Surya Namaskar is an ancient and sacred practice for expressing gratitude to the Sun (Surya) through a series of 12 asanas (postures), traditionally practiced in the mornings facing the rising sun.
These 12 asanas are performed with specific controlled breathing patterns (pranayama), with each position complementing the next. During Surya Namaskar, the muscles in the entire body are stretched in various ways with the chest expanding and contracting to regulate the breathing – more benefits in less time. Practicing these continuous series of postures daily brings great flexibility and physical strength to the body and mental calmness.
1. Pranamasana/Tadasana (Standing Prayer Pose) – 1st and 12th posture
Stand erect with feet together and hands in prayer position in front of your chest, looking straight ahead. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Exhale the breath.
Benefits: Helps create a sense of calmness and prepares the mind for Surya Namaskar.
2. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms Pose) – 2nd and 11th posture
As you inhale, stretch your arms up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Make sure your head moves in align with your arms.
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the chest and abdomen, energizes the body in the process, supports the respiratory system.
3. Padahastasana (Standing Forward Bend) – 3rd and 10th posture
As you exhale, bend forward, and press your palms down on the mat, fingertips in line with toes – bend your knees if necessary.
Benefits: Stretches the spine, increasing flexibility and elasticity, increase blood supply to the brain, mobilizes joints, massages abdominal organs and stimulates the nervous system.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (The Equestrian Pose) – 4th and 9th posture
As you inhale, bring the right (or left) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.
Benefits: Stretches the quadriceps and spine, stimulates abdominal organs, increases flexibility and increases mental focus.
5. Kumbhakasana (The Plank Pose) – 5th posture
Retaining the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.
Benefits: Strengthens the muscles of both the upper and lower limbs, improves posture, lengthens neck muscles and increases stability.
6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight-Limbed salutation) – 6th posture
As you exhale, lower your knees, then your chest and then your forehead to the mat, keeping your hips up and your toes curled under. In this posture, the body should touch the ground in eight locations – the head, the chest, two palms, two knees and two toes.
Benefits: Improves flexibility and posture, strengthens arms, legs and the respiratory system.
7. Bhujangasana (The Cobra Pose)- 7th posture
As you inhale, lift your upper body, straightening your arms slightly to life the chest off the floor, lower your hips, point your toes and arch your back, looking up. Keep legs together and shoulders down and relaxed.
Benefits: Strengthens the spine, stretches the chest, shoulders and abdomen, relieves tension in the back, stimulates abdominal organs and reproductive system.
8. Parvatasana (The Mountain Pose / Downward Dog Pose) – 8th posture
As you exhale, curl your toes, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted “V” shape. Try to push your heels and head down and keep your shoulders back.
Benefits: Strengthens leg and arm muscles, stretches calf and spine muscles, relieves varicose veins, increases circulation to the brain and overall body.
9. As you inhale, step forward and place the right (or left) foot between your hands. Rest the other knee on the floor and look up, as in posture 4.
10. Exhale, bring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist, keeping your palms on the mat, fingertips in line with toes as in posture 3.
11. Inhale stretch your arms up, arch back as in posture 2.
12. Exhale gently come back to an upright position and bring your arms down by your sides.
Repeat the above sequence with the other leg. This is 1 cycle. Repeat 3-4 cycles. End your practice by lying down in Savasana (corpse pose) to allow enough time for the body and mind to relax after the Surya Namaskar sequence.
Overall benefits of Surya Namaskar:
- It helps strengthen muscles and joints.
- Improves posture.
- Mobilize joints – especially beneficial for people suffering from musculoskeletal pain e.g. joint pains.
- Tones the muscles and the internal organs.
- Improves digestion.
- Improves the function of the respiratory, circulatory, reproductive and the endocrine system, making it more efficient.
- Increases flexibility of the body
- Helps with insomnia, calms the mind and energizes the body.
- Stimulates the nervous system, increasing concentration and focus.
- It helps regulate the menstrual cycle and eases pregnancy/childbirth.
Surya Namaskar includes asana, pranayama, and mindfulness.
If press for time, this is a perfect set of postures to increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, focus the mind and energize the body to kick-start the day.
Practice 3-4 cycles and gradually increase to 10 cycles every day. If practiced daily, it can have immense therapeutic effects on the mind and the body.