In Hindu mythology, the sun god is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortal life. The Rig Veda declares that "Surya is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings". The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara – सूर्य नमस्कार) originated as a series of prostrations to the sun. Traditionally, it is performed at dawn, facing the rising sun.
The Sun Salutation is a graceful sequence of twelve positions performed as one continuous flow. Each position counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing. The sequence also flexes and stretches the spinal column through their maximum range giving profound stretch to the whole body. Practiced daily it will bring great flexibility to your spine and joints and trim your waist. It limbers up the whole body in preparation for the other Asanas (postures) that are practiced as part of a regular yoga routine.
While practicing the sequence, keep your hands in one place from positions 3 to 10 and try to co-ordinate your movements with your breathing. Start by practicing three rounds and gradually build up to twelve rounds. Take it easy during the first two rounds. As the body limbers up, you may deepen each stretch in the sequence. Please use the picture above as a guide to the postures. The step numbers below correspond to the figures in the pictures from left to right. A chart showing the steps in the sequence, along with the associated mantra and chakra awareness is available here.
- Stand erect with feet together and hands in the prayer position in front of your chest. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Exhale.
- Inhaling, stretch your arms out and up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Relax your neck.
- Exhaling, fold forward, and press your palms down, fingertips in line with toes. Try to keep the knees straight, bending slightly if necessary.
- Inhaling, bring the left (or right) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chest and chin.
- Exhaling, bring the other leg back, curl your toes under, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted "V" shape (Adhomukha Shvanasana or Downward Facing Dog). Try to push your heels and forehead down, tailbone lifted up and keep your shoulders back.
- Exhaling, lower your knees, then your chest and then your chin to the floor, keeping your hips up.
- Inhaling, lower your hips to the floor, point your toes and stretch the chin out. Slowly lift your head, neck and chest (Bhujangasana or Cobra pose). Keep legs together and shoulder blades pulled back. Look up and back.
- Exhaling, curl your toes under, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted "V" shape. Try to push your heels and forehead down and keep your shoulders back (same as position 5).
- Inhaling, step forward and place the left (or right) foot between your hands. Rest the other knee on the floor and look up, as in position 4.
- Exhaling, bring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist, keeping your palms as in position 3.
- Inhaling, stretch your arms forward, then up and back over your head and bend back slowly from the waist, as in position 1.
- Exhaling, gently come back to an upright position and bring your arms down by your sides. Relax for a few breaths before proceeding with the next round.
- The abdominal organs and the stomach are stretched and compressed. This gives a wonderful massage to the internal organs
- Stimulates the peristalsis of the intestines, which helps to remove constipation. It gently massages the kidneys and increases the blood flow through the whole body. It helps to eliminate toxins from the body.
- The lungs are emptied of impurities and stale air, and the body is revitalized by the extra supply of oxygen that it receives. The whole body and brain function much better as a consequence. One can almost feel the extra supercharge of energy. It harmonizes the whole endocrinal system of glands, and helps to remove any irregularities by directly massaging and increasing the blood flow to them.
- The spinal column is bent and stretched in a systematic manner to the maximum extent, thus stimulating the circulation of blood in the whole spinal cord and all the nerve centers. As a consequence, it brings health and vitality to the entire nervous systems.
- All the main muscles and joints in the body are exercised, stretched and squeezed.
- Induces peace of mind, reduces emotional conflicts, neurosis and stress. It is an excellent routine to practice when you get up in the morning as it will prepare you in all ways to face the oncoming day with physical strength and mental poise.
Surya Namaskara is generally safe for people of all age groups as long as one keeps each of the stretches and moves within one’s individual capability. However, if you have any of the conditions given below, please consult your physician or an expert yoga teacher before practicing Surya Namaskara:
Fever, acute inflammation, boils or rashes, High blood pressure (uncontrolled even with medication), Coronary artery diseases, Hernia, Intestinal tuberculosis, Severe back problems, slipped disc, Sciatica, Menstruation, 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy.