Sun is the source of all energy. Salutation to the sun or Surya Namaskar is thus a prayer to seek the energy or prana from it and vitalize the body, mind and soul.
Sun Salutation is probably the most popular Yoga sequence. Surya Namaskar consists of 12 yoga poses (8 different ones) and is best to be practiced in the morning in order to wake up the body and greet the sun. The sequence can be also done any time during the day (at least 2 hrs after eating) in order to calm or rejuvenate the body & mind.
The transition from one yoga posture to another is facilitated by the breath. Inhale as you extend or stretch, and exhale as you fold or contract. You can begin with a set of three Suryanamaskars in the first instance and increase it to five then ten and more depending on your stamina. Anymore than clocking up numbers, it is important to get each posture right.
Benefits of Sun Salutations:
Increases circulation and warms up the whole body.
Stretches the spinal column and the whole body (including all of the important large muscles)
Strengthens the digestive & elimination systems (reduces constipation, gas and other digestive difficulties)
Cleanses/detoxifies the body & mind,
Calms anxiety, stress, depression
Increases the lung capacity and oxygenates the blood
Increases metabolism and reduces fat, tones up the abdominal muscles
Promotes health, strength, flexibility and longevity
Posture#1: Stand straight , chest open, feet hip-width apart. Hands are in the Namaste/prayer position -palms together, evenly pressed, thumbs touching the heart chakra . Focus your energy downwards towards your feet. Slow and steady breathing. Once grounded, shift your attention to your heart chakra. With your hands in Namaste position, use your thumbs to lift and open your chest.
Posture#2: With your hands together raise your arms up in the air while you breathe in. Bend over backwards forming an arch from the hands to your feet. The flexibility of the spine is ensured in this posture. Be careful not to over-arch your lower back or compress your neck. Start inhaling as you stretch both arms, and hold breath in the stretched arm position.
Posture#3: Bring your hands down while you breathe out to touch the floor on either side of your feet. In this posture, it is imperative to keep your knees straight as you bend forward from the waist, and your head as close as possible to the knee. This posture helps melt the excess fat around the stomach by aiding digestion.
Posture#4: Inhale and step the left foot back and the left leg is fully extended. Make sure your right knee is at the right angle. With your hands firmly on the ground and your arms straight as a die, raise your head upwards to face the sky. This one is for the flexibility of spine and leg muscles, and boosts immunity from diseases.
Posture#5: As you breathe out, let your hands stay firmly on the ground and push your right leg back parallel to the left. Make sure your feet firmly touch the ground and your hip raised high. Your arms should be shoulder-width apart and your legs, hip-width apart. With your arms and knees straight lower your head to face your navel.
Posture#6: Hold your breath as you bring your hips down while keeping your hands and feet in the same position, and stretch your whole body near the floor. With your face downward, bring your chest and knees to lightly brush the floor, and hold your hips slightly high. At this juncture, 8 points of your body are touching the floor – your palms, forehead, chest, knees and toes.
Posture#7: This posture is a mere extension of Posture 6, in that you breathe in and straighten your arms and lift your chest upward in an arching stance, and your head thrown back facing the sky. Your arms, at this point, carry the weight of your body, with you knees and toes resting on the floor.
Posture#8: Bring your body back to Posture 5 by raising your hips and lowering your chest and head. Keep your arms and knees straight while you do so, and place your feet flush with the floor. Then lower you head to face your navel. Your neck and head are just a natural extension of your spine, don’t let your head hang.
Posture#9: As you breathe in, return to a similar position as Posture 4, only this time you will be crouching on the left knee and stretching back your right leg. Place your hands firmly on the ground, and with the weight of your body on your arms move your chest forward and arch your head up to face the sky.
Posture#10: From here, flow back to Posture 3 while keeping your hands flush with the floor and bringing your right foot side by side with your left one. As you straighten your knee, raise your back to arch in a standing position with your head as close as possible to the knee and your hands on either side of your feet.
Posture#11: Take a deep breathe and raise your arms up in the air as you straighten your back and gradually bend over backwards, similar to Posture 2. Your knees stay straight all the while. Ensure that your biceps are beside your ears. The idea is to stretch up more rather than stretching backwards.Start inhaling as you reach position and hold breath for a few seconds.
Posture#12: Bring yourself to Posture 1 from here with your hands folded before your chest in prayer, and your spine erect, your knees straight and your eyes shut in meditation. With Posture 12 you complete one full circle of Suryanamaskar or Sun Salutation. From here you can flow back to Posture 2 to continue the routine.
Always follow up your Suryanamaskar regime with Shavasana, better known as Corpse Pose. In this posture, you lay down on the floor with your legs and arms apart, your palms facing the sky, and eyes deep shut. Breathe in and out heavily and try to focus your thoughts on something happy. Stay on this way for a few minutes and you will feel a sense of calm run down your body.
Contraindications: Don’t practice Sun Salutation when pregnant or Recent or chronic injury to the back, knees, hips or un-medicated high blood pressure.
Surya Namaskar 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.