Whether you are a yoga beginner or pro, Surya Namaskar is something you most certainly know about. After all, the sun salutation poses are the standard starting point of sessions in most types of yoga. The definite origin of Surya Namaskar is hard to pinpoint. But, the person responsible for popularising the modern form of Surya Namaskar is T Krishnamacharya, the “father of modern yoga”. Many of the Surya Namaskar asanas are similar to the dands, which were wrestlers’ exercises. This is plausible since the hall next to Krishnamacharya’s in the palace of the Rajah of Mysore held wrestling classes. Both K Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar adopted it from him. Many argue that Surya Namaskar is not truly a part of yoga and is a misrepresentation of other exercise forms. However, it has undeniably become an integral part of yoga forms across the world.
Doing the 12 Poses of Surya Namaskar Right
The design of Surya Namaskar allows you to replace poses, as long as they are similar. Thus, you can use easier asanas for Surya Namaskar for beginners, advancing to harder ones with practice. We will discuss the general sequence here along with common variations.
- Pranamasana – This is the prayer pose, where a person stands upright with the feet close to each other and chest forward. One has to raise the arms with inhalation and join them at the chest with exhalation. Alternately, you can perform the Tadasana or mountain pose, which is a basic standing pose.
- Urdhwa Hastasana – This is the upward salute pose. Here, the joined hands are raised above the head as you inhale and hold your breath. You can switch this with more complex asanas like the Hasta Uttanasana or standing backbend or the Urdhwa Vrikshasana or the upward tree pose. In all cases, the head should always be between the arms.
- Uttanasana – The standing forward bend is next. This requires one to bend forward and down slowly with exhalation. The hands can rest on the thighs, lower legs, ankles or even the floor, but the spine must be straight. The harder variation is the Padahastasana or Hastapadasana, ie, the hand to feet pose. This requires one to tuck the hand under the feet only. Exhale while bending forward.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana – The equestrian pose involves doing a low lunge with the left foot forward and bent at a right angle. The right foot extends back as flat as possible, with the pelvis low on the ground. Once you have mastered this, you can move on to the Anjaneyasana or the low lunge crescent moon pose. You have to inhale as you get into the plunge position.
- Chaturanga Dandasana – This is the low plank pose, where the body touches the ground through four parts (chatuh + anga = four body parts), which would be ends of the four limbs, while the body would be parallel to the ground and straight as a staff (danda). The arms would be at ninety degrees and pressed to the body. You can replace this with the Phalakasana, Kumbhakasana or Santolanasana, or the high plank pose. In this, the arms stay straight, which is easier. So, teachers usually reserve it for Surya Namaskar for beginners. Some will also replace this with the Adho Mukha Svanasana or the downward dog pose. You have to exhale and hold your breath in this.
- Ashtanga Namaskar – This is the eight-limbed pose or caterpillar pose. The person brings the knees and chest down from the previous pose, keeping the hips up in the air. The two feet, knees, hands, chest and chin should touch the ground. In other words, your body should touch the ground at eight points. Do the pose in kumbhaka or suspended breath.
- Bhujangasana – The cobra pose requires one to lie on the floor, raising the upper body with the arms. The lower body presses on the floor and the arms stay bent. Inhale as you raise your body. The more difficult variation is the Urdhwa Mukha Svanasana or upward dog pose. Here, one straightens the arms to raise the body from the ground.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – Raise the hips from the previous position as you exhale to form the downward dog pose. The knees and elbows must be straight and the body should form an inverted V-shape.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana – You will have to repeat this pose or a variation, but with the opposite foot.
- Uttanasana – Repeat as before.
- Urdhwa Hastasana – Redo the pose.
- Pranamasana – Return to this pose.
What to Keep in Mind for Surya Namaskar
It is crucial to remember and follow a few things for Surya Namaskar. These are:
- The best time to perform Surya Namaskar is early in the morning, ie, dawn. But, for beginners, the best time is the evening at dusk. This is because their bodies are more flexible and active then.
- Perform Surya Namaskar on an empty stomach.
- Always warm-up and cool down before and after the sets respectively.
- Do the right breathing at the right place.
- Do not skip any of the Surya Namaskar steps as this will mess up the cycle.
- Master each of the asanas first before trying to pull them off in one go.
- Make yourself fully comfortable with a certain number of sets before increasing them.
- Work on increasing the number of sets simultaneously with augmenting your expertise in each pose.
Spiritual Benefits of Surya Namaskar
Most people already know the physical and mental benefits of Surya Namaskar. Weight loss, increased energy and reflexes, cardiovascular management, better digestion, regulated menstrual cycle, alleviated insomnia, a flexible and toned body, mood management, reduced stress – the advantages are many. But here, we will talk about the spiritual benefits of the practice.
- The Surya Namaskar poses in combination with the corresponding Beeja mantra helps activate the five median chakras in the body.
- It trains the mind to reduce stress and calm itself more easily. This comes handy during meditation and ultimately, in the achievement of spiritual freedom.
- It helps in controlling mood swings and establishing emotional stability. Control over your mind and emotions is an integral part of yoga according to Patanjali’s Ashtanga.
- Surya Namaskar detoxifies the soul and enforces discipline that helps you move closer to your spiritual goals.
The best thing about Surya Namaskar is that you can do it as a part of your yoga, as a part of your workout regime or as an independent exercise. Its numerous virtues ensure that no matter how you do it, you will reap its benefits.