The Yogic Aspect of the Sun Salutation

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The Surya Namaskar is considered to be the complete embodiment of Hathayoga, Mantra Yog and Bhakti yoga. It is a complete exercise for the culturing of both mind and body. In just twelve steps asana, pranayama, shuddhi kriya, bandha and mudra are completely included along with prayerful devotion.  Learn how this simple yoga practice has been proven to be one of the world’s most complete exercises.

The Yogic Aspect of the Sun Salutation

The Surya Namaskar is considered to be the complete embodiment of Hathayoga, Mantra Yog and Bhakti yoga. It is a complete exercise for the culturing of both mind and body. In just twelve steps asana, pranayama, shuddhi kriya, bandha and mudra are completely included along with prayerful devotion.

The Surya Namaskar or the salutation to Sun is considered to be that one single routine that encompasses important features of Hatha yoga, Mantra yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Yoga is a technique which allows Man to elevate and emancipate himself from animal man to divine man. In order to achieve this divine state, the ancient seers of yoga believed that the body must clean and healthy for, cleanliness is next to godliness. Hatha Yoga is the ancient text of yoga that is completely devoted to the physical culture of yoga. The physical culture of yoga includes –

  • Asana- the physical culture of yogic postures
  • Pranayama-the science of breath
  • Bandhas- the science of postural locks
  • Kriyas- cleansing techniques to purify the body and remove sloth
  • Mudras- the technique of emotional culture

The Surya Namaskar and Asana

Each of the 12 steps of the Surya Namaskar is a yogasana by itself. The Salutation to the Sun commences with Dakshasana. ‘Daksha’ means to stand in attention. This meditative posture increases self confidence and improves concentration.

The salutation is initiated with yet another asana called Pranamasana. This posture has a therapeutic effect on the throat, it improves the voice and relaxes the mind.

The second step of the Suryanamaskar is Hasta Uttanasana. This asana improves the functioning of the alimentary canal, eyesight and flexion of the shoulder muscles.

The third step-Padahastasana, is the hands to feet posture. This asana cures abdominal ailments, strengthens the chest, hands and body. In the fourth step- Ashwasanchalasana, particularly benefits the liver and intestines.

Bhoo naman Vajrasana is the fifth step which allows normal breathing and resumption of the breath to its normal pace. This is not only a rest state of the salute but also a respectful and grateful acknowledgement to Mother Earth for providing the seer a ground to salute and pay respect to the Sun. The physical benefits of this asana are similar to Vajrasana or the Thunderbolt posture. It increases the elasticity of the spine, cures constipation, strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and chest.

Ashtangapranipat, the sixth step, marks the culmination of the Surya Namaskar. This full body prostration along the ground is an obeisance to the Sun God which tames the ego and strengthens the arms.

The seventh step, Bhujangasana or the Cobra posture maintained for a few a few breaths stimulates blood circulation, improves the functioning of the urino-genital system and strengthens the muscles of the neck.

Parvatasana or the mountain posture, the eighth step of the salute, strengthens, knees, legs, reduces fat around waist and reduces abdominal disorders. Bandha or postural lock included in the Salutation – The Jalandhar Bandha is performed in the 8th step of the salutation. In the Jalandhar bandha air is trapped purposefully in the in the internal cavity between the throat and the anus. The purpose of the lock is to direct energy from the lower chakras towards the upper parts of the body without dissipation through the organs of excretion.

Kriyas– The Sun Salutation includes the trataka shuddhi kriya which is why the early morning routine is recommended. The practitioner of the Surya Namaskar can perform Sun gazing or Surya trataka until the point that the eyes just begin to well up with tears for improving vision.

Pranayama– Ashtangapranipat the 6th step of the Surya Namaskar requires Bahya Kumbhaka or the external retention of breath – a form of pranayam or breath control. Each of the steps of the Sun salute is rhythmically coordinated with Anuloma –Viloma Pranayama ( Inhale-Exhale).

The chanting of the 12 names of Lord Surya along with the bija mantras and gayatri mantra come under the realm of mantra yoga.

Mudra yog– The Namaskar mudra is performed in step one, six and twelve of the salute. In the namaskar mudra the two palms are placed together. It signifies the emotions of extending friendship, love and devotion in a humble way. It is a salutation or an act of worship. The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed to the Divinity in the Sun God. With this significance, the greeting is not just a superficial gesture but is a way for a deeper communion in an atmosphere of love and respect.

This has direct connection to the teachings of Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion, Love and Surrender. According to the principles of Bhakti Yoga, in the Surya Namaskar complete surrender is made to the Cosmic Sun of our Universe invoking him to lend his qualities of friendship, brilliance, unfailing warmth and sustenance, strength, and benevolence.

In accordance with Mantra yoga the bija mantras Hram, Hrim, Hroom, Hraim, Hroum, Hrah have an esoteric and exoteric effect on the gross physical body. An esoteric dimension of the mantra refers to the changes the mantra can induce on the mind, intellect and emotions. While an esoteric dimension gently massages and relaxes the physical body with vibrations.

The right intonation, pronunciation and the resonance of each of these bija mantras create waves that permeate through the entire body. These wave motions produce special effects on the mind, body, emotions and intellect as a whole.

Regular practice of the Surya namaskar initiates opening f the seven psychic energy centers in the body-the chakras. Re balancing of the distorted body energy endows health and balanced state of mind. Repeated asanas that bend the spine forwards and backwards at the waist keeps the spine healthy and pulverizes the food ingested thus expediting digestion. Regular anuloma viloma pranayam increases the lung capacity. This 12 step routine must be practiced in a clean open space, at sunrise or sun down, in odd number of repetitions with regularity to reap full benefits. Initial practice of the namaskar leads to dislodging toxins from the body and hence plenty of fluids should be consumed once the practice is begun.

Amongst some of the rich cultural legacies endowed by Ancient India, Surya Namaskar has a special place as the most scientific and complete religious and physical yogic routine.

By Anjali Gharpure
Published: 6/3/2009



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