Surya Namaskar is one of the most important exercises that is performed when Yoga is practiced. The literal translation of this term means “Salutation to the Sun”. This is due to the fact that the Sun is regarded as a Hindu deity and is paid obeisance by this asana. It is essentially performed as a common sequence in the asanas (exercises) of Hatha Yoga. Its benefits are numerous and tone up the general well-being of the body and mind. Surya Namaskar is performed as a sequence of 12 Yogic postures in accordance to specific breathing patterns and stretching exercises. It is recommended to perform this asana during sun rise for attaining maximum benefits.
Surya Namaskar Steps
Surya Namaskar essentially has 12 steps or Yogic postures. They are described below.
• Stand straight with your feet together and palms folded at the chest as if in prayer. Your toes can be slightly apart but the heels should be as close as possible.
• Raise your arms above your head and stretch back as much as possible to bend your spine backwards while inhaling air. Your abdomen should be stretched to the maximum limit and your biceps should be touching your ears with your hands parallel.
• Now bend forward, go down and touch your toes with your fingertips. Don’t bend your knees and try to touch your knee with your forehead. When you do this, your stomach is compressed, so exhale.
• Now, take your right leg back and stretch it while balancing it on the toe and keep your left leg folded in front of your chest. Keep your palms straight on both sides of the left foot on the ground. Look up and inhale.
• Now, take back the left leg as well and keep both the feet together while raising your hip from the ground and balancing yourself on all fours. You will look like an inverted V. Exhale while you do this posture.
• Now, slowly come down and rest your palms next to your shoulders, your knees touching the ground but your waist and hip slightly raised above so that they don’t touch the ground. Your face should also be downward facing and hold your breath during this.
• In the next step, lower your waist and raise your torso, making your arms straight and balancing yourself. Feel your spine bend and the abdomen stretch. Inhale when you do this and look straight.
• Now, again raise your hip and balance yourself on all fours. Looking like an inverted V. Exhale while you do this.
• Then bring the left leg forward and fold it so that the knee reaches your chin and look up. Keep the right leg behind as before and stretch. Inhale when you do this.
• Now, with your palm at your toes, raise yourself up so that your forehead touches the knees and your spine bends forward. Exhale in this posture.
• Get up very slowly and take your arms above your head and stretch backwards while inhaling.
• Then come back to the first position with your arms folded and relax while breathing normal.
• Repeat the series with the other leg.
Many people in the West look for the best exercise routine to help them stay in shape. Here is something that has been around for thousands of years and has withstood the test of time. It strengthens the body, circulation, the breathing, and keeps the body limber and in shape. And you can have this completely free of charge, without a fitness coach, by simply using the following instructions.
“Surya Namaskar” is Sanskrit which means obeisance or prostrations (Namaskar) to the sun (Surya). It implies that one rise before sun rise in order to do this exercise or pay obeisance to the rising sun. This is around 5 to 5:30 AM. Of course, this exercise is good no matter what time you may use it, but it is best done while the stomach is empty, before eating. It is a yogic exercise which consists of ten particular postures, one following another, in a fixed, cyclic order to ensure improvement and good health in one’s digestion, agility, rejuvenation, beauty and longevity. It will also help one lose weight and trim the waist. There is no equipment to buy, or membership to a gym or fitness club that must be purchased. You just need a little space in your apartment or home. If, however, you begin to feel short-breathed or dizzy, then take a break. Also, pregnant women should not practice it, but can continue it during their period because it can help digestion and the flow of energy and outflow of waste needed at this time.
POSTURE 1: First you stand erect, ready to face the early morning sun. Stand straight with chest out and spine erect, looking forward with hands folded in respect in front of the chest where heart is located. It is like a stance of prayer. Once you start doing the routine, you spend about one second in this pose, and the others that follows. Of course, if one is weak or aged, or if you are new to the routine, you may take this a little slower.
The idea is that you do about 100 Surya Namaskars every morning, and the time to do them should not be a consideration. With practice, these poses will flow more smoothly and quickly. If each pose lasts about a second, then the full Surya Namaskar can be done in about 10 seconds or so.
POSTURE 2: Now, while inhaling, raise your arms up in the air while keeping the hands together, and arch your self backwards as far as you can go, forming a crescent-like curve from your feet to the hands. This posture helps retain the flexibility of the spine.
POSTURE 3: Now, while exhaling, bring your hands down to your feet so that you quickly bend forward at the waist, while keeping the legs as straight as possible. The best position is to bring the hands flat to the floor on either side of your feet, while keeping the head as close to the knees as you can. If you are not that flexible, then just do the best you can. The most important aspect of this pose is that it squeezes the stomach and assists in digestion to extract any vitamins and nutrients in one’s food, which helps turn it into blood. It also loosens any fat that has accumulated there. Postures 2 and 3 are actually the easiest to do, so if you cannot do the others, at least do these.
POSTURE 4: From position three, while inhaling, put your hands on the floor and lower your hips and stretch your left leg back as far as you can, letting the foot rest on the toes and the knee touch the ground, while you bend your right leg in a crouching stance, letting the right knee come up to your chest. Keeping your hands flat on the ground, your arms straight, arch your head upward and back so you are looking at the ceiling or sky. This forms a crescent shape from the left heel up to the top of your head. This position helps ensure flexibility of the spine and immunity from diseases in the left leg muscles and ligaments.
POSTURE 5: While exhaling, now keep your hands flat on the ground and carry the right leg back to parallel the left leg, sided by side, both feet pressing firmly flat against the floor, while bringing your hips up into the air as high as they will go. Keep your arms and back in a straight line as your head faces the ground, and bring the chin to the chest, making you look at your knees. This makes your body form an upside down “V” or a triangle between you and the floor.
POSTURE 6: Now, while keeping the hands and feet in the same places, having fully exhaled hold the breath and bring your hips down while moving the head and shoulders forward, straightening the whole body near the floor. Keep the face downward with the forehead, the chest and knees lightly touching the ground, and the hips slightly raised. With the forehead, chest, and two palms, knees, and feet touching the floor, it is called Sashtang Namaskar, or prostrations with eight points touching the floor.
POSTURE 7: The next posture, while inhaling, flows from position 6, which is done merely by straightening your arms and lifting your chest upward and arching your head back so that you are looking at the ceiling. Your feet and knees rest on the floor while your arms hold the rest of your body a little above it. Again you form a body-length crescent, from your feet up to your head. This yogic position is known as “the cobra”.
POSTURE 8: Now exhale and let your body flow into position 5 again by lowering your head and chest, keep your arms and legs straight, and raise your hips as high as they will go. As your head faces the ground, keep your arms and back in a straight line and bring the chin to the chest, making you look at your knees, which forms an upside down “V” again.
POSTURE 9: Now, while inhaling, we flow into the same position as number four, but stretch the other leg. So we first bend the left leg and bring the left foot forward on the floor. Keeping your hands flat on the ground, bring your hips down while moving the chest and head forward, allowing the left knee to reach up to the chest, and then arch your head up and back. The right foot stays in its place, letting the foot rest on the toes, which makes the right leg get stretched backward when your chest moves forward. This gives the body a crescent shape from the right heel up to the top of your head. This position helps ensure flexibility of the spine and immunity from diseases in the right leg muscles and ligaments.
POSTURE 10: Now we go back into posture three. Keep your hands in place as you bring your right leg forward to be parallel with the left leg. With both feet flat on the floor (if you can keep them that way), and the legs kept straight, the body is bent at the waist, while exhaling, with the forehead touching the knees (if you can bend this much). If you are not this flexible and cannot bend like this, then simply do it as best you can and keep the head as close to the knees as possible.
From this position you straighten your body to stand erect as in posture number one and inhale. Then join the palms in front of your chest as in prayer. Hold this for a second and then begin to go back into posture number 2 to start the whole cycle of postures again for the next Surya Namaskar.
You may want to do each posture separately the first time you do this to familiarize yourself with each one. Then begin to do it as a flowing movement from one to the other, through all ten postures. Do it as a cycle of 100 Surya Namaskars, or even more, if you want. You will certainly notice the difference in your health, weight, flexibility, energy level, and even overall attitude.
Surya Namaskar Benefits
When performed properly, Surya Namaskar gives immense benefits and purifies the body, mind and soul. Following are the benefits of Surya Namaskar:
• The strength in the back and legs is increased to a great extent. The waist is shaped perfectly and any skin disorder is cured off completely. When done with immense concentration, it increases confidence and boosts the personality.
• Any disease or disorder of the throat is corrected and the food pipe or esophagus is strengthened. Eyes are made stronger and sharper and the vision improves.
• The digestive system and the stomach become stronger and improve the overall metabolism. Your body becomes balanced with the correct amount of energy being released whenever wanted.
• Due to the stretching, the intestines are strengthened and the abdomen walls become stronger.
• The back muscles are toned up and strengthened to a great extent and the spine and arms become stronger.