Sūrya Namaskāra also known in English as Sun Salutation (i.e “salute to the sun”) is a common sequence of asanas. Its origins lie in India where its large Hindu population worships Surya, the Hindusolar deity. This sequence of movements and asanas can be practised on varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise in various styles, to a complete sadhana which incorporates asana, pranayama, mantra and chakrameditation. It is often the beginning vinyasa within a longer yoga series.
In Hindu mythology, the sun god is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortal life. The Rig Veda declares that “Surya is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings”. The Sun Salutation originated as a series of prostrations to the sun. Traditionally, it is performed at dawn, facing the rising sun. In time, each of the twelve positions came to have its own mantra, celebrating aspects of the sun’s divinity.
The Sun Salutation is a graceful sequence of twelve positions performed as one continuous exercise. Each position counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing. Practiced daily it will bring great flexibility to your spine and joints and trim your waist. It limbers up the whole body in preperation for the Asanas (postures).
The 12 steps of suryanamaskar include :-
1)Stand erect with feet together. Join the palms together in front of the chest in a namaskar mudra. Concentrate on standing straight, steady and in a meditative mood.
Breathing: Slow and steady breathing.
2) Inhaling, stretch your arms up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Relax your neck.
Breathing: Start inhaling as you stretch both arms, and hold breath in the stretched arm position.
3) 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.
Breathing: Start exhaling as you bend forward. Exhale fully as you reach the bent position.
4)Inhaling, bring the left (or right) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.
Breathing: Start inhaling and fill your lungs as you reach the position.
5)Retaining the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.
Breathing: Start exhaling and completely exhale as you reach the posture.
6) 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 should touch the floor. The buttocks are kept up.
Breathing: Keep the breath out in the exhaled position as you reach the posture and start inhaling as you move to the next posture.
7) Inhaling, lower your hips, point your toes and bend back. Keep legs together and shoulders down. Look up and back.
Breathing: Start inhaling. Fill lungs and hold breath as you stay in this posture.
8) Move head backwards, keeping the palms flat touching the floor. Place both feet flat on the ground. Raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms. This way you resume back to Posture 5.
Breathing: Start exhaling as you reach the position.
9) 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.
Breathing: Start inhaling as you take the position, hold breath for a few seconds.
10) Bring the stretched right foot forward. Join both legs and come back to Posture 3 i.e. bend forward bring the head between the knees. Breathing: Start exhaling as you take the position. Remain in Bahya Kumbhak for a few seconds.
11) Inhaling, streach your arms forward, then up and back over your head and bend back slowly from the waist, as in position 1.
Breathing: Start inhaling as you reach position. Stay in anthar kumbhak (lungs filled) for a few seconds.
12) Straighten the body and bring the hands in front of the chest. Resume Posture 1.
Breathing: Start exhaling as you bring the arms forward. Keep breathing normal in this position.
Surya Namaskar provides all of the key health benefits of yoga in a very succinct package. It is a holistic exercise that provides physical health benefits, but also mental or emotional as well as spiritual benefits. The obvious advantage of Surya Namaskar is the workout it provides for the muscles, but it also benefits joints, ligaments and the skeletal system by improving posture, flexibility and balance.In addition to these physical benefits, Surya Namaskar practice stimulates and conditions virtually every system in the body. It is good for the heart and stimulates the cardiovascular system. It oxygenates the blood and helps strengthen the heart. Surya Namaskar is good for the digestive system and the nervous system. It stimulates the lymphatic system and supports respiratory system health, as well.Practicing Surya Namaskar also benefits the Endocrine system and enables the various endocrinal glands to function properly. These include the thyroid, parathyroid and pituitary glands as well as the adrenal gland, testes and ovaries.Like most forms of exercise, Surya Namaskar provides mental benefits to regular practitioners. You will feel wonderful after performing the Sun Salutation. It is relaxing and rejuvenating, and tension, stress and anxiety melt away as you perform Surya Namaskar.Surya Namaskar is an excellent alternative to caffeine and other stimulants. If you suffer from insomnia or sleep disturbances, you will find practicing Surya Namaskar aids in helping you fall asleep without the need for depressants.
With regular practice, Surya Namaskar is an excellent way to manage stress and alleviate depression. You will expend a tremendous amount of energy as you move through the two sets of poses. Surya Namaskar teaches you to concentrate, and learning to achieve the poses is incredibly gratifying.