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01 December, 2015

Surya Namaskara - A Technique of Solar Vitalization

Salute to the Sun

       Surya Namaskara is a series of twelve physical postures.  These alternating backward and forward bending asanas flex and stretch the spinal column and limbs through their maximum range. The series gives such a profound stretch to the whole body that few other forms of exercise can be compared with it.

       Most beginners will discover stiffness in their bodies from muscular tensions, tightness in the tendons and toxic deposits in the joints.  Stiffness, lack of coordination and the tendency to strain can all be overcome through practicing very slowly, with an emphasis on awareness and relaxation in each posture.  What little physical effort is applied then appears effortless.  Regular practice of surya namaskara is one of the most rapid methods of obtaining a supple body.

       The practice should be mastered by first becoming familiar with the postures individually and then as a whole.  Synchronizing the breath with the movements is the next step.  When this is achieved it will be found that the breathing sequence complements each posture, and to breath in any other manner would be awkward and difficult.  The basic breathing postures due to expansion of the chest and exhalation with  forward bending postures due to compression of the chest and abdomen.


       Before commencing the practice, stand with the feet together, or slightly apart, arms relaxed by the sides of your body.  Close your eyes and become aware of the whole physical body.

       Develop awareness of your body as you would in the practice of yoga nidra.  Starting at the top of the head work your awareness down through the body, relaxing any tensions you find on the way.  Your awareness is like a torchlight piercing into the darkness of the body.

       Then develop whole body awareness again.  Ask yourself, how do I feel in relation to my body?  Am I relaxed and comfortable with myself?  Adjust your position so that you are more comfortable.  Feel that you are being pulled upwards by a thread attached to the top of your head.

       Now take your awareness to the bottom of your feet and feel the soles in contact with the floor.  Feel that your whole body is being pulled downwards by gravity and that all the tensions from the top of our head are being pulled down through your feet and into the ground.  At the same time be aware of the vital force moving up through your body, allowing you to maintain a relaxed and comfortable upright position.

       Be aware of this for a few moments and then go on to the practice of surya namaskara.

Position 1:  Pranamasana (prayer pose)

Stand erect with the feet together or slightly apart and close the eyes.
Place both palms together in front of the chest (namaskara mudra).
Maintain your awareness on the mudra, the pressure of the palms and the effect of this mudra on the chest area.
Mentally offer homage to the sun, the source of all life.  
Relax the whole body.

Breathing:  Breathe normally.

Mantra: Om mitraya namaha 

Position 2: Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

Raise and stretch both arms above the head, with palms facing upwards.
Keep the arms separated, shoulder width apart.
Arch the back and stretch the whole body.
Stetch the head as far as back as is comfortable possible and be aware of the curve of the upper back.

Breathing:  INHALE while raising the arms.

Mantra: Om ravaye namaha

Position 3: Padahastasana (hand to foot pose)

In a continuous movement bend forward from the hips.
Bring the hands to the floor on either side of the feet and try to touch the knees with the forehead.
Do not strain.  The legs should remain straight.
Try to keep the back straight, focusing your awareness at the pelvis, the pivoting point for the stretch of the back and leg muscles.

Breathing:  EXHALE while bending forward.
Try to contract the abdomen in the final position to expel the maximum amount of air from the lungs.

Mantra:  Om suryaya namaha

Contra-indications:  People with back conditions should not bend forward fully.  Bend from the hips, keeping the spine straight, until the back forms a ninety degree angle with the legs, or bend only as far as is comfortable.

Position 4:  Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian pose)

Keeping both hands in place, on either side of the feet, bend the left knee while-extending the right leg backwards as far as possible.
The right toes are tucked under the knee is touching the floor.
Bring the pelvis forward, arch the spine and look-up.
The fingertips touch the floor and balance the body.,
Focus your awareness at the eyebrow centre.
You should feel the stretch from the thigh moving upward along the front of the body all the way to the eyebrow centre.

Breathing:  INHALE while bringing the chest forward and up and and stretching the right leg back.

Mantra:  Om bhanave namaha

Position 5:  Parvatasana (mountain pose)

Bring the palms to the floor.
Take the left foot back and place it beside the right.
Simultaneously raise the buttocks and flower the head between the arms, so that the body forms a triangle with the floor.
The legs and arms should be straight in the final position.
Aim to press the heels down to the floor but do not strain.
Bend the head as far forward as possible so that the eyes are looking at the knees.
Focus your awareness at the neck area.

Breathing:  EXHALE while taking the left leg back.

Mantra: Om khagaya namaha

Position 6: Ashtanga Namaskara (salute with eight parts or points)

Lower the knees to the floor and then bring the chest and chin to the floor, keeping the buttocks elevated.
The hands, chin, chest, knees and toes touch the floor and the spine is arched.
Focus the awareness at the centre of the body or on the back muscles.

Breathing:  The breath is held outside the in this pose.  There is no respiration.

Mantra: Om pushne namaha

Position 7:  Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

Lower the hips while pushing the chest forward and upward with the arms.
Straightening the elbows, arch the back and push the chest forward into the cobra pose.
The legs and lower abdomen remain on the floor and the arms support the trunk.
Unless the spine is very flexible the arms will remain slightly bend.
Focus awareness at the base of the spine feeling the tension from the forward pull.

Breathing:  INHALE while raising the torso and arching the back.

Mantra:  Om hiranyagarbhaya namaha

Position 8: Parvatasana (mountain pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 5.
Keep the arms and legs straight.
While pivoting from the shoulders, raise the buttocks
and bring the head down to reassume position 5.
The hands and feet do not move from position 7.
Raise the buttocks and lower the heels to the floor.

Breathing:  EXHALE while raising the buttocks.

Mantra: Om marichaye namaha

Position 9:  Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 4.
Bring the left leg forward, placing the foot between the hands.
Simultaneously bring the right knee down to the floor and push the pelvis forward.
Arch the spine and look up to reassume position 4.

Breathing:  INHALE while assuming the pose.

Mantra:  Om adityaya namaha

Position 10:  Padahastasana (hand to foot pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 3.
Bring the right foot in beside the left.
Straightening the legs, bend forward and raise the buttocks
while bringing the head in towards the knees.
The hands remain on the floor beside the feet.
This is the same as position 3.

Breathing:  EXHALE while performing the movements.

Mantra:  Om savitre namaha

Position 11:  Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 2.
Bend from the hips, raise the torso and stretch the arms above the head.
Arch backwards to reassume position 2.

Breathing:  INHALE while raising the torso and arms.

Mantra:  Om arkaya namaha

Position 12; Pranamasana (prayer pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 1.
Straighten the body and bring the hands together in front of the chest, reassuming position 1.

Breathing:  EXHALE while assuming the final position.

Mantra:  Om bhaskaraya namaha


       Positions 1-12 continue half a round of surya namaskara.  To complete the other half the same movements ae performed, the only variations being that the left leg is brought back in position 4, and the right leg is moved forward in position 9.  So, one full round consists of 24 moments, two sets of 12, giving a balance to each side of the body in each half round.  When position 12 is completed, lower the hands to the side, and then commence the second half of the round.

       One full round consists of 24 asanas.  In an ideal situation these should be performed in a continuous unbroken flow and, except for ashtanga namaskara, each asana should change with each breath.  Of course, if you tire within the round, rest after 12 postures by taking a full breath before commencing the second half.  Breathe normally for a few moments if you need to.  The same applies to each individual asana and between rounds.  Use the time to reorientate your awareness and posture.  Ask yourself, how do I feel.  Then adjust yourself so that you are comfortable, ensuring that the breath is slow and relaxed before you go on.


       There are several points to keep in mind while practising surya namaskara.  These guidelines are the keys to successful practice.

       Probably the most important point is to avoid strain.  Each movement should be performed with a minimum of effort, using only those muscles required to assume and maintain the posture.  The rest of the body should remain as relaxed as possible.  Relax into each position.  In this way your stretching will be more efficient and enjoyable and you will conserve energy.  Try to make the moments flow loosely into one another, like a dance.

       Surya namaskara involves alternate flexing of the spinal column backwards and forwards.  Remember that the neck is also a part of the spine and should be stretched to a comfortable limit backwards and forwards according to the asana.  This affords maximum stretch to the body in each position.

Specific hints

01.  When learning surya namaskara it is only difficult to place each piece of the jigsaw together.  To overcome this, learn the asanas one by one in the initial stage.  As most people find the transition from positions 3 to 4 difficult, it is wise to piece the series together in two stages.  The first stage involves repeating only positions 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12.  The second stage involves repeating positions 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9.  Once these two stages are understood and mastered they can be easily joined and the total flow of the practice will be more easily appreciated.

2.  In padahastasana (positions 3 and 10) the legs should remain straight.  At first this may mean htat the asana will not be perrformed correctly, but practice will gradually stretch the tendons and muscles of the back and legs, ultimately enabling the correct posture to be assumed.

3.  Once both hands are placed on the floor on either side of the feet in position 3 (padahastasana), they should remain at this point until leaving position 10.  Similarly, when the feet have been placed together in position 5 (parvatasana), they should remain at this point until moving out of position  8. If the hands and feet are correctly placed initially then there is no need to move them in compensation during the middle series of exercises.

4.  When performing ashwa sanchalanasana (positions 4 and 9), the knee of the extended leg should touch the floor.  The foot of the other leg shoujld remain between the hands.

5.  In parvatsana (positions 5 and 8) try to bring the heels onto the floor.  Once again, this may be difficult at first but practice will stretch the harmstring muscles, ultimately bringing the heels closer.

6.  Confusion often occurs while moving from position 5 (parvatasana) to position 6 (ashtanga namaskar.).  The following points may be observed.  From position 5 simply bend the knees until they touch the floor.  Then bend the elbows, moving the torso straightl down, u until the chest and chin touch the flour also.  This will naturally arch the spine and keep the buttocks raised.

   Similarly, when moving into position 7 (bhujangasana), the trunk can be pushed forward, straightening the legs until the body is flat on the floor.  Then, with the help of the arms, raise the torso into the final position.  Dividing each asana into stages, and taking each stage slowly, will give a better coordination and understanding of the correct posture.

7.  Retaining the exhaled breath in position 6 (ashtanga namaskara) may prove difficult at the beginning or if the series is performed slowly.  In this case, it is advised to either move from position 5, through 6 into 7 in one continuous movement, pausing only in position 5 and 7, or to hold position 6 and adjust the breath according to your needs.

8.  Older and weaker practitioners may find the efforts of pushing up from position 7 (bhujangasana) into position 8 (parvatasana) too great.  For these practitioners it is advisable to move from bhujangasana into a position with hands and knees on the floor (as in marjari-asana).  From this posture the moment into parvatasana is less difficult.

9.  If the full series of 12 posture proves too strenuous, a modified form of 9 postures can be practised.  this consists of moving from positions 1 to 5 and back up again from 8 to 12, leaving out the middle group of postures (6 and 7).

Source: Excerpts from the book on "Surya Namaskara" written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga.