Surya Namaskar is one of the basic yoga practices; nevertheless, it holds a lot of significance in the yoga world. It stimulates your whole body and is a prayer of gratitude toward the sun. Furthermore, it is perfect for those looking to perform an intensive workout in a small amount of time. If you manage to complete the 12 asanas or yoga poses of this yoga sequence, it is equivalent to you having done 288 powerful yoga postures.
In this guide, we will break down various aspects of Surya Namaskar. As a result, you will gain all the necessary information regarding this asana such as its benefits, how to perform it, the best time to practice it, and many other things.
What is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)?
In Sanskrit, Surya refers to the Sun while Namaskar means to bow or to greet. Thus in English, Surya Namaskar is also referred to as Sun Salutation. As per the traditional forms of the asana, each of the 12 postures is accompanied by a mantra or a chant. The mantras represent the 12 zodiac signs and supply energy to the body.
There is a lot of contradiction surrounding the origins of Surya Namaskar. Some practitioners state that it was created 2500 years ago in the Vedic period, during which it was performed as a ritual which involved prostrating toward the rising sun, chanting mantras, offering rice and water. Others state that it is a relatively modern technique which was developed in the 20th century by the Raja of Aundh.
Every yoga practitioner first starts with Sun Salutation. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois stated, “No asana practice is complete without sun worship. Without its focusing of mental energies, yoga practice amounts to little more than gymnastics and, as such, loses meaning and proves fruitless. Indeed the Surya Namaskara should never be mistaken for mere physical exercise – for something incidental, that is, that simply precedes the asanas of yoga”.
Performing the Sun Salutation provides many health benefits. It reduces the tension from your body and mind, improves circulation, regulates your breathing, and stimulates your central nervous system. According to ancient yogis, this asana also activates the Manipura (Solar plexus) Chakra, which is located in the navel area and is called the second brain. This increases the creative and intuitive abilities of an individual.
Each posture in Surya Namaskar increases muscle flexibility and also engages a different part of your body. As a result, your body gets warmed–up to practice more powerful and complicated asanas. Practicing Sun Salutation also helps you to gain spiritual knowledge and wisdom. It calms a person’s mind and enables one to think clearly.
Over the years, Surya Namaskar has gone through many changes, and as a result, many variations exist today. In the traditional Iyengar Yoga, it consists of Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Urdhva Hastasana (Raised Hands Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Uttanasana with head up, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). You can make a change in the above sequence. Along with these, you can also incorporate Navasana (Boat Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Marichyasana (Sage Pose) postures.
Best Time to Practice Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
It is recommended that you perform Surya Namaskar early in the morning. However, if you are pressed for time, then you can do it in the evening as well. But before starting your yoga routine, ensure that your stomach is empty.
Practicing Sun Salutation in the morning rejuvenates your body and refreshes your mind. It makes you more active and also prepares your body to take on everyday tasks with enthusiasm. Another benefit of performing this yoga sequence early in the morning is that during this time, the ultraviolet rays are not very harsh. As a result, your skin doesn’t get overexposed to the sun and you can enjoy the benefits of this asana thoroughly.
If you are a beginner interested in performing Surya Namaskar in the morning, then you must start by practicing it in the evening first. The reason behind this is that during the evening, our joints are flexible and the body muscles are more active, which makes it easier to practice various poses. If you practice Sun Salutation with a stiff body, it can lead to severe consequences. Once you get accustomed to all the 12 steps, you can conduct your yoga routine in the morning.
When done outdoors, this yoga sequence will enable you to form a deep connection with the outside environment. However, you also have the option of practicing it indoors, but make sure that the room is sufficiently ventilated.
Here is another piece of advice for beginners. Start by performing two rounds of Surya Namaskar on alternate days. After that slowly shift to two rounds every day and eventually increase your sets until you can do 12 rounds every day. Keep in mind that quickly raising your rounds will negatively affect your body.
What Does Scientific Research Say About Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)?
Many of us live a hectic lifestyle. As a result, we suffer from depression, stress and other mental illnesses. Surya Namaskar is a yoga technique that provides relief from such problems and calms your mind.
An article published in the International Journal of Yoga and Allied sciences pointed out Surya Namaskar’s effect on emotional maturity and psychological well being. The researchers took a sample of 30 students that were aged between 18 – 24 years. After the successful completion of the experiment, it was revealed that practicing Sun Salutation affected their psychological mindset positively and improved their concentration abilities. Along with that, the data also showed that the students’ emotional state had matured.
Currently, there are talks of incorporating Sun Salutation in school curriculums. A study, by the name of “Effects of Surya Namaskar on Sustained Attention in School Children,” researched with a group of 64 students. They discovered that after performing this yoga sequence for a month, the children showed considerable improvement in their attention spans.
Another article that focused on the effects of Surya Namaskar on children’s cardiovascular and respiratory system pointed out that the regular practice of the yoga technique led to a decrease in the children’s heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. A significant increase in the vital capacity and peak expiratory flow rate were also discovered. The study conducted by Bhavanani and others revealed the positive effects of Sun Salutation on the functioning of the lungs, respiratory system, and handgrip strength.
Surya Namaskar stretches and activates every part of your body. According to a research paper, Sun Salutation has positive effects on muscle strength and body endurance. Its regular practice helps to develop a strong upper body, irrespective of whether you are a male or a female. Along with that, it also improves your lower body muscle strength and back muscle strength.
The same paper also highlights that practicing Surya Namaskar leads to a significant decrease in female body weight, but, not so much in the males. In the modern world, obesity has become a serious issue. Many women use different techniques for losing weight, such as medicines, gym exercises, and strict diets, all of which can end up hurting their body. In comparison, Sun Salutation provides a natural method to attain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).
In another study, six Asian participants were chosen who had been practicing Surya Namaskar for two years. The research revealed that there was a significant rise in their heart rate, and the oxygen consumption rose as well. It was discovered that an individual weighing 60 kg expanded 230 kcal during a 30–minute workout session. In addition to that, the increased heart rate was perfect for inducing the cardiorespiratory effect. Thus this study further established that Sun Salutation is quite beneficial to those interested in weight management, and it can also improve an individual’s cardiorespiratory fitness.
Further evidence on the advantages of this yoga sequence can be found in the Surya Namaskar: A Path to Good Health article that points out that the continuous practice of the 12 asanas enhances the functioning of the endocrine system. It primarily focuses on pancreas, thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands. This article reveals that Sun Salutation can strengthen your Peripheral and Autonomic Nervous Systems, which can be beneficial to patients suffering from neuronal issues, Metabolism Syndrome, and menstrual disorder.
The study also shows that if diabetes patients practice Surya Namaskar, it will reduce their blood sugar level significantly. Furthermore, this yoga technique also reduces the oxidative stress in the body, which plays an essential role in insulin resistance and is the leading cause of complications in diabetes patients.
Even though this yoga sequence has existed for centuries, the research community has recently shifted its focus toward it. As a result, many studies have been successfully carried out. However, the current data is not enough. To fully grasp, understand, and utilize the full potential of Surya Namaskar, further research is required. We hope that the data mentioned above, along with the research articles, will put your mind at ease and will allow you to practice Sun Salutation confidently.
12 Steps of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is composed of 12 different postures. In this section; we will discuss how to perform each of them properly.
1. Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)
Pranamasana is the first posture in the yoga sequence. To accomplish this pose, stand upright on your mat and ensure that your feet are placed close to each other. Next, take a deep breath, expand your chest and relax your shoulder. During inhalation, raise your arms from the side and while exhaling join both your palms together as if you are praying. The prayer posture or first salutation is complete.
2. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Ensure that your palms are joined together, just like in the previous prayer pose. Take a deep breath, lift your arms and slightly bent backward. Your biceps must stay close to your ears.
3. Hasta Padasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose)
Breathe out and bend forward from your waist. Try to touch the floor with your hands. However, ensure that your spine remains straight. While performing this pose, you should exhale slowly and thoroughly.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge Pose)
Bend your knees slightly, so that the palms can rest on the floor beside your feet. Take a deep breath, bring your right knee towards the right side of your chest and stretch your left leg backward. Raise your head and look forward.
5. Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose)
Inhale and bring your right leg back as well. Now both your hands will be right under your shoulders. Ensure that your body is parallel to the ground.
6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight Limbed Pose)
This is also referred to as salutations using eight points or parts. After performing Chaturanga Dandasana, exhale and slowly bring your knees down toward the floor. Rest your chin on the floor and keep your hips suspended in the air. If done correctly, both your hands, knees, chin and chest will rest on the ground while your hips will remain suspended in the air.
7. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Rest your legs and midsection flat on the ground. Position your palms beside your chest. Inhale and apply pressure on the hands to raise your upper body. At this point, your head and torso will resemble a cobra with a raised hood.
8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Keep your palms and feet where they are. Exhale and gently lift your hips, so that the body forms an inverted ‘V’. Straighten your elbows and knees. Look toward your navel.
9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge Pose)
After performing Adho Mukha Svanasana, go back to Ashwa Sanchalanasana by bringing your right foot forward. Keep your left leg stretched behind you and look forward.
10. Hasta Padasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Inhale and bring your left foot forward, such that it is next to your right foot. Keeping the position of your hands intact, exhale and slowly bend your torso to enter into the Hasta Padasana pose.
11. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Inhale and lift your upper body. Join the palms and raise your arms above your head. Then bend backward as you did in step 2.
12. Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)
This is the last step. Breathe out and stand straight in a relaxed manner. Lower the arms and hold your palms in front of your chest. This marks the end of the first set of Surya Namaskar.
To reap the maximum benefits of Sun Salutation, perform 12 sets of these 12 asanas every day, that is six rounds on the right leg and six rounds on the left leg.
Step by Step Video Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) Sequence
10 Mistakes Beginners Make During Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
Following are some of the common blunders beginners make while attempting Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation):
1. Not performing the breathing techniques properly
During yoga, you must synchronize your body moves with your breathing. This is true in the case of Sun Salutation also. Sacrificing your breathing techniques for movement does not yield the desired result. Practice slowly but correctly.
2. Skipping the Hasta Uttanasana
Skipping the Hasta Uttanasana breaks the cyclic balance of breathing and movement. It also takes away the opportunity to strengthen and decompress your spine. Furthermore, your neck also experiences unnecessary strain.
3. Dropping the lower spine during Chaturanga Dandasana
While performing the Four–Limbed Staff Pose, beginners often place pressure on their lower spine. As a result of this, the lower body sinks toward the floor and people end up developing back pains.
The solution to this problem is simple. If you are making the same mistake yourself, first press your legs and palms into the ground. After that, engage your abdominal and upper body muscles. This will ensure that your spinal cord stays erect.
4. Confusion between the Cobra Pose and the Upward Facing Dog Pose
Many times practitioners confuse the Cobra Pose and the Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). The result of this confusion is that they end up performing neither poses; instead, it becomes something completely different.
To avoid getting confused, it is recommended that you first master the Cobra Pose. Once that is done, and you’ve completed your Surya Namaskar routine, you can move on and practice the advanced dog yoga poses separately.
5. Not moving forward while doing the Ashwa Sanchalanasana
Toward the end of Sun Salutation, the transition from the Downward Facing Dog Pose to the Equestrian Pose can be quite tricky, especially while trying to move your foot between your hands.
Beginners often end up in a weird posture during which their knees are extended way further than they should. As a result, too much pressure is placed on the knees, and your hip flexors are not properly stretched. To avoid this mistake, you should drop and bend your knees a little longer and then try moving your foot backward.
6. Not warming up properly
Instead of performing light warm-up exercises, many beginners tend to jump right into their Surya Namaskar routine. This can lead to muscle injuries, especially if your body is not flexible.
Apart from warming up, cooling down is also equally crucial after a workout, including yoga. So before practicing Sun Salutation, start with some light stretches and joint rotation. After completing the sequence, end it with some relaxing stretches.
7. Regularly increasing the number of sets
For starters, it is recommended to perform four sets of Surya Namaskar daily and then slowly increase the number of rounds. This will give you enough time to understand the movements involved in all the yoga poses correctly. If required, you may also adjust the asanas as per your needs so that they are more beneficial.
8. Uncomplete cycle
In Sun Salutation, after performing all poses, you have to go back to Pranamasana position. This marks the completion of one cycle. After that, you enter into the new cycle. However, many starters end up skipping this pose, which creates an incomplete circle.
9. Incorrect Alignments
In Surya Namaskar, every pose requires your undivided attention and must be performed correctly. Alignment errors can hurt your joints, cause muscles strains, and intensify back pains. So, while practicing, be aware, and stay in the present.
10. Performing all 12 sets in a single go
Surya Namaskar should be done slowly. However, some students try to complete all 12 rounds at the same time. The fear that they might end up losing their momentum does not allow them to stop.
You should avoid this. It is better to take breaks and progress at your own pace. While creating momentum might make it easier to perform the sets, however, it is not a requirement for this yoga routine.
Top 12 Benefits of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
Sun Salutation provides various health benefits. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Your body becomes toned and flexible
Surya Namaskar‘s various poses engage different parts of your body. As a result, your whole body ends up getting toned. It also makes your body more flexible. This results in improving your overall posture and makes it easier to balance your body.
2. Weight loss
The regular practice of this yoga technique boosts your metabolism, which helps to reduce weight in the belly area. Along with that, it also stretches your abdominal muscles, strengthens your skeletal muscles, and prevents unwanted fat deposition in these regions.
4. Beautiful hair and skin
Surya Namaskar enhances your blood circulation. As a result, the natural glow of your skin returns. Along with that, it also prevents the occurrence of wrinkles, hair loss, and greying of hair. This gives you a youthful and radiant look.
5. Blood Pressure and Heart–related problems
Sun Salutation is a natural remedy for blood pressure fluctuations. It is also very beneficial for heart muscles and is an excellent way to treat irregular heartbeats. This yoga technique also reduces your sugar levels. As a result, the risk of heart attack reduces, and your eyes, kidneys, and nerves stay healthy.
6. Improves energy and awareness levels
Like other asanas, this routine also focuses on breathing exercises. This relaxes your mind and sharpens your intellect. A relaxed mind, combined with a healthy body causes your energy levels to rise and makes you self–aware.
7. Absorption of Nutrients becomes easier
In the modern age, people don’t have time to sit down and enjoy a healthy meal. This has led to the development of an unhealthy lifestyle, which in turn has caused an increase in many illnesses such as PCOD, PCOS and obesity. By performing Surya Namaskar daily, you can boost your digestive system and prevent many diseases from occurring.
Enhanced digestion makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients. Better nutrient absorption regulates hormones and enables the body to perform vital functions smoothly. Thus your overall health improves.
8. Mood Swings and emotion stability
Deep breathing techniques, combined with specific asanas, have a positive effect on your nerve cells. Performing Sun Salutation proves beneficial for your brain. It can create a sense of balance between your brain’s left and right side. This increases your emotional stability and enhances your creative and mental capabilities.
In addition to that, practicing Surya Namaskar improves the functioning of your endocrine system, especially your thyroid glands. This causes a decrease in anxiety and mood swings. It also induces a calming effect which enables you to concentrate and allows you to think clearly.
9. Helps regulate the menstrual cycle
Females with irregular periods can use this yoga technique to regulate their menstrual cycles. The daily practice of this routine can also make childbirth easier. Furthermore, it can also alleviate extreme period pain.
Surya Namaskar helps insomnia patients. It releases stress, tension, relaxes the mind and induces sleep. It also ensures that you don’t become dependent on drugs and can fall asleep naturally.
11. Detoxifies your body
An integral part of Sun Salutation is the inhalations and exhalations. If done correctly, it can help in the proper functioning of your lungs. Along with that, the amount of fresh oxygen supplied to your blood also increases. This releases carbon dioxide and other gases from your system and detoxifies your body.
12. Bone health
The lack of Vitamin D weakens an individual’s bones and can also cause skeletal deformities. People suffering from Vitamin D deficiency also have a high risk of heart diseases and premature death. Since Surya Namaskar is performed while facing the sun, it helps your body to absorb the required amount of Vitamin D. This ensures that both your bones and body remain healthy.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) Contraindications
Despite its many benefits, you must refrain from performing the Surya Namaskar if you are suffering from the following ailments:
- Heart patients should consult a doctor before starting this yoga routine.
- If you are suffering from back problems, you must practice Sun Salutation under your yoga teacher’s guidance.
- People having high blood pressure issues can avoid this sequence.
- Arthritis leads to knee stiffness and thus hinders mobility. Since Surya Namaskar involves knee movements, you must perform it with caution if you are an arthritis patient.
- People suffering due to hernia must refrain from practicing Sun Salutation as well.
- If you have a severe wrist injury, you can give this yoga sequence a miss.
- Pregnant women should not practice Sun Salutation as it puts pressure on the back and abdominal regions, thereby harming both the mother and the fetus.
- Women must also avoid performing Surya Namaskar while on their periods.
Chair Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) for Seniors
For those of us who have limited mobility, injuries, or other conditions that prevent us from performing the full Sun Salutation, there is always the option of modifying it by using a chair.
1. Begin with the back of the chair behind you. It may be beneficial to support your back with a cushion on the lower back and it may also be beneficial to keep a pillow under your buttocks.
2. On an inhale lift the arms up over the head and gently lean back against the back of the chair being careful not to let the neck fall too far back.
3. On an exhale, keeping the back straight slowly drape the trunk over the legs, sliding the hands along the shins.
4. On an inhale, slide the hands back up and come back to a seated position, drawing the right knee in towards the chest. Lean into the chair back and open through the chest.
5. On an exhale round the back and draw the head towards the knee, dropping the shoulders.
6. Release the right leg. Repeat on the other side.
7. After both sides are complete, reach your arms over hand and lean against the back of the chair, perform another forward bend, come back and perform one last back bend, and return to an upright position with the hands in prayer position.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)– The Go-To Yoga Practice
If you’re someone who has little time to spare for a daily workout schedule but still wants to stay fit, there is no better option than Surya Namaskar.
Even though it is a centuries-old yoga technique, yet in the modern world, it has ended up becoming the focus of the research community due to its proven track record of improving a person’s lifestyle. A person who practices Sun Salutation regularly will notice significant improvements in their lives, both physically and spiritually.
We hope that this article addressed all your questions and cleared your doubts. Always remember that while performing any yoga regimen, concentration, patience, and determination are required. Surya Namaskar is no different. Don’t try to rush things, take it slow and enjoy yourself.
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