Surya Namaskar literally means ‘Salutations to the Sun’. Practiced in India since time immemorial, it is a wonderful way to start the day by rejuvenating the body, mind and spirit. Surya Namaskar has plenty of health benefits including keeping the body toned, supple and agile and bestowing peace and tranquility to the mind. If practiced daily in the correct manner, this set of twelve yogic postures can foster a feeling of well- being and happiness.
Surya Namaskar consists of an ordered set of twelve different yogic postures that are performed together one after the other. Breathing is tightly controlled and alternated throughout the exercise. One round of Surya Namaskar is said to be complete when two such sets are performed. Twenty five such namaskaras are said to form one avriti.
Each yoga asana is performed while simultaneously reciting a mantra. These mantras are in fact different names of the Sun God. There are thus, a set of twelve mantras, one for each posture. There are also what are called bijaksharas that are recited with the mantras.
There are six bijaksharas in total so two sets are chanted. Attention is also to be directed to certain chakras while performing Surya Namaskar. This helps to synchronize the asanas, mantras and the breath and contributes immensely to attain mental focus.
Surya Namaskar is to be performed, preferably, early in the morning facing the rising sun although it can be performed at other times of the day. When done in the morning, it helps relieve stiffness of the joints and makes the muscles flexible. It also revitalizes one with the much needed energy to go through the entire day’s activities with strength and vigor.
The Asanas, Their Mantras And Their Respective Health Benefits
Namaskarasana Or Pranamasana
This is the first posture in Surya Namaskar. It involves bringing the hands in a folded position in front of the chest with the thumbs slightly resting on the chest bone. The breath is to be exhaled completely with subsequent pulling in of the stomach. One must stand absolutely erect and look straight.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Mitraya Namah’ (mitra means friend). The chakra to which attention is to be directed is the Anahata Chakra which is positioned in the region of the heart.
This yoga asana helps to correct the posture and strengthens the back, waist, shoulder and neck muscles. It helps to improve concentration and build confidence.
Urdhvahastasana Or Hasta Uttanasana
This is the second posture. It involves raising the hands up straight and then bending backwards slightly forming an arch with the upper half of the body. The breath is to be inhaled in the process. Eyes can be kept on the palms.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Ravaye Namah’ (ravi means glow). The associated chakra is the Vishuddhi Chakra which is situated in the throat region.
This asana helps to correct problems in the throat and clears the voice. It also improves balance and promotes the flexibility of the back. It strengthens the spine and improves digestion.
This is the third posture in the series. This involves bending forward and touching the ground with the palms. The knees must not bend. The forehead should be made to touch the knees. This posture may be difficult to perform for a beginner so it is advisable to bend only as much as one can in the beginning and gradually try to attain the correct and complete posture.
Breath is to be exhaled at this step. The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Suryaya Namah’. The chakra is Swadhishtana Chakra which is located below the abdomen.
This asana helps improve appetite and digestion and also relieves one of all urinary problems. It strengthens the back, legs, shoulders and chest. It also serves to expel toxic gases that may be present in the stomach and helps in improving blood circulation.
This is the fourth posture in Surya Namaskar. This asana is to be performed while inhaling the breath. It involves stretching the right leg backwards such that the knee and toes touch the ground. At the same time the left leg is kept folded, with the left foot placed firmly in the ground, and the knee and thigh touching the chest and stomach respectively. The hands are placed on either side with the palms resting on the ground and the head is raised to look skywards.
The mantra to be recited is ‘Om Bhanave Namah’ and the associated chakra is the Ajna Chakra that is positioned in the forehead region. This asana helps in overcoming problems of the throat, small intestine and liver. It also helps relieve respiratory problems and flexes the muscles.
In this posture, which is a continuation of the previous asana, the left leg is also stretched backwards, and the weight of the body is supported by the hands. The elbows and hands are kept straight. The knees are lifted off the ground with the toes of both the legs pressed firmly on the ground giving the appearance of a four-limbed staff. Breath is exhaled.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Khagaya Namah’ and the chakra is the Vishuddhi Chakra. This asana strengthens the wrist and arm muscles. It offers a good stretch to all the muscles and relieves pain in the shoulder, neck and hand muscles.
In Sanskrit, ‘ashta’ means eight and ‘anga’ means part (of the body). In this posture, eight parts of the body are made to touch the ground. To perform this asana, which is a continuation of the earlier asana, the elbows are bent, and the knees are made to touch the ground. The forehead is rested on the ground while the chin is pulled in to touch the chest.
The abdomen is pulled in and does not touch the ground. Thus, in ashatanganamaskarasana, the eight parts touching the ground are the forehead, the two palms, the chest, the two knees and the two toes. The breath is first inhaled and then exhaled while pulling in the abdomen, and then held for a short while when performing this asana.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Pushne Namah’ and the chakra is the Manipura Chakra which is situated in the solar plexus region. This posture strengthens the arms and releases the tension in the shoulder and neck muscles. It helps to deal with digestion problems as well.
In this asana, the upper part of the body (waist upwards) is arched upwards and backwards, looking skywards while simultaneously straightening the elbows and hands. The palms are kept firmly in the ground. The knees and legs are to be maintained in the same position as above. Breath is inhaled deeply during this asana.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namah’ and the chakra is the Swadhishtana Chakra. This asana is very helpful for correcting problems of the reproductive system. Menstrual irregularities can be rectified by performing this asana. In addition, it tones the back muscles and gives a good stretch to the upper half of the body.
Adho Mukha Svanasana
This is the eighth asana in the Surya Namaskar series. In this asana, the hips are raised with the palms and feet placed in the ground to form an inverted ‘V’. The breath is to be exhaled.
The mantra for this asana is ‘Om Marichaya Namah’ and the chakra is the Vishuddhi Chakra. This asana helps to reduce abdominal fat and relieves body pain. It is also a wonderful stretching exercise.