is the nose.
  11. Ahdo Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Exhale and push back lifting the hips into downward facing dog. Exhale and push back and lift the hips into downward dog.  Then step the right foot forward between the hands and turn the left foot 45 degrees. Drishti point is the nose, navel or between the feet…  Then step the left foot forward between the hands and turn the right foot 45 degrees.
  12. Virabhadrasana A (Warrior 1) – Left Side – Inhale and bend the left leg keeping the right leg straight, raise both arms to the sky and gaze to the thumbs.
  13. Chaturanga Dandasana (Stick, Plank Posture) – Exhale and frame the foot with both hands and step back and lower down into chaturanga dandasana. Your feet should be hip width apart and elbows kept close to the body line as you lower down.
  14. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) – Inhale and push up into upward facing dog. Straighten the arms, tops of the feet are flat on the floor and legs are fully engaged so that thighs are lifted off the ground.  Shoulders should be away from the ears, open the chest.  Drishti point is the nose.
  15. Ahdo Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Exhale and push back lifting the hips into downward facing dog. Exhale and push back and lift the hips into downward dog.  Then step the right foot forward between the hands and turn the left foot 45 degrees. Drishti point is the nose, navel or between the feet…  Then step the left foot forward between the hands and turn the right foot 45 degrees.
  16. Uttanasana B (Forward Bend) – Inhale and lengthen the spine to a flat back.  Drishti should be towards the nose, forward to the horizon.
    1. Uttanasana A (Forward Bend) – On the next exhale fold fully forward taking the chest towards the knees.  Both hands are placed flat on the ground, if possible, beside the feet.  Drishti should be to the nose.
    2. Utkatasana (Chair Pose) – Inhale, bend the knees and send both arms to the sky.  The back stays straight, shoulders away from the ears. The drishti (gaze) point is to the thumbs.
    3. Samasthiti (Standing with Attention) – Toes together, heels slightly apart, spine long. Relax shoulders and the jaw and gaze softly ahead. Begin to connect with the breath.

    Surya Namaskar Mantras

If you are practicing Surya Namaskar traditionally, there are also mantras which go along with each position.  Many modern Yoga Practioners do not practice saying the mantras during practice. Weather you do or not is up to you.

Mantras refer to a combination of syllables, sounds, or phrases, which can be chanted or sung. In case of Surya Namaskar, they are chanted in praise of the Sun. Chanting mantras extends the benefits; as they have subtle yet penetrating effects on both mind and body. There are 12 mantras which praise different qualities of Sun and add a profound spiritual touch and gratitude to the entire practice.

Each mantra can be said verbally aloud or in your mind as you transition through each Asana. The most important thing to remember is to chant them with gratefulness.

  1. Sun Salutation Pose

    Sun Salutation Mantra

    Meaning

    Tadasana or Pranamasana (Prayer pose) Om Mitraaya Namaha Who is friendly to all
    Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon, Upward Salute) Om Ravaye Namaha The shining one, the radiant one
    Pada Hastasana (Hand to foot pose) Om Suryaya Namaha Who is the dispeller of darkness and responsible for bringing activity
    Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose) Om Bhaanave Namaha One who illumines, the bright one
    Chaturanga Dandasana (Stick pose) Om Khagaya Namaha Who is all-pervading, one who moves through the sky
    Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with eight parts or points) Om Pooshne Namaha Giver of nourishment and fulfillment
    Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) Om Hiranyagarbhaaya Namaha Who has golden color brilliance
    Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) Om Mareechaye Namaha The giver of light with infinite number of rays
    Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose) Om Aadityaaya Namaha The son of Aditi – the cosmic divine Mother
    Pada Hastasana (Hand to foot pose) Om Savitre Namaha One who is responsible for life
    Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon, Upward Salute) Om Aarkaaya Namaha Worthy of praise and glory
    Tadasana or Pranamasana (Prayer pose) Om Bhaaskaraya Namaha Giver of wisdom and cosmic illumination

 

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