Salutations to the sun - Surya Namaskar
Waking up early and saluting the sun with Surya Namaskar has many benefits for you and your child. This article explains some of them.
By Khardekar Subhash Bhagwantrao
Surya Namaskar is a combination of some useful yogasanas performed in a sequence. It gives us physical health and sharpens our intellect.
Only 35% to 40% of our muscles are used in daily activities. Surya Namaskar ensures that 95% to 97% of our muscles are switched on to the active mode. The body is filled with vitality owing to the pranayama (breathing in rhythm) that gets done as part of the exercise, it makes the body restful.
It is said that twenty-four Surya Namaskars, if done properly, are equal to five hundred sit-ups / pull-ups. This may be an exaggeration, but 24 rounds of Surya Namaskars burns up 2.3 KCL without making you perspire. It builds your muscles without any increase in the heart beats.
The early morning hours are the best for Surya Namaskar and you should not eat for five hours prior to doing the exercise.
Follow the body postures in each step very scrupulously and aim for the perfect position. Initially some laxity is allowed till your body becomes flexibile. Maintain a slow and steady progress.
Eventually, one complete Surya Namaskar can be done in a little more than a minute (about five seconds for each asana). This speed ensures a deep cleansing of the body and a steady progress in overall health and happiness.
Persons suffering from slip-disk, arthritis, heart problems and pregnant women should get a medical opinion before they start the practice of Surya Namaskar. Otherwise, even a 90-year-old person can do it.
If you start panting while practising Surya Namaskar, either take rest or stop doing it for the day. Once Surya Namaskar is over, lie down in the Shawasana pose (the corpse pose) for some time.
General instructions for Surya Namaskar
While performing the Asanas, keep your belly and hip partly loose. Feel only the stretch and strain at the particular part of the body that is involved in the particular exercise. The rest of the body should be free of muscle tension. When you relax after the exercise, if you feel the muscle tension getting released from other unrelated places, you will have to improve upon your practice. After you acquire some skill in doing the Surya Namaskar, set aside ten to fifteen minutes for the practice of Pranayama, (specifically Bhastrika and Kapala Bhati) which should be learnt from an expert.
For the performance of asanas: Take a clean piece of cloth (yoga mat). The width should be equal to the breadth between your shoulders and the length should be 60 inches, approximately. Each Asana is divided into four stages. Master it stage by stage, devoting a fortnight for each stage:
STAGE 1: Focus on the Posture. Start each asana by chanting the related Surya mantra. After attaining the maximum position, hold for five seconds. Then relax all your muscles. Move to the next Asana.
STAGE 2: Focus on breathing and rhythm. While the goal is to complete the entire Surya Namaskar in four breaths, a novice can follow a simple rule in the beginning. Whenever the body is bent downwards, exhale. When you stretch upwards, inhale. Start the first exercise with an exhalation.
STAGE 3: Focus on the related Chakra and its main objectives. Feel the vibrations of the Chakra involved in the Asana.
STAGE 4: Focus on the related Mantra. Say the mantra slowly and loudly. Be conscious of each and every step outlined in the earlier stages. Match the rhythm of the exercise to the rhythm of the breath and mantra and be aware of the chakra activation.
Useful to treat and prevent: Nervous breakdowns, fits, sensory deprivation etc.
The chest cavity is enlarged to inhale more oxygen owing to the posture. The supply of additional oxygen to all the cells activates the muscles. The practitioner experiences greater energy and happiness.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Mitraya Namah. Stand straight. Bring the toes and heels together.(No strain on either knee or calf; heel or toe.) Put your chest out. Move your shoulders back and pull them down. Fix your eyes to the tip of the nose. Hands in namaskar position, with palms and fingers closed and at right angles to the ground. Thumb to touch the middle part of the chest. Forearms parallel to the ground.
- Initially apply a light pressure to the palms. Feel the pressure in the muscles of the palms, wrists, forearms, arms, shoulders and importantly, the chest.
- The pressure of the palms results in a slight expansion of the chest.
- After attaining the maximum position, wait for five seconds.
- Release the muscle tension from the chest, shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists, and palms.
Focus on the Anahata Chakra, located in the region of the heart.
The main objective is to increase the elasticity of chest, and to make use of palms, elbows, shoulders as levers to expand the chest.
Useful to treat and prevent: Swelling (Internal and external); knots in the muscles; infected wounds; discharge from eyes, pimples; and freckles. Relieves pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, ankles, wrists. Respiration becomes strong and healthy resulting in the increase of body height and health.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Ravaye Namah. Bring your palms together. Lift your hands upwards. Keep hands and legs straight. Bring the palms together. Heels to be fixed to the ground. Bring toes and heels together.Give an upward stretch to your body and hands. Look at the palms. Bend your head backward slowly, gracefully. Form an arch of the body above the waist.
- Remember that sight is tied to the palms, so bend the head backwards to look at the palms.
- After the exercise, remove muscle tension from the hands, shoulders, chest, stomach, backbone, waist, thighs, calves and ankles.
Focus on the Vishudha Chakra at the base of the neck. The chakra is activated when you push your head back to look at the palms.
Main objectives: To give an upward stretch to all muscles in the body, from ankles to the index fingers; to massage the muscles of the stomach; and to give strength to the backbone.
Useful to treat and prevent: Urinary problems, urine stone, sleeplessness, general debility (weakness). Relieves muscle pains in the back, shoulders, throat, chest, stomach, and cough. Increases appetite. Helps remove gases and toxic material. Sound sleep is a result.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Suryaya Namah. Bend at the waist. Fix your palms flat on the ground. The big toes and the palms should be in line with each other. Hands forward and parallel to each other in line with shoulders. Keep your legs and knees straight. Try to place your forehead on your knees.
- While standing, keep a distance of 8-10 inches between the legs.
- Take a side view in the mirror to check your standing position. Or stand, with your back to the wall and bend.
- Keep your palms on the knees.
- Place chin on the chest. Keep neck, shoulders loose.
- Bend slowly without giving jerks to the body.
- Keep the stomach loose.
Focus on the Swadishtana Chakra, (just below the belly, located in the backbone). The seventy-two thousand nerves spread across the body start criss-crossing from this area.
Main objective: To stretch the muscles of the waist, back and shoulders; to press the muscles of the stomach and massage the belly.To give flexibility and strength to the backbone.
Ardha-Bhujanga-Asana or Ashwasanchalan Asana
Useful to treat and prevent: Respiratory diseases, hypertension. Relieves muscle pains in thighs, knees, calves, ankles are relieved. Leads to clarity of thought, better concentration.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Bhanave Namah. Stretch the left leg backwards.
Allow the left knee and toe to touch the ground in the stretched position.
Fold the right knee. The heel and the toe should completely rest on the ground. (The top of the thigh and the last rib of the right chest should touch each other). Keep both the hands straight. Put your chest out. Lift up the shoulders. Drop your head back, to touch the neck. Look at the sky.
- Though the bulk of the body weight is on the right foot, the thigh and knee are raised slightly inwards towards the body, to give you the alert position of a horse ready for take-off.
- After the asana, relax the muscles of the legs, hands, right side of the stomach, the neck, the upper back, rest of the back.
Focus on the Adnya Chakra in the middle of the forehead. This is the antenna to receive cosmic energy. Face the Sun.
Main objectives: To give a downward stretch to the left leg; to apply pressure on the muscles of the right leg. To lift and keep in a ‘ready to run’ position the knee joint and the hip joint of the right foot. To stretch the backbone upward in a convex curve. To massage the muscles in the right side of the belly, including the liver. To push the head as far back as possible.
Health benefits: The health benefits are the same as the second asana Urdhwahastasana.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Khagaya Namah. Keep both the hands in the same position as in the earlier asana, but take your right foot back and keep it in position much like the left. The hips and knees are now lifted up,and the weight of the body is on the hands and the shoulders.
In short, the legs, knees, arms and elbows should be stretched without bending. Heels to be arched. Eyes to look through the legs.
- Check the body slant position in the mirror if you can, or ask somebody to guide you. After the asana, relax the muscles of the legs, hands, stomach, upper back and neck.
Focus on the Vishudha Chakra at the base of the neck.
Main objectives: To press the hands down on the ground with all the body weight and lift the shoulders at the same time. The rest of the body from the hips is in a downward stretch.
This stretch is unique - the starting point of activation is the Vishudha Chakra and the end points are the ankles.
Useful to treat and prevent: Asthma, piles, arthritis, digestion problems etc. Results in bright eyes, glow on the face, dark hair, stamina and a strong body, aids decision-making.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Pushne Namah. Don’t move the palms and the toes from the previous position. Take the body weight on your hands, and bend the arms at the elbow. Press the chin to the chest. Make your toes, knees, elbows and palms (eight points) touch the ground, while resting the body on the stomach. Then push both the elbows inside, towards each other. Rest chin and forehead also on the ground and then press the chin to the chest. Now lift the hip.
- Remember to keep the elbows close to the body, and without disturbing the eight points, lift your body up. After the exercise relax the muscles of the stomach, chest and backbone.
Focus on the Manipur Chakra, in the region of the navel.
Main objective is to massage the muscles of the entire belly.
Useful to treat and prevent: Urine problems, urine stone, sleeplessness, general debility (weakness), relieves muscle pain in the back, shoulders, throat, chest and stomach. Helps remove gases and toxic material. Health and sound sleep is the result.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Hiranya Garbhaya Namah. Don’t disturb the previous position of the palms. Lift the shoulders and elbows and straighten the arms slightly. Throw the head and the shoulders behind. Look at the sky.
Lower the waist (solar plexus region) to the ground, midway between the palms. Don’t disturb the position of the feet. Lower the knees to the ground. Form an arch-like posture.
- While lifting the shoulders, make use of the ankles to give a forward push to the belly and position the stomach. Then the toes and knees should touch the ground.
- While the backbone is in a convex curve, the chest is puffed up.
Focus on the Swadhishtana Chakra.
Main objectives: To inhale as much cosmic energy as possible, by giving a convex shape to the backbone and puffing up the chest.The point where the body is lifted up is the Swadhistan Chakra.‘The hood of the cobra’ is your chest. Enlarge it, amplify it.
Benefits to the body: The same as Urdhwahastasana, the second asana.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Marichaye Namah. Don’t move the position of the feet and the palms. Raise the stomach and hips. Form a triangle with the palms, waist and feet. Heels to touch the ground. Straighten your elbows and knees. Pull your head towards the knees. Chin to touch the chest. Eyes to be fixed on the nose-tip.
- After lifting up the body, adjust your shoulders to enable the heels touch the ground.
- The body should be pushed up first from feet to waist and then from the neck to the waist.
- After the asana, relax the muscles of the hands, legs, stomach, backbone.
Focus on the Vishudha Chakra.
Main objectives: To give a mountain / parvat like shape to the body. All the body muscles are pushed up towards the belly / Swadhistana Chakra.
Benefits: As stated earlier under Ardha-Bhujanga-Asana, the fourth asana.
The posture: Chant the Mantra: Aum Adityaya Namah. Don’t change the position of your palm.
Refer to posture number 4. Keep the left foot and the palms firm on the ground. Stretch the right leg backwards. The right knee and toe should touch the ground. Now fold the left knee. (The calf, the front of the thigh and the last rib of the left chest should touch each other.)
Keep both the hands straight.
Stick out your chest. Lift the shoulders to touch the head.
Throw your head backwards. Look towards the sky.
Focus on the Adnya Chakra, to receive cosmic energy.
Main Objective: To give a light massage to the intestine and other organs in the area.
Earlier, while performing this Asana, the act of bending was downward. Now you have to lift the hip, straighten the knees, and try to make the forehead touch the knees. The rest is the same as described under the head HastaPadaAsana, the third asana.
Chant the mantra Aum Savitre Namah.
Benefits and posture stated as the first asana.
Chant the mantra Aum Arkaya Namah.
The posture: Hands continue to be folded, and lifted on top of the head, and then similarly brought down to the forehead. Chant the Mantra: Aum Bhaskaraya Namah. This is the final prostration to the Sun God, a complete submission of body, speech, mind, heart. Be at ease. A Mudra and not an Asana, this activates the Anahata Chakra, Sahasrara Chakra, Adnya Chakra.
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