Surya Namaskar, an age-old yogic practice, is a comprehensive exercise, which contributes to mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. The namaskar is an obeisance to the Sun God or Surya. Surya namaskar is normally performed early in the morning, at daybreak, or in the evening, when the sun is setting. It is accompanied by a specific breathing pattern and chanting of mantras.
Steps of Surya Namaskar
There are 12 basic steps of surya namaskar. These steps vary with different types of surya namaskars. The following steps, specific to type C, are performed at a slow pace.
Step 1: Pranamasan
Stand in an erect position, facing the sun, with palms folded near the chest in namaskar. Keep the feet together and breathe normally.
Step 2: Hasta uttanasana
Breathe in, raise the arms upward, and bend backwards with the face pointing upwards and towards the sky. The back should be arched while bending backwards.
Step 3: Pada hastasana
Exhale and keeping knees straight, bend down till the head touches the knees. The hands should touch the floor on either side of the feet with the palms flush against the ground.
Step 4: Ashwa-sanchalan-asana
Inhale and stretch the left leg backwards, and balance the leg on the toes with the heel raised upwards. The right leg is bent at the knee and the head is lifted upwards to face the sky, while the hands remain stretched with the palms flush against the floor.
Step 5: Parvatasana
Exhale and keeping the palms flush against the ground, the right leg is pushed back to stay parallel with the left leg. The hip is raised with the head bent downwards to face the navel.
Step 6: Ashtanga namaskar
Inhale and lower the hips. The toes, knees, chest, and face touch the floor while the hips are slightly raised.
Step 7: Bhujangasana
Exhale and stretch arms. Lift the chest so the back arches and the head is bent backwards to face the sky.
Step 8: Parvatasana
Exhale and perform as in step 5
Step 9: Ashwa-sanchalan-asana
Inhale and perform as in step 4
Step 10: Pada hastasana
Exhale and perform as in step 3
Step 11: Hasta Uttanasana
Inhale and perform as in step 2.
Step 12: Pranamasan
Bring back the hands in a folded namaskar to the chest, and breathe normally as in step 1.
The steps are repeated once again, using the opposite leg in steps 4 to 9. One round of surya namaskar thus consists of 24 steps. The ideal regimen requires an individual to perform 12 rounds.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar ( Sun Salutation)
Each of the steps in surya namaskar has benefits for the body.
The advantages of surya namaskar stretch from the mind to the whole body.
- The muscles are strengthened and become well-toned (Steps 1-12).
- Blood circulation is improved and irregular menstrual cycles are regulated (Steps 3, 5, 7).
- Surya namaskar is effective in reducing the weight of individuals. Abdominal muscles get well-toned and excessive fat around the waist is lost. Extra calories are lost and flexibility is improved. Digestion is improved (Steps 3 & 7).
- Depression is alleviated and anxiety is reduced (Step 5).
- Sleep and concentration are improved (Step 1).
- Functioning of the endocrine system, including thyroid, pituitary glands, adrenal gland, parathyroid, testes, and ovaries are improved (Step 4).
- Maintains good posture (Steps 2, 4)
Benefits for Children: There are many advantages of surya namaskar for children. With the guidance of a yoga teacher, children can perform surya namaskar with easier steps compared to that performed by adults. Performing surya namaskar improves the efficiency of children. There is an elevation of energy levels and physical stamina. Concentration, memory, and the functioning of the nervous system are improved. The mind becomes calm through this exercise. Children show improved sleep cycles and metabolic functions. Their muscles become flexible and well-toned. A study by Thakur, regarding effects of surya namaskar on the psychology of school boys, observed that a regular regimen improved the self-confidence levels, self-perception, and the general attitude to life.
Benefits for Women: Women who show severe cramping, lower back pain, and severe loss of blood during menstruation, are advised to wait till the period of menstruation is over before attempting the exercise. Surya namaskar can be performed during the first trimester of a pregnancy, but should be discontinued during the rest of the pregnancy. Surya namaskar promotes easy delivery during pregnancy. Following delivery, surya namaskar can be resumed immediately based on the health of the individual. It has been observed that surya namaskar aids in the involution of the uterus.
Caution: Surya namaskar can be performed at home, either in the morning or in the evening. The method of performing surya namaskar should be learnt from a proper guide. Those with complications such as arthritis, slip-disk, and heart disease should take medical opinion before attempting surya namaskar. Surya namaskar should be performed facing the sun or if in a room, in the direction facing the sun. It should be performed on a mat and not on the bare floor.
Surya Namaskar and Weight Loss
It has been observed that surya namaskar aids in reducing weight of individuals. A study, by the Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Science, showed that 1 round of surya namaskar burns 13.91 calories in an individual who weighs 62 kgs. Another study, by Bhavanani and others, has shown surya namaskar performed at a slow pace, improves the tone of muscles, enhances the functioning of internal organs, decreases diastolic pressure, improves hand grip endurance, and reduces hyperactivity. On the other hand, surya namaskar at a fast pace (similar to aerobics), significantly increases systolic pressure, improves pulmonary function, alleviates depression, improves hand grip endurance, and is a good form of cardiovascular exercise.