We’ve been working with Surya Namaskara in class during the past few weeks. Well, it’s been particularly hot and sunny in Sheffield recently and it seemed particularly important to show gratitude for this wonderful, if, unusual state of affairs!
It has also made me interested in explore the background and benefits of the Sun Salutation or Sun Sequence in a bit more detail.
This series is considered a complete physical, mental and emotional practice in itself because it can include asana (postures), pranayamas (breath-work), mantras (sounds/affirmations), visualisations, and meditation techniques. It is said to have a direct vitalising effect on the solar energy (pingala) of the body, and with regular practice it balances our energy levels.
I love the Dru version of sequence because out but is also easy to adjust it to your own needs and abilities. Meaning that everyone can benefit from giving their body a great work out and gain the emotional benefits too.
When we talk about sun worshipping nowadays we tend to mean people who nip outside and whip of (most of) their clothes at even the smallest opportunity to top up their tans. However, an appreciation of and respect for the power of the sun is found is most cultures and religions – especially those that either see a lot or a little of it.
In ancient times the sun was seen as the life-force, as a representation of friendship and of the inner light of the self. What’s more it was also seen to give us the power to move forward in life – the ‘fire in the belly’ of feeling motivated and raring to go.
The original Surya Namaskar wasn't a sequence of postures, but rather a sequence of sacred words traditionally chanted at sunrise. The Vedic tradition, which predates classical yoga by several thousands of years, revered the sun as a symbol of the Divine. The full practice included 132 passages, taking more than an hour to recite, and after each one you would perform a full prostration, laying face-down on the earth, in the direction of the rising sun!
To some Surya Namaskar can also be seen as the embodiment of the Gayatri, one of the oldest and most special mantras. (More to follow on the Gayatri mantra in a future post.) As we raise our arms and bow forward, we honour the earth, the heavens, and all life in between. As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth to again rise-up and reach for the sky. Bringing our hands together in Namaste we acknowledge that our body forms the centre point between heaven and earth.
The Physical Benefits of Surya Namaskara
Surya Namaskara gives you physical stamina, a fantastic improvement in flexibility and an overall toning of the body.
This sequence generally increases your oxygen and energy levels because you use the whole body in the movements and so as a result it increases your circulation. At a mild to medium pace it can be an aerobic exercise but this depends on the speed and number of repetitions you do. It also builds stamina and strength especially in the arms and legs. But really this sequence is a perfect balance between flexibility and strength for the whole body.
Dru’s flowing Surya Namaskara specifically stretches the back and spine, tones the abdominal muscles, and increases the intestinal function because you are constantly contracting and folding in or stretching and opening out.
And the great thing is that you can easily to adjust the pace and number of repetitions you do to suit your level of fitness, and your specific needs at that moment in time.
Emotional and Energetic Benefits
Surya Namaskara is the number one panacea for low self-esteem and increases your power to ‘get up and go’. Doing this sequence on a regular basis helps make you feel as strong and radiant as the sun itself!
Energetically Surya Namaskara awakens all of the yogic energy centres – the chakras. As a result, you should feel greater health, harmony and happiness.
Toby’s Top Tips to Fire up the Sun Salutation
Finally, to experience the full warm golden glow of Surya Namaskar, I suggest these five top tips. Give one of more of them a try the next time you practice the sun salutation and see if it makes a difference:
1. Let the breath lead the movement – don’t force the pace, just follow the rhythm of your own breath and let that be your guide through the sequence.
2. Listen to your body – don’t get hung up on the number of repetitions you ‘should’ do and listen to what your body wants to do in that moment.
3. Become mindful of the meaning of what the sun salutation represents – appreciate and show gratitude to the sun the benefits it brings to you.
4. Go outside! It is amazing how powerfully different this sequence feels when you practise it outside facing the warmth of the sun.
5. Start your day in the best way – traditionally sun salutations were practised in the morning with the rising of the sun. It might mean an early start but see if it helps ‘fire you up’ ready and willing to greet the day ahead.
"For those who want to make an association with the sun, the Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara, is a very effective means... This sequence is a whole science in itself... And it takes on new dimensions the more I become aware of the effect of the sun on my life."
Dr Mansukh Patel, Founder Dru UK, The Secret Power of Light (2000)