Yoga off late is getting increasing popularity. With an increasing health consciousness among the people, exercise and physical fitness are perceived to be as much important as career growth, livelihood, and money. People are thronging to yoga classes just with a view to keep themselves free from the diseases that they may accrue as a result of the care free modern lifestyle. Now knowing yoga as a tool of physical fitness is a limited view and understanding of Yoga. What are the other facets to Yoga? Let us understand them. In this article I shall try to bring about such other facets through the study of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations).
Yoga is a very profound and ancient knowledge that has flown through the ages. It is one among the many sciences that India has gifted to the world. It is the manifestation of the occult realizations of our ancient seers. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘yuj’, which means to unite. It is fundamentally inclined to unite the body and the mind. That is to say it brings about poise within the physical and the intellectual plane.
Surya Namaskara or the Sun Salutations is one of the profound techniques of Yoga. It not only exercises the body, but also has a positive impact on the mind.
The origins of Surya Namaskara date far back to the earliest epochs of history, when human beings first become aware of a spiritual power within themselves that is also reflected in the material world. Surya Namaskara, meaning ‘Salutation to the Sun’, can be seen as a form of worship of the sun, and all that it represents on the micro and macrocosmic levels. In yogic terms this indicates that Surya Namaskara awakens the solar aspect of an individual’s nature and releases the vital energy for the development of higher awareness. This can be realized by the practice of Surya Namaskara each morning, as well as being a fine way to pay tribute to the source of creation and life, thereby carrying on the solar tradition.
Here are the 12 step methods of Surya Namaskara:-
Sthithi (Position) : Namaskara Mudra in Tadasana
1. Inhale – Ardha Chakrasana
2. Exhale – Pada Hastasana
3. Inhale – Ashwa Sanchalanasana
4.Exhale – Dandasana
5. Inhale & Exhale – Shashankasana
6. Retention (Holding of breath) – Ashtanga Namaskara
7. Inhale – Urdhwa Mukha Swanasana
8. Exhale – Adho Mukha Swanasana
9.Inhale & Exhale – Shashankasana
10. Inhale – Ashwa Sanchalanasana
11. Exhale – Pada Hastasana
12. Inhale – Ardha Chakrasana
Back to namaskara sthithi.
It is best to learn Surya Namaskara directly from a Yoga Guru. The above steps are given only for the convenience of the readers to understand the theory behind this profound yogic technique. For a practical learning of Surya Namaskara, it must be compulsorily practiced under the guidance of a well-informed tutor.
Each asana, in the surya namaskara, conveys an image to the archetypal depths of our mind. For example, the image of a cobra (in Bhujangasana) has a very powerful and dynamic effect. The images conveyed by the mountain pose (parvatasana), the equestrian pose (ashwa sanchalanasana), and the raised arm pose (hastha utthanasana or the ardha chakrasana) are also very dynamic. It is a beautiful and aesthetic quality of surya namaskara that it encapsulates such dynamic images within us.
Here is an attempt to explain the diurnal rhythmic patterns of Surya Namaskara.
Pranamasana or the namaskarasana or the namaskara mudra, as the first and the last pose of the series, marks the beginning and the end of the transit of the sun’s passage from dawn to dusk. As such, it represents the peace, tranquility and beauty of sunrise and sunset. It is the calm of the two spiritual times of the day when the forces of dark and light, ida and pingala (the two nadis nerve segments in our body), merge and produce the third force of sushumna, the spiritual light. It allows us to find our inner equipoise and balance at the start of the busy and energetic day.
From Namaskara mudra we move on to ardha chakrasana in which our hands and head stretch up to the highest point. It can be seen then to indicate the drawing in of the energy of the newly risen sun. This is the energy we will use to dive into our busy daily life as represented by the next asana, padahastasana.
Asanas such as padahastasana and parvatasana seem to represent introversion, yet they are rather more symbolic of the introspection necessary to carry out our daily duties. They provide a balance to the extroversion characteristic of the daily life. Padahasthasana precedes ashwa sanchalanasana, giving us the feeling of looking inside for the inspiration and answers to the problems which have to be faced squarely and bravely in our daily life. After we have looked to the heavens for inspiration we look to the earth for balance and stability.
Ashtanga Namaskara represents our energies at their lowest ebb. When the sun is at its extremity, either at noon or at midnight, we are at our most vulnerable period, for this is the time of inertia, or tamas when most of the people feel the need for rest or sleep. As such this asana represents our complete surrenderance to the power of the midday sun.
Bhujangasana represents our awakening from sleep; the arising of knowledge from ignorance, the awakening of rajasic energy out of the inertia of tamas. When the serpent, representing wisdom, arises we begin our ascent back towards the spiritual, balanced sattwic state.
Surya Namaskara represents the changing dynamics of the ecology. The alternate expansion and contractions in the asanas of the surya namaskara are a testimony to this fact. Day and night, rajas and tamas, light and darkness, summer solstice and winter solstice are some of the examples as to the quintessence of this dynamics of the external ecology. As to the internal ecology the examples that could be cited are ida and pingala nadis at the pranic level, the positive and negative thoughts at the mental level.
Let us consider some of the physical benefits of Surya Namaskara before understanding its effects on the mental plane.
1. Surya Namaskara tones up and strengthens every muscle in the body.
2. It makes the body flexible and helps remove excess fat from the body.
3. In case of women, it helps regulate the menstrual cycle.
4. It is known to increase the capacity of the immune system to fight against anti-bodies
5. It keeps the mind calm, vigil, and enthusiastic, and also improves concentration, memory power, and presence of mind.
6. Helps tackle and/or manage stress related or life-style related diseases viz. Diabetes etc.
7. Helps overcome bodily stiffness.
8. Detoxifies the body.
1. People with slip disk condition must avoid surya namaskara.
2. People who have undergone any form of surgery may avoid surya namaskara during the gestation period to normalcy.
3. Elderly people are advised to avoid over-exertion.
4. Children under the age of eight (8) should not practice surya namaskara (even though they are capable of doing it).
5. People with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or those who have had a stroke should not practice.
6. People with spinal problem must seek the advice of a therapeutic consultant before practicing surya namaskara.
7. In case of hernia or intestinal tuberculosis it must not be practiced.
8. Other limitations are asana specific.
Surya Namaskara & mind
• Each asana in the surya namaskara coveys an image of the archetypal depths of the mind.
• The positive vibrations produced by the mantras (hymns) chanted along with the practice of Surya Namaskara disposes all the evil thoughts and fosters positive emotions and feelings.
• It represents the enthusiasm, introspective, and lethargy phase of the mundane. For instance the Ashwa sanchalanasana (equestrian pose) represents energy, enthusiasm and strong will. The Padahasthasana represents the introspective mind, whereas, the shashtanga namaskara represents the face of rest and lethargy. Surya Namaskara is a fervent portrayal of the cosmic order of सृष्टि, स्थिति, लय i.e Creation, sustainance, and dissolution.
• Each asana in Surya Namaskara is a representation of the sequence of ups and downs in life. It represents the diurnal movements of the day.
• Surya Namaskara practiced along with the focus on the breadth instigates the pranic energy and allows it to flow in the various chakras. The ‘ojus’, considered the most powerful source of energy for spiritual development is harnessed through the practice of Surya Namaskara.
• The calm of the two spiritually ideal times of the day i.e. the sandhya kala are profoundly felt through this practice. The day begins with the rise of the sun and ends with the sun-set. Now, the Surya Namaskara also begins and ends with the tranquil pose of the ‘Namaskara Mudra’.
• The cosmic order of the सृष्टि, स्थिति, लय are explained through the Surya Namaskara i.e. Creation, existence, and destruction.
Having understood the multiple benefits of Surya Namaskara and its profound impact on our mind, let us take a vow to make it a habit to practice Surya Namaskara on a daily basis. By adhering to such a vow, we shall do our bit to not only contribute towards a healthy and a righteous personality and family but also a superior society.
May we salute the sun who misses not a single day on his duty;
May we salute the sun who is a beacon of light to the entire milky way galaxy;
May we salute the sun who is a life giving force to all beings on earth;
May we salute the sun who is an epitome of energy, strength, & commitment.