Sun is the vital force of energy that sustains life on earth. To pay respect to this energy force, ancient yoga Gurus conceived the Suryanamaskar or the Sun salutation exercise which combines 12 yoga steps to be done in a sequence. Each asana in Suryanamaskar is believed to benefit specific body parts. Besides, practicing poses of Suryanamaskar helps balance the three doshas or constituents as per Ayurveda, i.e., of Vata, Kapha and Pitta dosha. People of all ages can perform these 12-stepped poses of Suryanamaskar and sunrise is an ideal time to perform this exercise.
This post will serve as an elaborate guide covering how to execute each of the 12 steps in the Suryanamaskar sequence and also talk about the benefits of each of these yoga asanas.
So, without further ado, let's proceed towards knowing everything about this versatile 12-stepped Sun salutation exercise.
Types of Suryanamaskar
Suryanamaskar has evolved over several millennia and its poses differ as per its variations and different styles. Furthermore, Suryanasmaskar is probably the only yogic kriya that has only expanded with time. Also, for those unversed, Suryanamaskar has integrated different forms of yoga styles. These styles of Suryanamaskar are mentioned below:
Ashtanga Surya Namaskar: Surya Namaskar forms an integral part of the Ashtanga yoga series. In this style of yoga, sun salutations come in two forms. The first form consists of 9 Vinyasas and another form comprises seventeen Vinyasas or flow series.
Hatha Surya Namaskar: This is the most practised and possibly the simplest of Suryanamaskar which is performed through 12 poses and emphasizes deep breathing.
Iyengar Surya Namaskar: Although similar to Hatha Surya Namaskar, Iyengar emphasizes more energy and pace. In the Iyengar style, Suryanamaskar is performed at a quicker pace.
You can enrol in yoga teacher training classes in Rishikesh to learn Suryanamaskar in the above-mentioned styles of yoga.
Origins of Suryanamaskar
The saints and ancient Rishis believed in the notion that the various parts of our bodies are governed by different divine impulses or Devas. The central point of the body is referred to as Solar Plexus and is located behind the navel. As per yogic wisdom, this point is also referred to as the second brain of our body and is connected to the energy of the sun. As per the ancient Rishis, performing Suryanamaskar first thing in the morning on a regular basis can help enhance these solar plexuses which in turn can improve a person’s intuitive abilities as well as creative powers.
The 12 poses of Surya Namaskar and their benefits
1. Pranamasana or the Prayer Pose
The Anjali Mudra or Pranamasana is a gesture of respect and is the most common sign of greeting in India. Similar to a Namaste, the Pranamasana pose is the first pose in the series of 12 poses of Surya Namaskar.
Perform this pose by standing erect on the front end of your yoga mat. Bring your feet close together while keeping your arms loose alongside. Now expand your chest by taking deep breaths. Relax your shoulders. Now inhale and raise your arms and join your palms together at the center of your chest in a Namaste as you exhale. In India, this pose is actually a prayer position.
Helps relax the nervous system while maintaining the balance of the body.
Keeps stress and anxiety at bay.
2. Hasta Uttanasana or the Raised Arms Pose
Take a deep breath and join your hands together. Then, lift your arms up as you bend backwards slightly. Your pelvis needs to be pushed forward a bit. Now, stretch back and try to elongate your spine. Your biceps should be placed close to your ears while you stretch the entire body up right from your heels.
The raised arms pose stretches and tones the muscles of your abdomen.
Helps in digestion.
Helps in easing lower back pain, asthma and exhaustion.
Pro yoga tip: Avoid gazing upwards if you are feeling lightheadedness. Also, don’t overstretch your arms if you are experiencing pain on the sides of your arms.
3. Hasta Padasana/ Padahastasana or the Standing Forward Bend Pose
As you exhale, bend forward and try to touch down your toes with the help of your fingers. For beginners, it's okay to bend your knees initially if keeping straight while bending is not possible. However, your spine should not bend. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed and press gently into your heels so as to evenly balance out your weight.
Uttanasana is helpful for getting relief from insomnia and osteoporosis.
Helps tackle stress and anxiety.
Helps relieve headaches and migraine
This pose strengthens knees and thighs while stretching your hamstrings, calves and hips.
Pro yoga tip: This pose should not be performed if you have lower back pain, high blood pressure, neck injuries or cardiac issues.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana or the Lunge Pose
As you come back from Hasta Padasana, you will need to bend your knees a little and rest your palms on the mat in line with both your feet. As you inhale, bring your right knee closer to your chest’s right side and stretch your left leg backwards. While balancing your body, raise your head in the forward-facing position.
Increases grit and willpower.
Enhances lung capacity
Fires up the digestive system
Tones liver and kidneys
Pro yoga tip: This pose of Surya Namaskar should be avoided if you are suffering from a neck injury or a knee injury.
5. Dandasana/Phalakasana or the plank pose
Exhale and place your left leg back in a plank pose. However, keep in mind that your shoulders, wrists and elbows remain at a ninety-degree angle to the floor. Your shoulder blades must be brought in and your collarbone should be widened as you spread your shoulder blades. Then, roll and press your toes on the yoga mat and avoid contracting the muscles of your knees. Your neck should be relaxed and in line with your spine.
Helps tone the abdomen
Builds endurance and strength of the arms, wrists and shoulders.
Helps calm down
Pro yoga tip: Avoid practicing this step if you are suffering from lower back pain or wrist injury.
6. Ashtanga Namaskar or the Eight-Limbed Pose
Also referred to as salutations employing the eight-limbed Ashtanga yoga, this pose is performed by exhaling and bringing your knees down onto the floor. Then, you need to rest your chin on the floor and lift your hips slightly from the floor. Your hands, chin, knees and chest should touch down on the floor while your posterior should be held in the air. You should breathe and hold this posture as long as you can.
Strengthens and tones your arms, shoulders and legs.
Enhances flexibility of the spine.
Helps release tense shoulder and neck muscles.
Pro yoga tip: People suffering from posterior injury, lower back pain or spinal pain should avoid doing this pose.
7. Bhujangasana or the Cobra pose
While inhaling, raise your head to achieve a backbend while your palms are resting on the mat. Your elbows should be gently bent while touching your body. Then, you have to roll your shoulders back while keeping your neck relaxed. Your legs and lower torso should be resting on the floor as you perform this pose of Sur Namaskar.
Enhances the strength of the torso.
Tones abdominal muscles
Enhances blood circulation
Helpful for the menstrual cycle
Relieves back pain and sciatica
Pro yoga tip: If you suffer from ulcers, hyperthyroidism, backache or hernia, consult your doctor before performing this pose of Surya Namaskar.
8. Adho Mukha Svanasana or the Downward Facing Dog
As you exhale, lift your hips upwards towards the ceiling. Your heels should be pushed down on the floor or mat. Then, drop your head down as you look towards your navel. Your weight should be evenly balanced onto your limbs while keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed. With each inhale and exhale, stretch more deeply while looking towards your navel.
Calms frayed nerves and tackles stress
Enhances blood circulation
Relieves backache, menopause symptoms and headaches
Pro yoga tip: People suffering from diarrhoea, eye and ear infection and wrist injuries should avoid doing this pose.
After completing the eighth step of the sun salutation exercise, you will need to repeat the Ashva Sanchalanasana, Uttanasana, Uttana hastasana, and Pranamasana.
9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana or the High Lunge Pose
As you come back from Adho Mukha Svanasana, keep your right leg in forward position. Then place your left leg behind while keeping your feet on the floor and look forward slowly. Softly push your posterior towards the mat to further deepen the stretch.
The benefits and cautions of step 4 should be studied for this pose of Surya Namaskar.
10. Hasta Padasana the Standing Forward Bend
As you inhale, bring your left foot in forward position, close together to your right foot. Your torso should be bent and keep your hands intact. Exhale slowly while touching the floor with the help of your fingers.
The benefits and cautions of step 3 should be studied for this pose of Surya Namaskar.
11. Hasta Uttanasana or the Raised Arms Pose
Raise both your hands above while stretching backwards through your spine. Look at the ceiling as you bend backwards.
The benefits and cautions of step 2 should be studied for this pose of Surya Namaskar.
12. Pranamasana or the Prayer Pose
Now come back to the position we once started. You might notice that we have done a cycle of 12 poses. Similar to the first step, exhale and stand erect as you relax your body. Then, lower your arms and bring your palms at the center of your chest in a Namaste.
The benefits of step 1 should be studied for this pose of Surya Namaskar.
One cycle of Surya Namaskar asana is completed after you get back to the Pranamasana or prayer pose. To get maximum benefits the 12 poses of Suryanamaskar, begin by doing 7 or 12 repetitions and then gradually start doing more cycles until you can achieve 108 repetitions of Surya Namaskar with time.
Yoga teacher training courses such as the 100 hour Yoga TTC in Rishikesh and even the online 200-hour yoga teacher training course programs teach proper techniques of performing Surya Namaskars besides other elements of yoga as part of a comprehensive curriculum.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar
Surya Namaskar is a whole-body workout that activates every organ and tissue in the body and helps maintain the health of the kidneys, liver, heart, intestines and muscles of the body. Some other benefits of performing the 12 poses of Surya Namaskar are enlisted below:
Suryanamaskar is all about stretching your muscles and helps improve muscle endurance and strength.
Helps in building a strong and resilient upper body.
As the poses improve blood circulation, the exercise of Surya Namaskar also aids in maintaining cardiac health.
Stimulates the nervous system
Improves posture and flexibility of the spine and hence prevents any spine-related injuries.
The synchronisation of breath with the poses helps energise the mind and the body while building immunity.
Makes the body strong while improving overall health and well-being
Surya Namaskar helps promote weight loss by improving muscle strength, flexing and toning the lower body, and enhancing the endurance of the back muscles and of the abdominal region.
Enhances the brain’s cognitive functions while relaxing and calming the mind.
Improves self-perception and body image.
These and many more such benefits can be accrued only if you are able to perform the 12 poses of Surya Namaskars in an appropriate way. Some of the best 200-hour yoga TTC in Rishikesh will help you ace this ancient exercise as part of comprehensive and intensive yoga training.
The Bottom Line
Suryanamaskar or the cyclic sun salutation exercise is easy to follow and practice. You can accrue myriad physical and mental health benefits by maintaining a consistent practice of this age-old yoga routine. However, make sure to consult your doctor if you suffer from any ailments before embarking on this all-in-one workout regimen.