Surya namaskar is one of the most popular practices amongst yoga teachers and practitioners. It is a staple practice in almost all yoga sessions and classes these days as it has a great impact on the body and mind.
What is Surya Namaskar?
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a combination of 7 asanas, linked together in a beautiful loop to form one cycle of practice. The Sanskrit name ‘Surya’ here refers to the Sun and ‘Namaskar’ means Salutations. The sun symbolizes spiritual consciousness and in ancient times many Vedic rituals were practiced, including physical prostrations to pay respect to the Sun. Practicing Surya Namaskar poses is an effective way of loosening up, warming up, stretching, massaging, and toning all the joints, muscles, and internal organs of the body. Its versatility and application make it one of the most useful methods of inducing a healthy, vigorous and active life. Surya namaskara, as is practiced today, is a set of asanas done with breath coordination, the sequence involves the forward and backbends of the spine and engages the upper, lower, and more importantly the core of the body.
What are the benefits of practicing Surya Namaskar?
- Surya Namaskar strengthens the back and helps balance the metabolism.
- It stimulates and balances all the systems of the body, including the reproductive, circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems.
- Its influence on the endocrine glands helps to balance the transition period between childhood and adolescence in growing children.
- Synchronising the breath with the physical movements of Surya Namaskar ensures that the practitioner, at least for a few minutes daily, breathes as deeply and rhythmically as possible, increasing mental clarity by bringing fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain.
- Surya Namaskar stretches the spine, legs, arms, back and shoulders.
Surya Namaskar Sequence
The Surya Namaskar sequence is composed of three elements; Form, energy and rhythm. The twelve postures create the physical matrix around which the form of the practice is woven and the twelve postures of the salutation correspond to the twelve phases of the sun.
Here is the step-by-step guide to the Surya Namaskar sequence:
Step 1: Prayer pose or Pranamasana
Feet comfortably apart, put your palms to the heart centre in pranamasana.
Step 2: Raised Arms Pose or Utthana Hastasana
Extend your arms upwards, now bend the head, arms, and upper trunk slightly backward.
Step 3: Standing Forward Bend Pose or Pada Hastasana
Now fold forward from the hip, touch the floor with your palms or fingers on either side of the feet. Try to bring the forehead as close to the knees till it's comfortable.
Step 4: Lunge Pose or Ashwa Sanchalana
Take your right leg back, bend the left knee and lift up your head. Keep your palms straight.
Step 5: Plank Pose or Dandasana
Now, take the left leg back. Make sure that the body weight is on the palms and toes. The foot, waist, and head should be on one line. Now look ahead.
Step 6: Eight Limbed Pose or Ashtanga Namaskara
Bend your elbows and put your knees, chest, and chin on the floor.
Step 7: Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana
Lift your body above the waist, bend it slightly backward and look forward.
Step 8: Downward Facing Dog or Parvatasana
Now tuck your toes in, lift your waist towards the ceiling and stretch your hands completely.
Step 9: Lunge Pose Ashwa sanchalana
Put your right foot front, bend your left knee and lift your head up, same at step 4.
Step 10: Standing Forward Bend Pose or Pada Hastasana
Put the left foot front, fold forward from the hip, touch the floor with your palms or fingers on either side of the feet. (Same as step 3)
Step 11: Raised Arms Pose or Hasta Utthanasana
Extend your arms upwards, and bend the head, arms, and upper trunk slightly backward. (same as step 2)
Step 12: Prayer Pose or Pranamasana
Put your palms to the heart centre, ending the first half of the practice with pranamasana.
All 12 asanas are practiced with the left leg initiating the lunge.
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How to tailor-make Sun Salutation to suit one’s needs
We believe that everybody is different from one another, and the need to practice Surya namaskar will also differ according to a person’s age, geographical location, the reason for the practice, and health conditions. So based on that we have come up with a few guidelines for you, that you can follow to tailor your practice accordingly.
General Practice Guidance
- For Loosening the body/muscles- Practice 3-5 rounds of Surya Namaskar every day
- For warming up the body- Practice 5-7 rounds of Surya Namaskar every day
- For Toning and Weight-loss- Practice 8- 10 rounds of Surya Namaskar every day
Practice guidance according to age group
- Below the age of 40- You can follow the above mentioned ‘General Guidance Category’
- For the age group 40- 50 years- 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar practice every day.
- For the age group 50 and above- 3 rounds of slow and steady Surya Namaskar practice every day.
Practice guidance according to Climate
- During Summer and Monsoon- 12 - 15 minutes of practice, irrespective of the number of rounds of practice.
- During Winter, spring, and autumn- 30 minutes of practice, irrespective of the number of rounds of practice.
Practice guidance according to the Time of day
The best time to practice Surya Namaskar or Sun salutation is at sunrise or sunset. If possible, practice facing the rising sun. However, you may practice at any time provided the stomach is empty.
Things to remember during the practice
Each movement should be practiced with a minimum of effort, using only the muscles required to maintain the postures. Try relaxing in each posture and try to move from one posture to the next in a flow. Also, during the Surya namaskar practice is it important to breathe along with the movements.
When done correctly, Surya namaskar can qualify to be the Vyayama of the Ayurvedic Dinacharya. To elaborate on Ayurvedic principles based on Surya Namaskar practice; Surya Namaskar should be practiced with half of one's maximum strength, It should be repeated until one breaks a mild sweat, and breathing should be done through the nose throughout the practice.This way one can reap all the benefits of a good Ayurvedic Vyayama.
Can you lose weight by doing Surya namaskar?
Yes, Surya Namaskar is one of the most used practices for weight management. Here are some reasons why Surya Namaskar burns more calories than most other practices:
- Surya Namaskar involves almost all major parts of the body and engages the big muscle groups throughout the rounds.
- The movements are carried out in a large area of space and in various positions - standing, lunging, prone positions, half inversions, challenging the heart to pump and adapt to all these various positions. This is ideal for burning loads of calories.
- The sequence of Surya Namaskar, once learned, is easy to repeat multiple times, without a break. Making it an ideal practice that can be done anywhere for as long as required.
- Breath coordination and breathing only through the mouth challenge the cardio and encourage a high burn rate.
- Ashtanga Surya Namaskar sequence which involves jumping backward and forwards instead of the lunge burns even more calories.
- With the breath, Drishti, and mindful components in all movements, Surya Namaskar is the safest cardio activity to manage weight.
How many Surya Namaskar sequence can be performed in a day?
There is no set of rules as to how many rounds of Surya Namaskar can be practiced. However, it should never be continued up to the point of exhaustion. Practitioners should be aware of their own physical condition and limitations and avoid strain at all times.
5 reasons Why Surya Namaskar can be part of a Yoga session?
1. The Surya Namaskar sequence has some popular modern day asanas like Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Downward Facing Dog (Parvatasana), Standing Forward Bend (Padahasthasana) , Lunge Pose (Ashwa sanchalana).
2. The practice makes the body supple and light.
3. Surya Namaskar practice can Increase awareness of one's physical body.
4. The practice is done with coordinated breath that trains the breath and regulates the nervous system.
5. Coordinated and repeated practice of Surya Namaskars can lead to a meditative state of mind.
- The practice of Surya Namaskar should be immediately discontinued if a fever, acute inflammation, boils, or rashes occur due to excess toxins in the body. When the toxins have been eliminated, the practice may be resumed.
- Surya Namaskar includes semi-inverted postures, so it should not be practiced by people suffering from high blood pressure, coronary artery diseases, or by those who have had a stroke, as it may overstimulate or damage a weak heart or blood vessel system. It should also be avoided in cases of hernia or intestinal tuberculosis.
- People with back conditions should consult a medical expert before practicing Surya Namaskar. Conditions such as slipped disc and sciatica will be better managed through an alternative asana program.
- During the onset of menstruation, this practice should be avoided. If there are no adverse effects, the practice may be resumed towards the end of menstruation. During pregnancy, it may be practiced with care until the beginning of the twelfth week. Following childbirth, it may be commenced approximately forty days after delivery for re-toning the uterine muscles.
History of Surya Namaskar
Interestingly, we don't find any reference to Surya Namaskar in either the classical Yoga sutra or more recent Hatha texts. With a questionable antiquity, Surya Namaskar seems like a fairly recent addition to the pool of Asanas. A similar type of body exercise called “ Dand '' has been practiced by wrestlers in India for a long time. This is the most likely origin of the present-day Surya Namaskar.
Sri Samarth Ramdas, the 17th Century Spiritual Guru of Shivaji Maharaja is said to have taught a version of Surya Namaskar to Shivaji Maharaj’s army, this practice seems to have little or no Yogic connection but a clear physical preparedness objective. In 1908 Sri Bhawanrao Pant Pratinidhi, the Raja of Aundh (Aundh is a small princely state in Maharashtra), may have modified Sri Samarth Ramdasji’s Surya Namaskar for body fitness and health and published a book in Marathi on Surya Namaskar. Sri Bhawanrao Pant Pratinidhi later published an English book called “Surya Namaskars (Sun adoration) for health, Efficiency and Longevity” in 1929. This could have led to adaptation across Maharastra and later pan-India, including many popular Yoga Gurus / Teachers of the time who accepted this effective practice and gave it their own flavour. Further, breath, 12 of the Surya mantras, and 6 Beej mantras were intelligently layered alongside the body component of the practice to bring it to its current-day version.
We always suggest that you practice yoga under the guidance of a trained yoga teacher to achieve maximum benefits and to restrain yourself from any kind of injuries.