The benefits of Surya Namaskar, the sun salutation are an amazing part of the healing power of yoga, ranging from increasing circulation, lung capacity, flexibility, strength and digestion to relaxing the body and calming the mind, increasing concentration and ability to align chakras and balance doshas.
“Only when you loose yourself into surya namaskar,
you find its true meaning.
It’s a dance,
that aligns your body with your mind and soul.
The movement that unblocks your chakras and balances your doshas.
The divine call of the universe,
for you to join the sun, the moon and the stars.”
Poem by Mira The Ocean
Meaning of Surya Namaskar
For centuries Hindus have believed that sun, Surya is the creator and both the physical and spiritual heart of the world. Surya Namaskar, or sun salutation, is a prayer in motion to honour the sun, by performing a dynamic sequence of asanas or yoga poses.
The purpose of performing the sun salutations is to use the body as an instrument for achieving a higher awareness and receiving wisdom and knowledge. 12 positions done in succession equal the 12 Sanskrit names for sun in all its positions in the sky and are often depicted in a circle.
Each pose has its own matra and in often people site them while they perform this ritual.
History of Surya Namaskar
Although Surya Namaskar is considered part of yoga, it’s in fact at least 2500 years old and preceeds all modern forms of yoga practice. It has its origins in Vedas and is rich in symbols and mythology.
It is even mentioned in the famous gayatri mantra:
Om bhur bhuvah suvah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Diyo yo nah prachodayat
Surya Namaskar Practise
Surya Namaskar is a Sanskrit word for sun salutations, a sequence of 12 yoga poses performed one after an other while practising deep yoga breathing. It is practised to recognise the sun as the source of life for our planet.
It is performed every morning by millions of Indians, even though the never practice yoga otherwise and rather associate this with their Hindu religious practice.
The 12 yoga poses that form the sun salutation give an amazing workout for your body and your mind. It is best performed in the morning, just after waking up, after a drink of warm water or tea and before eating.
In the Western society, it is often performed at least few times in the beginning of a yoga lesson at a fast tempo to warm up the body in order to prevent injuries. Despite a common belief among the people who perform yoga for sport, it is not meant for a high speed exercise in order to burn calories.
Yoga practise, including asanas and pranayamas is explained in detail in Yoga sutras, you can read about them in my article here: What is Yoga Sutras All About?
The Benefits of Surya Namaskar
Each of the asanas, or poses, have their own benefits and together they form an other unique set of powerful advantages. It works out all the muscles in the body and the deep breathing performed with the asanas empties the lungs of impurities.
You always move with the breath, inhaling when extending and exhaling when folding. The breathing should be slow and controlled and last the whole duration of the asana.
On Mitraya Namaha
Prayer pose creates a sense of calm and relaxes the person, bringing the concentration to the surya namaskar. It is meant for a short moment of reflection and it is usual to close your eyes performing this pose.
It is used for greeting in India, Sri Lanka and some other Eastern countries. It is normally followed by a nod of the head or a small bow, together with the Sanskrit word Namaste, which means ‘bowing to you or ‘the devine in me, bows to the devine in you’.
To perform this asana, stand in the front of your mat, your toes touching each other, while the heels stay hip wide apart. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are pushed away from the ears.
While facing straight forward, fold your arms from the elbows and bring your arms in front of your body, joining your hands and pushing them against each other, fingers pointing upwards.
2. Hasta Uttanasana
Om Ravaye Namaha
Raised arm pose stretches and tones the muscles, abdomen, while increasing the flexibility of the spine. It also expands the chest, helping to increase the intake of oxygen.
This asana increases lung capacity and improves digestion.
Lift your arms up and push them back, keeping your biceps as close to your ears as possible while breathing in deeply and looking at your finger tips.
The idea of this pose is to stretch the whole body, all the way from the heels to the tip of your fingers.
In order to deepen this pose, try pushing your pelvis forward and reach upwards with your fingers.
3. Hasta Padasana
Om Suryaya Namaha
Hand to foot pose, is a position that helps you to strengthen the legs and ankles. The deep stretch is especially good for loosening the hamstring muscle and opening the shoulders, arms and hip.
To perform this post, bend from the waste while breathing out. Keep your spine erect and reach for the ground placing your hands to the ground.
To deepen this pose bring the palms into the floor and push your chest towards your thighs.
If you have problems of reaching the floor, you can bend your knees and try to straighten them little by little.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana
Om Bhanave Namaha
Equestrian pose opens up your groin and hips, while stretching and toning your legs. It strengthens your waist, ankle and knees. It also lengthens the spine, stretching the chest.
This asana is great for stimulating abdominal organs and releaves constipation, indigestion and sciatica. It also increases lung capacity and stamina.
To perform this asana, while breathing in, step forward with your right foot, placing it between your two hands, while bending your knee and lowering our pelvis towards the ground and gazing upwards.
To deepen this pose, push your hip towards the ground and stretch your neck and face upward and forward, while pushing shoulders down from the ears.
Om Khagaya Namaha
The plan pose helps to strengthen wrists, arms and shoulders. It tones legs and abdomen. Plank also builds spinal strength, hence improving posture. This asana also improves stamina.
To perform this asana, bring the left leg back next to the right one while breathing in. Bring the whole body into a straight line by firming your muscles and tightening your abdominal muscles and buttocks.
Make sure you don’t let your buttocks sink nor rise, make sure your whole body is aligned from the heels to your forehead.
6. Ashtanga Namaskara
Om Pushne Namaha
The salute with eight parts enhance the flexibility of the spine and back. It also strengthens the back muscles. It has clearing effect on the mind and reduces tension and anxiety.
To perform this pose bring your knees to the floor by exhaling. Bring your hips back and slide forward, resting your chest and chin on the floor. Push up your posterior keeping your toes in the ground. 8 parts; both hands, feet, knees, chest and chin touch the ground.
Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha
Cobra pose has a great deal of benefits. It increases flexibility and stretches the chest, abdominal muscles and shoulders.
It helps for lower back stiffness, while strengthening the arms and shoulders. The pose also firms buttocks.
It also improves mood and invigorates the heart, while regulating menstruation for the ladies.
To perform this pose, inhale deeply while you slide forward and lift up your chest like a cobra does when attacking.
It i important to push your shoulders downwards, away from the ears. Your face should be bent upwards and your throat should be stretched.
You may keep your elbows bent and bend your legs towards your buttocks. To deepen this pose, push your navel down and your chest forward.
Om Marichaye Namaha
Mountain pose, also known as downward dog is a position that strengthens arms and legs. It also sends blood flowing into the spinal region and tones spinal nerves.
To perform this pose, you need to breath out, lift your hips and tail bone and push your chest downwards creating an inverted V, a mountain posture.
To deepen this stretch by pushing your heels into the ground, lift your tail bone and push down your chest.
9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana
Om Adityaya Namaha
Equestrian asana is performed twice during the 12 poses of sun salutations. And 2 times during the whole set, which is 2 full rounds. The sun salutations start with right leg leading.
So you push the right leg backwards while the left leg stays bent for pose 3. During pose number 9, the left leg stays back, while the right leg moves between the legs.
On the second round you will lead with the left and do the opposite of the movements. Therefore it is important always to do an equal amount of sun salutations.
10. Hasta Padasana
Om Savitre Namaha
Hand to foot pose is performed two times during surya namaskar.
One of the biggest benefits from this pose is its ability to completely empty the lungs. The aim is to gradually deepen this pose by bringing the wrist at the same level with the ankles and pushing the hands flat on the ground, while pushing the chest and the stomach towards the thighs.
It is possible to perform this pose wit bent legs in order to lighten the stretch on the back of the thighs.
11. Hasta Uttanasana
Om Arkaya Namaha
Raised arms pose is also performed twice during surya namaskar.
This pose is one of the basic back bends of yoga and is a simple and excellent way for increasing the flexibility of the spine, as well as loosening the stiffness of the shoulders and shoulder blads.
Never force this pose, but instead imagine that you have a piece of string that is pulling you backwards. Only go as far as you get the feeling of falling backwards or you experience pain in your back or shoulders.
Om Bhaskaraya Namaha
Prayer pose is performed twice during surya namaskar. Use this time to bring yourself back to balance, to catch your breath and reflect on the poses you have just performed.
Exhale, relax and feel the effects on your body and your mind before starting the next set.
Correct your pose and check if you have moved backwards on your mat, step forward again, so you can stay on your mat.
My Loving advice
Do you hurry to perform surya namaskar as fast as possible, this is not the aim. Although it is good way to warm up before doing more advanced yoga poses, it is also an amazing moving meditation when performed slowly, savouring each breath and movement.
It is important to learn the correct alignment of the body and right way of breathing. Best way to learn to perform the sun salutations the correct way by following one of these methods:
It is the aim to gain the stamina by performing surya namaskar daily, to be able to participate for a celebration of 108, holy number in many of the Eastern religions, repetitions in one go at a slow pace.
This is a typical event for yoga gatherings and Hindu celebrations where a guru is leading people and it can take up to 2 hour to complete. I can wholeheartedly recommend to do it at least once in your life time. I can guarantee you will never forget it.
ॐ Love and Blessings,