The Sanskrit word for surya means ‘sun’ and namaskara translates to ‘salutation.’ Therefore the practice of surya namaskara is commonly known as ‘salutation to the sun.’
In many cultures, light has long been a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination. Our primary source of light is, of course, the sun. Evolved sages derived a sequence thousands of years ago to worship the sun. This practice has been handed down as a daily ritual to connect with the sun’s divine qualities of power, dynamism and luminosity.
Surya namaskara is a series of twelve physical postures. These alternating backward and forward bending postures bend and flex the spinal column through it’s maximum range, giving a profound stretch to the whole body. It is a powerful sequence, which also massages the internal organs and stimulates all the body systems, especially the reproductive, circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems.
The transition from posture to posture is facilitated with a specific breathing pattern. The inhalation is used to lift, open and extend, the exhalation to fold forward, soften and release.
One round of Surya namaskara consists of two sequences, the first leading with the right foot in positions 4 and 9, the second leading with the left. Keep the hands in one place from positions 3 to 10 and co-ordinate the movements with the breath.
Once familiarized with the physical postures and breathing technique, one can deepen the practice by focusing on different aspects. Each posture relates to a specific trigger point and psychic centre within the body. Concentration on these locations develops a more subtle inner awareness. Specialised mantras associated with each position may also be used. These mantras are a combination of syllables and sounds, and through their vibration have a powerful effect on the body and mind.
Surya Namaskara can be paced briskly to generate heat and charge the entire system, or at a more moderate speed to induce a deeper spiritual awareness and create a moving meditation.
Surya Namaskara is to be followed by Corpse Pose (Shavasana). This relaxation period is very important as it allows the body time to adjust and absorb the benefits of the practice.
Surya Namaskara activates all the muscles, lubricates the joints and stimulates the various systems. The relaxation period following the practice returns the body to a balanced, harmonious state, full of energy and vitality.
In the Satyananda tradition there are two versions of Surya Namaskara. The first is the modified version, where neither of the asanas are taken to their fullest stretch. This is extremely nurturing and makes for a brilliant warm up practice.
As with all yoga practices it’s important to always listen to the body, honour it’s needs and practice safely. Discontinue Surya namaskara immediately if any discomfort or sickness is felt. It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure, coronary artery diseases, hernia or by those who have had a stroke. Consulting with an experienced yoga teacher or a medical expert is advised for people with back conditions, as these may be better managed through an alternative asana program.
Positions 13 – 24
This completes half a round. In the second half, the positions are repeated practicing to the left side. This changes the equestrian pose. In position 16, instead of stretching the right foot back, stretch the left foot back and in position 21, instead of bringing the left foot between the hands first, bring the right foot between the hands first.