Surya Namaskar is the famous Sun Salutation exercise of yoga. Traditional Surya Namaskar is a combination of movement and stretching asanas, combined with breathing pranayama, yoga bija mantras, chakra concentration, and bhakti devotion. Surya Namaskar was developed as a complete spiritual practice that integrates every major system of yoga. Surya Namaskar is considered by many experts to be the most complete exercise in the world.
Surya Namaskar sequence
The term Surya Namaskaara means ‘salutation to Sun’. Surya Namaskaara is an exercise sequence, which has both the physical and the spiritual aspects. On the physical side, it involves a series of aasanas or yogic postures, which provide the body with a most complete exercise. Virtually all the parts of the body, including the thoracic and abdominal organs, are exercised and rejuvenated with vitality. Spiritually, the Surya Namaskaara is method of propitiating the Sun-god and enjoying his blessings. These include faster progress in meditation, a sharp intellect, a sound health, and acquisition of spiritual wisdom.
Surya Namaskaara consists of three important elements each of which needs to be carefully attended to for maximum possible benefits. If proper attention is not given to detail, the results may not be attained in full.
1. Asanas or bodily postures : Surya Namaskaara is an exercise sequence involving twelve different body postures, as if to signify the twelve signs of the zodiac through which passage of the Sun results in the formation of twelve months of a year. This exercise involves six postures, which proceed in one direction, and another six, which mark the return to the original position. It is virtually equivalent to the Sun traversing six signs of the zodiac to give rise to one ‘ayana’ of six months and returning through another six signs to give rise to another ayana, thus constituting the Uttaraayana (the northerly course ) and the Dakshinaayana ( the southerly course). The completion of a cycle of Uttaraayana and Dakshinaayana brings the Sun back to its original position from where the next solar cycle starts. Even as the apparent movement of the Sun through the zodiac is of importance to astrologers, so also is the practice of the Surya Namaskaara to them.
2. Breathing : Yogic practices lay great stress on regulation of breathing which helps the yogi to gain control over the life force within the body as well as outside. Synchronisation of breathing with physical postures is thus an important constituent of the practice of Hatha yoga. In Surya Namaskaara the different postures when correctly practised appear rhythmical, one naturally leading to the other. The sequence of breathing, consisting of inhalation, exhalation or retension, has also been advocated as it would most naturally be during the various postures. It requires some extra attention in the beginning to be able to synchronise the breathing with the physical posture. With practice, the sequence of posture and breathing would get integrated and appear natural. Obviously, the best results from the practice of Surya Namaskaara can only be expected when the posture and the breath proceed in harmony.
3. Incantations or Mantras : Surya Namaskaara is not undertaken merely as a physical exercise though it is eminently qualified to be levelled as the most effective bodily exercise. It is practised with a religio-spiritual intent as well. The propitiation of the Sun is one intent, and the consequent spiritual benefit accuring from a benevolent Sun the other. Each of the twelve postures of this exercise sequence is associated with a mantra or potentiated incantation.
A specific mantra has to be chanted as a specific posture in the sequence is attained. it is thus a synchronisation of posture, breath and mantra, all together proceeding in a sequence. Each of the mantras literally is an affirmation salutation to the Sun. But those who know about the mantras are also aware that the literal meaning of a mantra is of little consequence. It is the energy hidden in the structure of the mantra that is of significance. It produces a tremendous impact, often in a highly subtle manner, when uttered in the prescribed manner and sequence. Since the mantras here involve a form of worship of the Sun, the element of devotion becomes important. The Surya Namaskaara is thus a physical exercise (body postures) integrated with praanaayaama (controlled breathing) and devotioned worship (chanting of mantra).
The Sequence of Postures
It is appropriate now to describe the various postures that constitute the different steps of the Surya Namaskaara.
Stand erect facing east, feet together. The feet, buttocks, back, neck and head should lie in the same vertical plane. Fold the two hands together in front of the chest, eyes closed and body relaxed.
Oordhva Namaskaaraasana ( the prayer with raised arms ) :
Raise both arms above the head, hands folded together. Carry the arms as far back as possible,
extending the spine at the same time.
Inhale the breath while raising the arms.
Hastapaadaasana ( the forward Bending):
Bend forwards, withdraw the stomach and place the palms of both hands on the ground on either side of the of the feet. Keep the legs straight at the knees.
This posture should be attained gently without exerting too much. It may not be possible in the beginning to attain the final position as described here. Exhale while bending forward.
Ashwa Sanchaalanaasana (the horse) :
Retaining the hands where they are ( on the ground on either side of feet), stretch the right leg backwards as far as it goes, bending the left leg at the same time, without altering the position of the left foot Inhale deeply while this posture is being attained.
Parvataasana (the mountain) :
Move the right foot forward and the left foot backwards so that the two feet lie side by side.
Lower the head, left the buttocks as high up as possible. The legs and arms must be straight and the soles of the two feet must be on the ground, the heels also touching the ground.
Ashtanga Namaskaaraasana ( salutation with eight points) :
This posture is so called because eight body points ( two hands, two knees, two feet, chest and forehead) are made to touch the ground. Lower the body and let the feet and the knees touch the ground. Pull the abdomen in while lowering the chest and the forehead to the ground even as the hands remain on the ground close to the chest. The hips and the abdomen have to be pulled up to keep them off the ground. Hold the breath outside.
Sarpaasana ( the cobra ) :
Straighten the arms while arching the head and the spine backwards. Lower the hips. Only the hands and feet should
touch the ground while the rest of the body remains of the ground. Inhale deeply, filling the chest with air.
Parvataasana ( the mountain ) :
Regain the position as shown in fig. 5
Exhale while attaining this position.
Ashwa Sanchaalanaasana ( the horse ) :
Attain the position shown in fig. 4. The right leg must be extended backwards and the left leg brought forwards.
Hastapaadaasana ( the forward bending ) :
Come back to the position shown in fig. 3.
Oordhva Namaskaaraasana ( the prayer with raised arms ) :
Attain the position shown in Fig. 2.
Inhale while the body and the arms are lifted up.
Namaskaaraasana ( the prayer ) :
Return to the same position as Fig. 1.
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