Surya Namaskara is a sequence of 12 powerful yoga poses. It is said to have immense positive effects on mind and body.

Yoga, being a part of curriculum in professional studies of Ayurveda in India I was introduced to the basics of yoga and the first thing taught in our sessions was Surya Namaskara. It was an amazing experience. We had our yoga sessions early in the morning around 6 a.m. And, the regular classroom sessions followed that. The whole day would be so power packed and energetic once we have a yoga session in the morning.

In the perspective article, I would be discussing Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations in detail – the benefits, step by step procedure and the yoga pose involved and the clinical studies establishing the benefits of Surya Namaskara.

Know the basics of Surya Namaskara –

As I already mentioned, one set of Surya Namaskara consists of 12 yoga poses and it’s ideal to do sun salutations in the morning empty stomach.

It should be performed with breathing awareness to obtain all the potential benefits.

To complete one cycle of Surya Namskara – you need to perform 2 sets of the 12 yoga postures.

The 12 Yoga poses in Surya Namaskara –

  1. Pranama asana (Prayer Pose)
  2. Hastauttanasana (Raised arms pose)
  3. Hastapadasana (Standing forward bend)
  4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
  5. Dandasana (Stick pose)
  6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with eight parts or points)
  7. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog pose)
  9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
  10. Hastapadasana (Standing forward bend)
  11. Hastauttanasana (Raised arms pose)
  12. Tadasana (Mountain pose)

Now let’s look at each of these poses in detail.

  • Pranama Asana

Keep your feet together or hip width apart. Align the center of your head to Pelvis. Bring your hands together and gently press them with your finger tips of both hands touching each other in chest level. Relax your neck and shoulder. This classic posture is prayer pose and it offers calmness to mind.

  • Utthana Hasthasana

Raise the hands up and bend backward a little bit, pushing the hips slightly outward. Stretch more and stay in this posture for few breaths.  This posture helps in stretching the shoulder and arm pits. It improves digestion and is a good posture for reducing Asthma.

 

  • Hastapadasana

Exhale and bend forward keeping your both hands wide open and gently dropping them down next to feet. If you are unable to reach your feet, it’s okay to bend your knees a little bit. Remember to relax your neck and shoulder. This pose relieves anxiety and stress. It strengthens the knees and thigh region and is beneficial for insomnia.

 

  • Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Bend your legs at the knee to place the palms on the mat, in line with your feet. Breathing in, push your right leg back, as far back as possible. Bring the right knee to the floor and look up. This pose lengthens the spine and improves digestion.

 

  • Dandasana

Breath in and bring the left leg back and bring the whole body in straight line. This pose strengthens the arms, wrists and hands. It tones the abdomen.

 

  • Ashtanga Namaskara

Bring your knees down to the floor and exhale. Take the hips back slightly, slide forward, rest your chest and chin on the floor. The posterior hip stays off the mat/is raised a little bit. This pose tones and strengthens the arms. It also improves the flexibility of arms and spine

 

  • Bhujangasana

Slide forward and raise the chest up into the Cobra pose. Look up at the ceiling. This pose strengthens the entire back and shoulder. It tones abdominal muscle and improves digestive system.

 

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

By lifting the hip and tail bring the body to an inverted V pose. Drop your head down and try looking towards the navel region. This pose improves circulation and stimulates the nervous system. It relieves back ache and stretches the spine.

  • Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Bring the right foot forward and in between the 2 hands. The left knee should be down on the floor. This pose lengthens the spine and improves digestion.

 

  • Hastapadasana

Exhale and bend forward keeping your both hands wide open and gently dropping them down next to feet. If you are unable to reach your feet, it’s okay to bend your knees a little bit. Remember to relax your neck and shoulder. This pose relieves anxiety and stress. It strengthens the knees and thigh region and is beneficial for insomnia.

 

  • Hastauttanasana

Breathing in, roll the spine up. Raise the hands up and bend backward a little bit.

 

  • Tadasana

As you exhale bring down the arms and relax in this spine straight position.

These 12 yoga poses complete one set of Surya Namaskara. Repeat this in the left side to complete one cycle.

Clinical Studies establishing the benefits of Surya Namaskara –

  1. Numerous scientific studies have reported beneficial physiological changes after short- and long-term yoga training. Suryanamaskar (SN) is an integral part of modern yoga training and may be performed either in a slow or rapid manner. The study reports that SN has positive physiological benefits as evidenced by the improvement of pulmonary function, respiratory pressures, hand grip strength, and endurance, and resting cardiovascular parameters. It also demonstrates the differences between SN training when performed in a slow and fast manner, concluding that the effects of FSN are similar to physical aerobic exercises, whereas the effects of SSN are similar to those of yoga training. 1
  2. With regular practice of sun salutation, there was a statistically significant improvement in muscle strength and general body endurance in male as well as female subjects. Upper body muscle strength as assessed by bench press method showed statistically significant improvement in male and female subjects. Sun salutation is an easier and less time-consuming alternative to improve strength, body composition and general body endurance.2
  3. Surya namaskar can be used as a potential equivalent to aerobic exercise with respect to cardiorespiratory endurence. However, its other applications are being explored recently. Improving scholastic performance in school children has been identified as a major application of Surya namaskar as earlier reports on physical exercise have shown its beneficial effects on improving the executive functions in children. 3
  4. ‘Surya Namaskara’ or ‘Sun Salutation’ practice was found to be effective on the levels of Emotional Maturity and Psychological Well-Being. Surya Namaskar is useful in achieving concentration. It reduces tension built up and promotes relaxation of the whole body. Surya Namaskar significantly improves both the physical and cognitive functioning areas. It can also control your moods-drive away depression through fast rounds or cool down hyperactivity with slow rounds. Developing the practice of Surya Namaskara can have repercussions on our whole lifestyle and attitude to life. The exploration of ourselves that we initiate in our daily practice expands in concentric circles out into our daily activity, movement, interaction with people and things, and thus helps to change our lives in a positive and a creative way.

References –

  1. Bhavanani, A. B., Udupa, K., Madanmohan, & Ravindra, P. (2011). A comparative study of slow and fast suryanamaskar on physiological function. International journal of yoga, 4(2), 71–76. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85489
  2. Bhutkar, M. V., Bhutkar, P. M., Taware, G. B., & Surdi, A. D. (2011). How effective is sun salutation in improving muscle strength, general body endurance and body composition? Asian journal of sports medicine, 2(4), 259–266.
  3. Javadekar P, Manjunath NK (2012) Effect of Surya Namaskar on Sustained Attention in School Children. J Yoga Phys Ther 2:110. doi:10.4172/2157-7595.1000110
  4. Dalvi R, Surya Namaskara An Holistic Exercise, Indian Streams Research Journal, 2 (6) (2012). Retreived on 28th September, 2011 from http://www.isrj.net/PublishArticles/1012.aspx

Article by Dr Arya Krishna, BAMS

Photo by Andrei Lasc on Unsplash