In 2022, India will be celebrating 75 years of Independence, and it is the tradition in India to offer gifts and sweets to others on your birthday. In this spirit, India is offering the world this beautiful practice of Surya Namaskar, a salutation to the Sun, a simple and deep way to bring physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, along with awareness of our connections with Nature.
The HEARTFULNESS YOGA ACADEMY is one of the partner organizations spearheading this initiative. We hope you will join us from the first of January 2022 in a collective effort to reach 750 million Surya Namaskars. To register for the event and learn more, please visit www.75suryanamaskar.com.
“Surya” is the Sanskrit word for Sun, and “Namaskar” means salutation or paying one’s respects. The Sun is the source of all life on Earth, and the practice of Surya Namaskar has been an expression of gratitude and reverence to the Sun, at least since Vedic times, and probably much earlier in most cultures around the world. The Sun has also symbolized spiritual consciousness.
There are a multitude stories about the origin of Surya Namaskar. One of them is about Hanuman, the monkey god and great devotee of Lord Rama. It is said that Hanuman practiced the Sun salutation as an offering of gratitude to the Sun for accepting him as a disciple for thousands of years and helping him to develop wisdom. In more recent history, King Bhawanrao Shriniwasrao Pant Pratinidhi from Maharashtra was a practitioner of Yoga who did Surya Namaskar as part of his spiritual practice, and eventually integrated it into his Yoga routine. He popularized this tradition for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefit. His form had ten steps, without the raised hands posture (Hasta Uttanasana), which was later added. Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, also played a role in merging Surya Namaskar into contemporary yogic practices. He was a medical doctor turned sannyasi, who wrote Yogic Home Exercises, which was published in 1939. His disciple, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, then set up the Bihar School of Yoga in 1964, popularizing Surya Namaskar both in India and internationally. The Sivananda-Bihar style of Surya Namaskar is a twelve-step practice, including Hasta Uttanasana. In this and some other traditions, each step is associated with a mantra linked with the twelve names of the Sun God.
Another very influential teacher of Yoga, T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), made the flowing movements of Surya Namaskar the basis of his Mysore style of Yoga. His students, K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, both popularized these flowing movements between asanas, so in these schools of Yoga the twelve asanas are connected by jumping or stretching movements.
A practice for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being
Surya Namaskar is an effective way of loosening, stretching, massaging, and toning all the joints, muscles, and internal organs of the body. It is a very useful practice for a healthy active life, while also preparing for spiritual awakening and the resulting expansion of consciousness. Some consider is to be a complete spiritual practice, as it includes asanas, pranayama, mantra, and meditation.
It starts and ends with the Pranam Asana, with the hands placed at the heart center in the prayer pose, making it a moving meditation. It is a humble salutation to the Sun (the light outside), and to the light within, the soul that resides in the heart. Each asana of the Surya Namaskar has a special significance.
The benefits of Surya Namaskar are too many to enumerate, but here are some of them:
- Energetic: Activates the Surya nadi (Pingala), enhancing the energy levels in the body.
- Cardio-respiratory: Improves cardio-respiratory function. Optimizes lung and respiratory function.
- Digestive: Stimulates and balances the digestive system, the abdominal muscles, and other internal organs.
- Immune: Boosts immunity and improves metabolism.
- Detox: The expansion and contraction of muscles move stagnant, impure blood, so that it can be filtered by the kidneys and re-oxygenated by the lungs.
- Cognitive: Improves and increases mental awareness by bringing fresh oxygenated blood to the brain. Enhances cognitive function.
- Weight Management: Done at a fast pace, it burns fat.
- Skeletal: Improves circulation to the spinal nerves, tones the muscular system, and stretches the articulations. Improves posture.
- Meditative: Slow and rhythmic movements and regular deep breathing create a meditative effect. Generates prana, which activates the subtle body.
The following precautions are general. Please note that this practice should always be taken up under the guidance of an experienced Yoga instructor. Seek special guidance for appropriate modifications, if any of the following apply to you:
- High blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and/or stroke, especially in its dynamic form. A slow version can be done under the guidance of a qualified Yoga teacher.
- Back pain, sciatica, or any spinal problems.
- During heavy or painful menstruation, and during pregnancy. Seek guidance from a Yoga teacher who is certified in prenatal Yoga.
How to practice
Always listen to your body and don’t use undue force. There are various modifications of the Surya Namaskar, even a Chair yoga version. So, select a version which works for you.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Do Surya Namaskar on an empty stomach.
- Keep your eyes open.
- Breathe normally at first, and once you are comfortable with the postures you can focus on your breathing. Don’t hold your breath. Breathe deeply and slowly, with long inhalations and exhalations.
- Don’t strain the body and don’t over stretch. Increase the intensity of the practice gradually, and with consistent practice your flexibility will improve.
- Smile while practicing – it will help you to avoid straining yourself.
- Let your movements be slow and gradual, avoiding any jerky movements.
- Don’t retain the final position for too long.
- Let your legs and knees remain straight and distribute your body weight evenly on both feet. Keep your knees soft.
- Pay special attention to your legs, waist, and neck.
Each round generally takes two to three minutes to perform, depending on the speed and intensity of the practice. To learn more about Surya Namaskar, please visit our playlist of videos at https://hfn.link/75sn, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the Heartfulness Yoga Academy, go to www.heartfulness.org/yoga.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati, 2015. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Yoga Publication Trust, Bihar, India.
Bhushan Bhukte & Sangeeta Padmanabhan
Bhushan Bhukte is a certified Yoga trainer with an M.A. in Human Consciousness & Yogic Science from Gurukula Kangri Vishwavidyalaya in Haridwar. Bhushan is a full-time trainer in the Heartfulness Yoga Academy. He is known for helping others with loving discipline and encouragement while keeping it fun. Sangeeta Padmanabhan is a long time practitioner of the... Read more