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The science behind Sun Salutations

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

Surya(Sun) Namaskarams(Salutations) is a popular ancient sequence technique with twelve poses( Asanas) for paying respect or expressing gratitude to the Lord Sun who is the source of all forms of life on the planet. However, it may seem meaningless to just practice Surya Namaskar, without understanding the science behind the ancient technique. A deeper understanding will bring-forth the right outlook and approach towards this sacred, yet powerful yogic technique. Suryanamaskar is a complete sadhana- spiritual practice, in itself for it includes Asana, Pranayama, mantra and meditation techniques.

According to Sage Sushrutha ( Master of Ayurveda), health is defined as

"sama dosha sama agni scha sama dhatu mala kriyaaha|

Prasanna atma indriya manaha swastha iti abhidheeyate"

Translation: One is in perfect health when the Three doshas (vata, pitta and Kapha), metabolic fire (digestion, assimilation and transformation), all the bodily tissues & components (the entire physical body) all the excretory functions ( urination, sweat, and defecation) are in perfect order with a pleasantly disposed and contented mind, senses and spirit.

Suryanamaskar bridges this connection- from the active physical movement of dynamic poses (asanas) to the subtle breath and onward control of the mind body complex through the senses. This helps one live as a part of nature and in rhythm with the universe to bring about oneness with that universal consciousness, of which the Sun is representative.

Suryanamaskar is a complete sadhana- spiritual practice, in itself for it includes Asana, Pranayama, mantra and meditation techniques.

What is the right way to practice SuryaNamaskar?

Surya Namaskar must always be done with a synchronized breath with each move. All the limbs and core are engaged during the sequence. The inhalation and exhalation are matched with the expansion and contraction of the muscles. Breath should be flowing throughout the sequence with a retention in the plank pose. Ideally this sequence is done to bridge the warm ups and asana practice. So, it's important to warm up the muscles before jumping right into Surya Namaskars. A vata dosha individual should ideally be holding poses for a longer time and do the sun salutations at a slower pace. A kapha dosha individual should quickly switch between poses. Since, Surya namaskars can increase metabolic fire, a pitta dosha person should ideally perform moon salutations or sun salutations in the evening or cooler months.

Sun salutations is a sequence of 12 poses and this is done using both right and left sides of the limbs. The 12 hatha yoga positions during the practice of Surya Namaskar on the right side activate the Pingala (Sun channel- the right nostril-sympathetic system) to give physical energy and a dynamic start to the day. The left side movement activates the Ida (moon channel, left nostril, parasympathetic system) to create a meditative spiritual practice of Surya Namaskar. Ideally, both sides are used in tandem during a round of two cycles ( one of right side and one of left side) to create a harmonious Ida-pingala flow of energy and bring about awareness of consciousness through planned movement of the physical body.

When is the best time to practice SuryaNamaskar?

Surya Namaskar is best done during the early sunrise. As per Ayurveda, the body moves from the vata phase before sunrise to the kapha phase after sunrise. Suryanamaskar at sunrise is the connection between the airy movements of Vata and the sluggish kapha to activate the fire of pitta-Agni. Thus actively bringing all three Dosha into play to bring optimal health as defined by Ayurveda.

In a traditional Hatha Yoga sequence, these poses act as a link between warm-ups and the asanas, and can be done on an empty stomach. Early morning is the most appropriate time to practice Surya Namaskar, as it revitalizes the body and refreshes the mind, making us ready to carry on the tasks of the day. Surya Namaskar can be practiced more than once a day and at any time of the day.

General health benefits of Surya Namaskar

The regular practice of Surya Namaskar

  • Maintains homeostasis

  • Improves blood circulation within the body

  • Balances all your doshas ( Vata, Pitta, Kapha)

  • Activates all your energy centers - the 7 chakras

  • Improves spine health

  • Helps in leading a disease-free life

  • According to Yoga experts, every part of the body including heart, liver, intestine, stomach, throat, chest, legs, are benefitted by Surya Namaskar.

Surya Namaskar strengthens heart, wrist and arm muscles, and relieves neck and shoulder tension. It is also an excellent cardiovascular work-out.

Surya Namaskar offers all the main health benefits of yoga in a succinct package, as it provides not just physical health benefits, but also mental and spiritual benefits. Apart from the muscles, it benefits joints, ligaments and the skeletal system by improving flexibility, posture and balance.

Surya Namaskar is

  • Great for spine

  • Good for digestive system- as it stimulates the Agni - metabolic fire

  • Calms the nervous system

  • Stimulates the lymphatic system

  • Supports the respiratory system and endocrine system

  • Surya Namaskar practice is particularly beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression.

SuryaNamaskars for Kids

Kids who perform ‘Surya Namaskar’ regularly will have a calm mind and it helps improve their concentration. In today’s world, kids face peer pressure and other forms of stress, and therefore, incorporating Surya Namaskar in their daily schedule improves their endurance power, while reducing anxiety, stress and restlessness. With regular practice, Surya Namaskar gives strength and agility to the body, and it is the best work-out for muscles. It improves flexibility of the spine and limbs for children aspiring to be sportsmen.

SuryaNamaskars for Women

Surya Namaskar aids in proper functioning of endocrine glands and regulates hormonal secretions.

They can regularize menstrual cycles and ensure a smooth childbirth. SuryaNamaskar is the easiest way to retain muscle strength, ensure core strength, and reduce belly fat. They can regulate Thyroid function.

The Surya Namaskar in Ayurveda

Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation helps balance the three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha according to Ayurveda. Ayurveda believes that long, systematic, continuous and daily practice of Surya Namaskar, together with the right diet can help in longevity. The twelve stances within each of the two rounds of the total twelve of Suryanamaskar correspond to the movement of the sun in the 24 hour cycle.The Suryanamaskar Asana sequence are aimed at energizing the solar plexus- Manipur chakra, at the navel- which in yogic physiology is the basis of the physical body. This is the plexus for the second mind, popularly called gut instinct, that is related to the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve and the longest of the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for the body's subconscious functioning such as breathing, circulation and digestion and governs our happiness and social relationships. Just as the five elements are present around you, the same elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth are also present in the human body. The sun is the universal element of fire and the wellspring of life. The fire element Agni is that which is the energy conversion factor in all forms of life and is a support of the universe in its microcosmic aspect, all encompassing. It is this same fire in the human physiology that sustains the body as warmth through to the last breath. In Ayurveda, there are a total of fourteen sub-types of Metabolic fire depending upon the location and function. Agni is the same as pitta dosha of Ayurveda as per Master Charaka.

Surya Namaskara and its spiritual connection

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Sun is considered the creator of the universe and the source of all life. He is the supreme soul who brings light and warmth to the world riding his chariot of horses. He is commonly known as Surya Narayana. Surya Narayana rides a chariot of horses similar to Helios, from Greek mythology. In medieval Hinduism, Surya is also an epithet for the major Hindu gods' Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. In some ancient texts and arts, Surya is presented syncretically with Indra, Ganesha, or others. Surya as a deity is also found in the arts and literature of Buddhism and Jainism.

Lord Surya is worshipped to cure many skin ailments, so Surya Namaskara is one of the easiest ways to approach Lord Sun and pray for healthier skin using SunSalutations. The following mantras are chanted during each posture

Mantras to be chanted with each pose in Surya Namaskar

1. ॐ मित्राय नमः Om Mitraya namah

2. ॐ रवये नमःOṁ ravaye namaḥ

3. ॐ सूर्याय नमः Oṁ sūryāya namaḥ

4. ॐ भानवे नमः Oṁ bhānave namaḥ

5. ॐ खगाय नमःOṁ khagāya namaḥ

6. ॐ पूष्णे नमःOṁ pūṣṇe Namah

7. ॐ हिरण्यगर्भाय नमः Oṁ hiraṇyagarbhāya namaḥ

8. ॐ मरीचये नमः Oṁ marīcaye Namah

9. ॐ आदित्याय नमः Oṁ ādityāya Namah

10. ॐ सवित्रे नम :Oṁ savitre Namah

11. ॐ अर्काय नमः Oṁ arkāya namaḥ

12. ॐ भास्कराय नमः Oṁ bhāskarāya namah

There are several variations done to the classical sequence of this Sun salutations and each of them have their own benefits.

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