One of the most ancient practices in yoga is called the 'suryanamaskar' or Sun Salutation. Also considered the art of solar vitalization, the suryanamaskar is a complete meditative technique in itself because it incorporates asanas, pranayama, mantras and mundras in one thorough practice. As the name suggests, the suryanamaskar or sun salutations is a dynamic way of honouring our primary source of light – the sun. It is also the most fundamental way for a person to be initiated into yoga. It is, in its essence, a series of 12 postures or asanas, lined up so to sync one's physical cycles with the sun's cycles, which run at about twelve-and-a-quarter-years.
How to do Suryanamaskar or Sun Salutation?
Suryanamaskars are best done at sunrise, facing east, standing on a comfortable yet firm cloth, on a smooth surface.
The twelve asanas incorporated into one complete cycle of suryanamaskar is as follows –
Surya Namaskar Step 1: Pranamasana –
Stand with your feet together, erect, palms folded in front of your chest. Take a few deep breaths in this position. This posture is conducive to relaxation and deep calmness. In addition, it activates the anahata chakra or pranic centre – the energy centre located around your heart.
Surya Namaskar Step 2: Hasta Uttanasana –
Stretch both arms above your head, with your palms facing upward. Arch your back, and stretch your body as much as possible, within a comfortable level, of course. This asana stretches the chest and your abdomen, and boosts the energy (prana) from your chest, from where it began, to the upper parts of the body. Inhale deeply as you stretch your arms, and bend back, and hold your breath while holding the position.
Surya Namaskar Step 3: Pada Hastasana –
Exhale slowly, and bring your upper body forward and bend down. Remember to keep your spine regulated and straight. Avoid collapsing your chest all at once. The knees may end, if they must, but ensure that your legs are straight. This posture is beneficial for your abdominal organs. It strengthens your digestive system, speeding up and regulating the process. This posture stretches and tones out your spinal nerves, along with your hamstring muscles at the back of your thighs and calves. The inverted position also increases blood flow to the brain.
Surya Namaskar Step 4: Ashwa Sanchalanasana –
Letting go of your previous position very gently, and inhaling, extend your left leg as far back as it can go, and drop on the ground with your right knee. However, keep your right knee bent upwards and held between your palms. Your right foot needs to be flat on the surface. Resist the urge to bend over, and lift your spine and expand your chest. Breathe in.
Surya Namaskar Step 5: Parvatasana –
Now while exhaling very slowly, bring your right leg back and join it with your left. Simultaneously, raise your buttocks, and slowly lower your head between your arms. The body needs to form a triangle with the floor. If possible, place your heels flat on the ground, and focus all your attention towards your neck and shoulders. This posture is beneficial in strengthening the muscles in your arms and legs. It also helps your spine attain perfect straightness, relieves varicose veins and tones spinal nerves. Note that you need to exhale completely just as you reach the posture.
Surya Namaskar Step 6: Sashtanga Namaskar –
Now, very gently, lower your knees to the ground. Let your chest and chin graze the surface lightly. Your entire body – minus your buttocks – touch the floor. Ensure that your buttocks and pelvis are held up slightly. Hold your breath in this posture – which benefits in developing your chest and strengthening your arms.
Surya Namaskar Step 7: Bhujangasana –
Whilst inhaling, gently lower your hips, and while pushing your chest forward, raise your upper body up with your hands, until your spine is fully arched back and your head is looking up. Your lower body and knees are still on the floor. This posture is beneficial for your chest and abdomen. It helps ease many ailments such as constipation, indigestion, asthma and liver problems. It is also beneficial in relieving tension in the back muscles and the spinal nerve. Hold your breath in this posture as long as you can.
Surya Namaskar Step 8: Parvatasana –
While gently exhaling, nod your head downwards and keep your palms flat on the ground – like your feet. Raise your buttocks, and lower your head between your arms, as instructed earlier.
Surya Namaskar Step 9: Ashwa Sanchalanasana –
Now, while inhaling slowly, gently raise your head up, and this time, extend your right leg as far behind as it can go, and drop to the floor on your left knee. Ensure that it is bent upwards, and situated between your palms. The sole of your left foot must be flat on the ground. Essentially, this is Posture no. 4, using the other leg. Remember to stretch your right leg.
Surya Namaskar Step 10: Pada Hastana –
Slowly, bring your stretched leg forward to join your other leg, and resume Posture No. 3, and bend over, bringing your head between your knees. Exhale deeply.
Surya Namaskar Step 11: Hasta Uttanasana –
Stretch your arms back, and return to Posture no. 2.
Surya Namaskar Step 12: Pranamasana –
Straighten your body, bring your hands in the namaskar position in front of your solar plexus, just like the beginning, and resume normal breathing.
This constitutes one round of suryanamaskar or Sun Salutation. A novice should do 6 rounds of suryanamaskars, with little breaks in between, for the benefits to make an impact in the beginning.
Points to Remember While Doing Suryanamaskar or Sun Salutation–
- Suryanamaskar should always be done slowly. The slower the practice, the deeper the practice. Hold the positions for as long as you can.
- Breath is THE KEY in doing this exercise. Hold your breath when you need to, inhale deeply, and exhale freely.
- Pregnant women, people with severe back or knee injuries should refrain from this exercise.
- Suryanamaskar is best done with the rising sun, but it also revitalizes the body and mind in the afternoons and evenings. It has a deep effect in detoxifying the organs.