In Hindu mythology, the sun god is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortal life. It is also revered as the source of life and energy. 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.
From a historical perspective, Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) is not listed as one of the yoga practices in any of the traditional, ancient yoga texts. Two of the most commonly referenced texts are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gherand Samhita. In these texts there is no mention of the practice of Surya Namaskara.
However, Surya Namaskara has been practiced as a religious ritual for possibly thousands of years as a form of worship to the "Sun God". It is not clear as to what the exact nature of this ritual, in terms of the asanas/stretches performed, was in the ancient times. My assumption is that the Surya Namaskara sequence, as practiced today, is a gradual evolution from its ancient origins. In the classical Surya Namaskara sequence there are twelve moves/asanas. Each of these asanas is accompanied by the chanting of a mantra. There are twelve mantras, one for each move of the Surya Namaskara sequence. Each mantra represents a prostration to one of the twelve names or manifestations of the Sun god. In that sense, this becomes a very devotional practice. You can listen to a beautiful rendition of the mantra chanting here (click the play button)
These twelve moves of Surya Namaskara, the corresponding mantras, and a brief description of each move are listed in the table below.
So, how and when did the practice of Surya Namaskara become a part of the yoga routine? It is believed that in the mid-1920s, there was a king of the state of Aundh in India named Meherban Shrimant Raja Bhavan Rao Shrinivas ‘Bala Sahib’. He was apparently a practitioner of the ancient practice of sun worship in the form of Surya Namaskara as well as a yoga practitioner. He got the idea of integrating the practice of Surya Namaskara into the yoga practice. He then introduced these practices in the schools so the students could stay healthy. As we know today, almost all styles of yoga incorporate some form of Surya Namaskara as a part of their yoga routine. Of course, each style introduces its own variations to the main sequence to make it unique for their style of yoga.
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.
I am pleased to present a short video sequence which has three rounds of the Surya Namaskara practice with the chanting of mantras. I have shown some simple variations in each round. In the classes that I teach, we usually practice with these variations. Of course, in your own practice, you may choose to do more than three rounds.
Guidelines for practicing with the mantras
Here are some basic guidelines while practicing Surya Namaskara with the chanting of the mantras:
- Each move needs to be synchronized with the pace set by the mantra chanting.
- Try to take deep, ujjayi breaths for this practice.
- It is important to maintain the proper breathing sequence as given in the table below. Each move should start with the appropriate breath. However, if you run out of breath while the mantra is still going on, you should take extra breaths, as needed.
- Once you become very familiar with the whole sequence, you may decide to add more variations to different asanas in the sequence.
Treat this whole practice as a combination of asana, pranayama and meditation practices.
- It is obviously an asana practice as it involves physical stretching asanas.
- It is a pranayama practice as we are trying to breathe deep, ujjayi breaths, and also trying to keep each move synchronized with the breath.
- And finally, it becomes a very meditative experience as you can get totally absorbed in the sound vibration, the rhythm and the uplifting energy of the chanting of the mantras. In fact, I recommend that you should keep the eyes closed throughout this practice. That way you can allow the body to flow naturally with the flow of the mantras and just internalize and enjoy the meditative experience.
- At the end of the practice, you can relax for a few minutes in Shavasana (Corpse pose).
Surya Namaskara sequence
The basic SN sequence consists of 12 movements. One mantra is chanted for each movement. The table below shows the basic sequence, along with the mantra for that movement. The brief instructions given are for a basic sequence. As mentioned above, when we practice multiple rounds of SN, we can add modifications to some of the basic movements. As you can see in the video, I have added minor modifications in rounds two and three. In fact, as long as you can maintain the timing of the mantras for each move, you can add asanas like the warrior pose (Virabhadrasna), triangle pose, some variations of the cobra pose etc., where appropriate. Keep in mind that you want to try these optional variations only if you are fully comfortable with them and they flow very naturally into the sequence. The practice becomes meditative only when we don’t have to struggle to get into and out of any of these poses.
|Position||Description||Mantra in Sanskrit||Mantra|
|1||Exhale – Palms in the prayer position||ॐ मित्राय नमः||Om mitraya namaha|
|2||Inhale – Stretch the arms out, up and back||ॐ रवये नमः||Om ravaye namaha|
|3||Exhale – bending forward from the hips||ॐ सूर्याय नमः||Om Suryaye Namaha|
|4||Inhale – left leg all the way back, looking up||ॐ भानवे नमः||Om Bhanave Namaha|
|5||Exhale – right leg back (downward facing dog)||ॐ खगाय नमः||Om Khagaya Namaha|
|6||Hold – knees, chest and chin to the floor||ॐ पूष्णे नमः||Om Pushne Namaha|
|7||Inhale- lift the head, neck and chest (cobra pose)||ॐ हिरण्यगर्भाय नमः||Om Hiranyagarbhaye Namaha|
|8||Exhale – push back into downward facing dog||ॐ मरीचये नमः||Om Marichaye Namaha|
|9||Inhale – left foot forward between the palms, look up||ॐ आदित्याय नमः||Om Adityaya Namah|
|10||Exhale – right foot forward, knees straight, bending forward||ॐ सवित्रे नमः||Om Savitre Namaha|
|11||Inhale – stretch arms out, up and back||ॐ अर्काय नमः||Om Arkaya Namaha|
|12||Exhale – straighten up, palms in the prayer position, release the arms||ॐ भास्कराय नमः||Om Bhaskaraya Namaha|
|Final mantra||ॐ श्री सवित्र सूर्य नारायणाय नम:||Om shri savitra surya narayanaya namaha|
- 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.
- The uniform rhythm of the movements which are synchronized with breathing create a very positive vibrational energy in the body.
- 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.