Surya Namaskar: A Great Exercise Routine
Many people in the West look for the best exercise routine to help them stay in shape. Here is something that has been around for thousands of years and has withstood the test of time. It strengthens the body, circulation, the breathing, and keeps the body limber and in shape. And you can have this completely free of charge, without a fitness coach, by simply using the following instructions.
"Surya Namaskar" is Sanskrit which means obeisance or prostrations (Namaskar) to the sun (Surya). It implies that one rise before sun rise in order to do this exercise or pay obeisance to the rising sun. This is around 5 to 5:30 AM. Of course, this exercise is good no matter what time you may use it, but it is best done while the stomach is empty, before eating. It is a yogic exercise which consists of ten particular postures, one following another, in a fixed, cyclic order to ensure improvement and good health in one's digestion, agility, rejuvenation, beauty and longevity. It will also help one lose weight and trim the waist. There is no equipment to buy, or membership to a gym or fitness club that must be purchased. You just need a little space in your apartment or home. If, however, you begin to feel short-breathed or dizzy, then take a break. Also, pregnant women should not practice it, but can continue it during their period because it can help digestion and the flow of energy and outflow of waste needed at this time.
POSTURE 1: First you stand erect, ready to face the early morning sun. Stand straight with chest out and spine erect, looking forward with hands folded in respect in front of the chest where heart is located. It is like a stance of prayer. Once you start doing the routine, you spend about one second in this pose, and the others that follow. Of course, if one is weak or aged, or if you are new to the routine, you may take this a little slower.
The idea is that you do about 100 Surya Namaskars every morning, and the time to do them should not be a consideration. With practice, these poses will flow more smoothly and quickly. If each pose lasts about a second, then the full Surya Namaskar can be done in about 10 seconds or so.
POSTURE 2: Now, while inhaling, raise your arms up in the air while keeping the hands together, and arch your self backwards as far as you can go, forming a crescent-like curve from your feet to the hands. This posture helps retain the flexibility of the spine.
POSTURE 3: Now, while exhaling, bring your hands down to your feet so that you quickly bend forward at the waist, while keeping the legs as straight as possible. The best position is to bring the hands flat to the floor on either side of your feet, while keeping the head as close to the knees as you can. If you are not that flexible, then just do the best you can. The most important aspect of this pose is that it squeezes the stomach and assists in digestion to extract any vitamins and nutrients in one's food, which helps turn it into blood. It also loosens any fat that has accumulated there. Postures 2 and 3 are actually the easiest to do, so if you cannot do the others, at least do these.
POSTURE 4: From position three, while inhaling, put your hands on the floor and lower your hips and stretch your left leg back as far as you can, letting the foot rest on the toes and the knee touch the ground, while you bend your right leg in a crouching stance, letting the right knee come up to your chest. Keeping your hands flat on the ground, your arms straight, arch your head upward and back so you are looking at the ceiling or sky. This forms a crescent shape from the left heel up to the top of your head. This position helps ensure flexibility of the spine and immunity from diseases in the left leg muscles and ligaments.
POSTURE 5: While exhaling, now keep your hands flat on the ground and carry the right leg back to parallel the left leg, sided by side, both feet pressing firmly flat against the floor, while bringing your hips up into the air as high as they will go. Keep your arms and back in a straight line as your head faces the ground, and bring the chin to the chest, making you look at your knees. This makes your body form an upside down "V" or a triangle between you and the floor.
POSTURE 6: Now, while keeping the hands and feet in the same places, having fully exhaled hold the breath and bring your hips down while moving the head and shoulders forward, straightening the whole body near the floor. Keep the face downward with the forehead, the chest and knees lightly touching the ground, and the hips slightly raised. With the forehead, chest, and two palms, knees, and feet touching the floor, it is called Sashtang Namaskar, or prostrations with eight points touching the floor.
POSTURE 7: The next posture, while inhaling, flows from position 6, which is done merely by straightening your arms and lifting your chest upward and arching your head back so that you are looking at the ceiling. Your feet and knees rest on the floor while your arms hold the rest of your body a little above it. Again you form a body-length crescent, from your feet up to your head. This yogic position is known as "the cobra".
POSTURE 8: Now exhale and let your body flow into position 5 again by lowering your head and chest, keep your arms and legs straight, and raise your hips as high as they will go. As your head faces the ground, keep your arms and back in a straight line and bring the chin to the chest, making you look at your knees, which forms an upside down "V" again.
POSTURE 9: Now, while inhaling, we flow into the same position as number four, but stretch the other leg. So we first bend the left leg and bring the left foot forward on the floor. Keeping your hands flat on the ground, bring your hips down while moving the chest and head forward, allowing the left knee to reach up to the chest, and then arch your head up and back. The right foot stays in its place, letting the foot rest on the toes, which makes the right leg get stretched backward when your chest moves forward. This gives the body a crescent shape from the right heel up to the top of your head. This position helps ensure flexibility of the spine and immunity from diseases in the right leg muscles and ligaments.
POSTURE 10: Now we go back into posture three. Keep your hands in place as you bring your right leg forward to be parallel with the left leg. With both feet flat on the floor (if you can keep them that way), and the legs kept straight, the body is bent at the waist, while exhaling, with the forehead touching the knees (if you can bend this much). If you are not this flexible and cannot bend like this, then simply do it as best you can and keep the head as close to the knees as possible.
POSTURE 11: Now, while inhaling, stand up and raise your arms up in the air while keeping the hands together, and arch your self backwards as in posture number two. Hold this for a second or two.
From this position you straighten your body to stand erect as in posture number one and inhale. Then join the palms in front of your chest as in prayer. Hold this for a second and then begin to go back into posture number 2 to start the whole cycle of postures again for the next Surya Namaskar.
You may want to do each posture separately the first time you do this to familiarize yourself with each one. Then begin to do it as a flowing movement from one to the other, through all ten postures. Do it as a cycle of 100 Surya Namaskars, or even more, if you want. You will certainly notice the difference in your health, weight, flexibility, energy level, and even overall attitude.
For one's meditation you can chant the following mantras (names of the Sun-god Surya) when in each of the twelve asanas:
1. Om Mitraaya Namah
2. Om Ravaye Namah
3. Om Suryaaya Namah
4. Om Bhaanave Namah
5. Om Khagaaya Namah
6. Om Puushne Namah
7. Om Hiranyagarbhaaya Namah
8. Om Mareechaye Namah
9. Om Aadityaaya Namah
10. Om Savitre Namah
11. Om Arkaaya Namah
12. Om Bhaaskaraaya Namah
Some Practical Guidelines
Effective use of Surya Namaskar is
experienced on three levels: body, mind and intellect. The practice of Surya
Namaskar is a sort of training to your body mind and soul (Pradnya). It works
with equal force on these three aspects. It gives us physical and mental health
with sharp intellect.
Only 35 to 40% of your muscles are used in daily activities. The rest of the muscles remain inactive. Surya Namaskar is a physical exercise where almost 95% to 97% of your muscles are switched on to active mode. They remain active till you recharge them the next morning.
While performing Surya Namaskar the breathing exercise (Pranayam) gives more oxygen to your lungs. The rhythm of breathing becomes heavy with vitality. Each breath becomes deep and clear. It carries more oxygen to the different parts of your body. The vital points (The Chakras) in the body also get charged. The Surya-Tej in these Chakras gets enlightened with the thought and sight of the Sun God.
Early morning is the best time for Surya Namaskar. It is preferable not to eat any thing at least five hours prior to Surya Namaskar.
Follow the body postures in each step very scrupulously. If it is not possible for you at the beginning, you are free to make some minor changes here and there for the time being. But your final aim is to attain the perfect position.
All the diagrams merely indicate only outward body posture roughly. They are not the ideal state of Asana.
Each movement of the Asana should be divided into parts and performed gracefully.
While performing the Asanas keep your belly and hip part loose. Get the feel of the stretch and strain at the particular part of the body. The rest of the body should be free of muscle tension.
Go slow. Slow speed is for Sharir Shuddhi, for cleansing the body of all sorts of toxins, fats, unwanted secretions and for restoring health. Each movement of the Asana should be graceful. Use all your physical ability to experience the stretch and strain on your body while performing the Asana.
There are twelve steps in Surya Namaskar. You can count five seconds for each step. It means that one Surya Namaskar goes for one minute (and a bit more). This is the normal speed to perform the twelve Asanas, which equals one Surya Namaskar. This speed ensures Sharir Vruddhi--steady progress in overall health and happiness. At the beginning, of course, you have to go very slow.
The body posture is important. If you have any problem at any step, revise all the given information about the particular step in the light of your problem.
You can gain perfection in the Surya Namaskar after a long and steady practice. Be patient. Maintain slow and steady progress everyday to reach to the right posture of the Asana. The Sun God will take you to the path of progress.
It is said that twenty-four Surya Namaskars, if done properly, are equal to five hundred sit-ups / pull-ups. It may be a statement of exaggeration, but it is worth to experience the physical fitness that you attain after you start practicing the Surya Namaskar. At the beginning of the practice, one Surya Namaskar consumes 02.30 KCL. This exercise burns out a lot of calories and reduces body mass and body weight.
If your physical capacity is to perform twelve Surya Namaskars at a time, perform only five. Give importance to use all the physical abilities to perform each and every Asana of the Surya Namaskar.
The seven chakras (the vital points) in your body govern each of your activities. They motivate you to act, give ability to perform the act, and get the action done. Doctors also give prime importance, directly or indirectly, to these vital points while treating a patient. Overall heath and strength is restored through Surya Namaskar.
Persons suffering from slip-disk, arthritis, heart attack, etc., including pregnant women are suggested to take the medical opinion from a doctor before starting the practice of Surya Namaskar.
If your breathing goes fast while practicing Surya Namaskar, either take some rest or stop performing more Surya Namaskar for the day.
After the practice of Surya Namaskar is over, you can lay down in Shawasan or Yoga Nidra for some time.
(This article is available at http://www.stephen-knapp.com)
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