Surya Namaskar- The Secrets of Sun Salutation

Updated: May 20, 2021



Surya Namaskar is a combination of twelve different physical movements, synchronized with breathing and awareness. These asanas consist of alternate backward and forward bending asanas, thereby flexing and mobilizing the spinal column and limbs. Nowadays, Surya Namaskar became an important part of all yoga asana practices but few know that originally the sequence in not part of traditional Hatha yoga.


Surya Namaskar Origin


There is a book called "The Ten-Point Way To Health: Surya Namaskars" (1928) by Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi, ruler of the princely state of Aundh of British Raj, where everything about the origin and performance of surya namaskar is explained. The ruler of Aundh, the author of the book, is also the inventor of the sun salutations. I recommend to you all to read the book if you want to see in depth how it all evolved, as it's really fascinating to follow the whole true story of the practice we now know and do daily. I will give you here only the very short version.


Originally, Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi known also as Bhawanrao Shrinivasrao Pant Pratinidhi was born in 1868. He became deeply interested in art and also in physical culture. He was fond of wrestling and malla khamb, and, in his younger days, practiced the exercises of Eugene Sandow, then the strong man of Germany. Strongman acts were common in carnivals, but Sandow used newly available photography and, later, film, to become one of the first people famous for his muscular body – which he happily displayed in minimal clothing.

He offered others the chance to emulate him through books and magazines which pioneered the discipline of body building. In 1897 Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi and his training team read about Sandow and purchased all his books, and for fully 10 years they practiced regularly according the instructions. Since 1908, being influenced by the example and the advice of their friend Shrimant Sir Gangadharrao, Chief of Miraj, they have been doing Surya Namskar every day with mantras and Vedic hymns. Their results were amazing- stamina, youthfulness, lightness of body, mind focus and 21 years without any sickness. This is how the ruler of Aundh decided to promote the sun salutations to as many people as possible.

The interest raised by the articles he innitiated lead to the publication of a book, The Ten Point Way to Health, which helped raise international interest in Surya Namaskar. It also lead to a scandal. A scurrilous London tabloid called The Sunday Referee ran a story featuring a young girl doing Surya Namaskar with the caption: ‘An Old Raja and his Fad.’ The article insinuated that the Raja had made the exercises compulsory for his people as a way to develop women for his harem!

When Pant read this he was furious, took the tabloid to court, won the case and Sun Salutations gained even more popularity. Pant recalls that the Raja even doing his Surya Namaskars in the train he took to meet Gandhi at his ashram in Wardha when they went to discuss the Aundh Experiment. And he performed them at the ashram before the fascinated Congress leaders including “once even the coughing, asthmatic Babu Rajendra Prasad, wrapped up in a pashmina shawl.”

What is interesting to note is that the word yoga is rarely mentioned in the context of all this early Surya Namaskar promotion. It became gradually part of yoga from 1932 when Mark Singleton notes in his book Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice, the Mysore palace school reported that “thirty-two boys attended the Yogasana classes and a large number of boys attended the Suryanamaskar Classes”. But over time, both practices merged. Surya Namaskar’s poses were gradually tagged as asanas, and the whole sequence served as a warm up to the rest of the practice.

Surya Namaskar still functions in this way in systems like ashtanga yoga. It has become an introduction to yoga, an easily remembered and fixed sequence that beginners can learn, and also a simple system that anyone can perform anywhere and anytime.


Aspects of Surya Namaskar


Surya Namaskar has five important aspects. We should aim to follow them all to gain optimum benefits:

  1. Asanas: There are 12 asanas and one complete cycle of Surya Namaskar consists of 24 movements, which are to be practiced in a sequence, one after the other, with retention of each position for 2 seconds.

  2. Breath: The sequence of Surya Namaskar should be synchronized with breathing, preferrably Ujjay. Each posture is associated with either inhalation or exhalation.

  3. Mantras: Each posture is accompanied by its own mantra repeated either internally or externally. It is believed that these mantras add even more awareness.

  4. Awareness: Awareness is a significant part of the practice through which its effects are experienced at a deeper level. We speak about attention to ones breath rythm, body position, pressure level applied, sensations of the body and mind, even which way to look at in each posture add to the concentration.

  5. Relaxation: For beginners, after completing about three rounds of sun salutations, relaxation is important. The point is to keep the breath stable and calm at all times. If the breath is stable, the mind follows.

Where to face while doing Surya Namaskar?


Do it facing the East direction if you are doing Sun Salutation in the morning and the West direction if you are doing it in the evening. Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a technique of vitalization via solar energy. Invocation and worship of the Sun were one of the first and most natural forms of expression of awe and gratitude. Sun worship is still practiced as a daily ritual in many parts of India, as it is a powerful symbol of life energy- not so old ritual as we explred above.


When to Practice Surya Namaskar?


Although Sun Salutations can be practiced at any time of the day, the early-morning hours are considered especially auspicious for yoga and meditation practice. The hour just before sunrise is called Brahma muhurta ("time of God"). "The mind is supposed to be most calm and clear at this time. Ayurveda recommends that one awake at this time every day. For example, if the sunrise in your country is at 6:30, you should wake up at 5:30, do your morning kryias followed by Surya Namaskar, asanas and pranayamas, then relax, shower and get ready for the day. Breakfast follows within 2 hours after sunrise. Only on sunrise and sunset the sun can be watched as it is not that strong.

For most of us, early morning is one time of the day we can be alone, without demands and distractions. Rising a bit early can allow you to experience inner stillness and offer your energy to a greater intention for your day. Surya Namaskar is the perfect morning practice to awaken the body, focus the mind, and connect to a sense of gratitude for the new day. You can practice it at sunset too to set a gratitude and intention for the next day.


The Sequence of Surya Namaskar:


1: Sthita Prarthanasana—Standing Prayer Posture

  1. Standing erect on the front of the mat with the hands at the sides.

Chant mantra: ‘Om Mitraya Namaha’ (Salutation to the friend of All).

  • Stand erect with the feet together. Straight back. Chin parallel to the ground. Look forwards.

  • Bring palms in namaskar mudra and place them in front of your chest.Relax the elbows.

  • Relax the body, maintain normal breathing and stay for 3 seconds.


2: Hasta Uttanasana—Raised Arm Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Ravaye Namaha’ (Salutation to the radiant One).

  • Inhaling, raise both your arms and bend backward. Keep your arms close to your ears with your palms facing front. Look upwards.

  • Maintain for 3 seconds.


3: Hasta Padasana—Hands to Legs Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Suryaya Namaha’ (Salutation to He who initiates all activity).

  • Exhaling, bend forward, place your palms on the floor on each side of your feet.

  • Keeping your legs straight, try to touch the forehead to the knees. Try to bring the bodyweight to the toes. Keep the lower back straight, for that if your hamstrings are tight, you can slightly bend your knees. Suspend the breath for 3 seconds.


4: Ashwa Sanchalanasana—Equestrian Posture

Chant mantra: ‘Om Bhanave Namaha’ (Salutation to He who illuminates).

  • Keep both hands fixed on the floor, inhaling extend your right leg backward, as far as possible. Your right toes should touch the floor. Heel points upwards. The left knee should be on 90 degrees angle.

  • Look upwards and balance the body.


5: Adhomukha Shvanasana—Downward Dog Posture

Chant mantra: ‘Om Khagaye Namaha’ (Salutation to the All-pervading One).

  • Exhaling, bring the left foot beside the right, simultaneously raise the hips and lower the head between the arms, so that the body forms a V.

  • Keeping the legs and arms straight, press the heels towards the floor and push the hips upwards. Sustain the posture for 3 seconds.

6: Ashtanga Namaskarasana

Chant mantra: 'Om Pushne Namaha' (Salutations to the giver of strength and nourishment The sun gives strength to all life. In the sixth position we ask for the energy from the sun to nourish and give us strength on a very deep level.)


Inhaling place the knees on the mat. Exhaling lower the body towards the floor so that the toes, knees, chest, hands and chin are in contact with the floor, keeping the hips slightly up. Maintain this position for 3 seconds with the breath suspended.


7: Urdhvamukha Shvanasana—Upward Dog Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha’ (Salutation to the golden cosmic womb).

  • Inhaling, lower your hips to the ground. Simultaneously straighten your arms and raise your head to look up and arch your back. Check that your legs, knees, and toes remain together.

  • Look upwards. Keep your arms and legs straight. Stay in this posture for 3 seconds retaining the breath.


8: Adhomukha Shvanasana—Downward Dog Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Marichaye Namaha’ (Salutation to the golden rays of the Sun).

  • Exhaling from urdhvamukha shvanasana, raise the hips upwards and push the head downwards and inwards to form an inverted V, aim that the heels touch the floor. Relax the head and the neck. Hips upwards.

  • Remain in the posture for 3 seconds suspending the breath.


9: Ashwa Sanchalanasana—Equestrian Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Adityaye Namaha’ (Salutation to the son of Aditi, the Cosmic Mother).

  • Inhaling bring your right leg forwards, placing the foot near your right hand.

  • Simultaneously, arch your spine, look up and keep your arms straight. Hold the position for 3 seconds retaining your breath.


10: Hastapadasana—Hands to Leg Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Savitre Namaha’ (Salutation to the stimulating power of Sun).

  • Exhaling, bring your left foot forwards next to your right foot, straighten the legs keeping your hands fixed on the floor on the sides of your feet. Try to touch your forehead to your knees.

  • Suspending the breath 3 seconds.


11: Talasana—Raised Arm Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Arkaya Namaha’ (Salutation to He who is worthy of praise).

  • Inhaling, making sure that your head is held in between your extended arms, raise your arms and torso upwards. Palms facing front

  • Remain in the posture for 3 seconds while retaining your breath.


12: Sthita Prarthanasana—Standing Prayer Posture


Chant mantra: ‘Om Bhaskaraye Namaha’ (Salutation to the One who leads to enlightenment).

  • Exhaling, bring your hands together in a namaskar mudra at your chest.

  • Remain in this position for 3 seconds.


Repeat all the above steps with your other leg to complete 1 round of Surya Namaskar.


Who should not practice Surya Namaskar?


It is not recommended to practice sun salutations in case you have one of the following problems:

  1. High blood pressure, cardiac issues

  2. Vertigo

  3. Abdominal inflammation, surgeries, hernia

  4. Sciatica, slipped disc

  5. Women during menstruation and pregnancy

  6. Any structural problems that may aggravate the condition


Benefits of Surya Namaskar:

  1. Improved blood circulation of all the body parts

  2. Stimulates and oxygenates all your internal organs.

  3. Strengthens your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, back, stomach, waist, abdomen, intestines, thighs, knees, calves and ankles.

  4. Improves focus and concentration

  5. Alleviates constipation

  6. It reduces fat, especially around the abdomen, hips, thighs, neck, and chin.

Therapeutic

  1. Alleviates various digestive system problems and relieves constipation.

  2. Aids the elimination of toxins.

  3. Improves the lungs capacity.

  4. Improves the functioning of your endocrine system.

  5. Provides good circulation of blood.

  6. May fix knock knees.

  7. Helps in regulating the hormons.

  8. May heal depression

Psychological

  1. One feels energized and refreshed mentally and physically.

  2. It increases the focus, concentration, optimism, and self-confidence.

  3. Builds emotional strength and wellbeing.

The life and energy are given by the Sun to the entire world.


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