Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit means “sun salutation,” a term that has become increasingly familiar among health aficionados and scientists alike.
Surya Namaskar comprises a series of 12 cyclic postures or asanas synchronized with the breath. It is typically a warm-up sequence, but it can also work as a great standalone routine on days you might not have as much time to dedicate to your yoga practice. Acknowledging and invoking the sun’s life-giving nature, it is meant to be performed at dawn, in open air, and facing the sun.
The 12 steps of Surya Namaskar are interconnected, with each posture complementing and counteracting the previous one. One cycle of Surya Namaskar comprises about seven asanas, some of which are performed twice.1There are variations in the sequence, but the postures remain more or less the same.
The breathing pattern associated with each asana should come naturally. Postures that involve rising, opening, or expanding typically are performed on the inhale, while folding or descending movements are done on the exhale.2
So, what makes Surya Namaskar so wonderful? Let us first break down the benefits of each posture before looking at the practice as a whole.3
[expert_opinion expertname=’annieau’ opinion=”Usually, it’s best to practice Sun Salutations in the morning soon after we get up. If you don’t have time to do a full practice, you’ll get similar benefits by doing 7-9 rounds of Sun Salutations.”]
Benefits Of Each Posture
Also known as the mountain pose, this is the first and last posture of the Surya Namaskar. This asana focuses on the lower part of the body. It strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles, and firms up the abdomen and buttocks. It can also relieve sciatica, reduce flat feet, and improve posture.4
Pranamasana is typically practiced with the Anjali Mudra, in which both palms are pressed together and placed close to the heart. In Hindu culture, this is a common way of greeting. It is believed that by bringing both the palms together, the right and left hemispheres of the brain connect.
In yogic terms, this represents the unification of our active and receptive natures. According to the yogic tradition, the heart chakra is visualized as a lotus at the center of the chest. This mudra encourages the lotus heart to gently open up with awareness.5
2. Hasta Uttanasana
This asana involves a slight arching of the back, which is a great exercise for the shoulder, spine, ribs, and back muscles. The lower back will become more supple as abdominal muscles are strengthened.6
3. Padahastasana (Hastapadasana)
The standing forward bend is especially useful in stretching all the limbs and rear muscles of the body while strengthening the hamstring and the sciatic nerve. Like the previous asana, it makes the spine supple and tones the abdominal organs.7
It helps in correcting faulty posture and can even reduce excess fat in the abdomen, waistline, and hips.8It is also known to energize the brain as well as the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, and parathyroid glands by increasing the blood supply to these areas.
Also known as the equestrian posture or lunge, this asana stretches the groin, quadriceps, legs, and hips, while strengthening the back. It also helps open the chest and can improve symptoms of indigestion, constipation, and sciatica.9
5. Adhomukh Svanasana
Popularly known as the downward-facing dog, this asana stretches the shoulders, hands, hamstrings, calves, and arches of the feet, while strengthening the arms, legs, and ankles. It is great for reducing stiffness in the shoulder blades and arthritis in the shoulder joints, relieving pain in the heels, and softening calcaneal spurs.
This position is also calming – it gently stimulates the nerves and slows down the heartbeat. And if you’re a woman going through hot flashes during menopause, this posture may offer some relief.10
6. Ashtanga Namaskara
With the knees, chest, and chin on the floor, this posture actually works the entire body, from the muscles of the neck to the shoulders, upper arms, forearms, back, and abdomen. It especially strengthens joints in the legs and arms, particularly the wrists.11
Popularly known as the serpent or cobra pose, this is perhaps one of the most beneficial asanas of the Surya Namaskar series. In Hindu mythology, the serpent is considered sacred and symbolizes individual subtle force, intuition, and wisdom. It is said that by practicing this posture, the specific qualities of the serpent can be realized – including its divine essence.
Physically, this posture strengthens and relaxes the entire back by harmonizing the energy flow in both its superficial and deep muscles. It can also relieve and prevent spasms. It strengthens the abdominal muscles and solar plexus, which can improve digestion and intestinal function and even reduce anxiety, since – according to yogic philosophy – we hold our anxieties in the gut.
Bhujangasana improves blood circulation too, which helps relieve tension and energy disturbance in the head and eyes, and has the ability to remove excess tension and energy blocks from the entire body.12It also has the power to rejuvenate the kidneys and adrenal glands, and strengthen the nervous system, which positively affects all vital functions.
Overall Benefits Of Surya Namaskar
Surya Namaskar is a harmonious blend of the asanas mentioned above. When practiced in a cyclic and systematic way, the overall benefits are greater than the sum of its parts. An increasing amount of research has found that a regular practice of Surya Namaskar can be extremely beneficial.
1. Strengthens Heart, Lungs, And Hands
A study that looked into the effects of Surya Namaskar on 42 school children found that after 6 months of regular practice, the children showed improved functioning of the heart and lungs, as well as hand grip strength and endurance.13
2. Promotes Weight Loss
In another study, 49 men and 30 women practiced 24 cycles of Surya Namaskar, 6 days a week. After 24 weeks, BMI significantly reduced among both groups, and the women participants showed a decrease in body fat, too. The study also found significant increases in muscle strength and endurance.14
3. Boosts Fitness And Flexibility
A comparative study among obese women looked into the effectiveness of circuit training, treadmill running, and Surya Namaskar for improving fitness. Regular practice of Surya Namaskar not only helped reduce weight, but also improved cardio-respiratory fitness and upper limb muscle endurance. Compared to the other training methods, only Surya Namaskar was effective in improving flexibility.15
4. Reduces Stress And Anxiety
Perhaps most significantly, Surya Namaskar can help manage your stress levels. A study analyzing employees aged 21-60 years old found that those who practiced Surya Namaskar every day for 21 days experienced significantly lower anxiety and stress levels than those who did not. Practicing Surya Namaskar proved to improve quality of work as well.16
|↑1||Suman, Krishan Kumar. Yoga for Health and Relaxation. Lotus Press. (2006).|
|↑2||Schuster, Donna Farhi. Salute to the Sun. Yoga Journal. Sep – Oct 1990.|
|↑3||Yogeswar. “Textbook of Yoga.” Penguin Books, 2004.|
|↑4||Fullerton, Ben. Mountain Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions. Yoga Journal.|
|↑5||Rea, Shiva. “Meet in the Middle: Anjali Mudra.” Yoga Journal. 2007.|
|↑6||Yogeswar.“Textbook of Yoga.” Penguin Books. 2004.|
|↑7||Standing Forward Bend (Hastapadasana), The Art of Living.|
|↑8||Nath, Pandit Shambhu. “Speaking of yoga: A practical guide to better living.” Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1988.|
|↑9||Ashwa sanchalanasana- Equestrian Posture, Prana Yoga. 2014.|
|↑10||Iyengar, Bellur Krishnamukar Sundara. “BKS Iyengar yoga: The path to holistic health.” Penguin, 2007.|
|↑11||Yogeswar. “Textbook of Yoga.” Penguin Books. 2004.|
|↑12||Swami Prabodhananda Saraswati. “Bhujangasana – Part 2: Physiological and Spiritual Benefits.” Yoga. 1982.|
|↑13||Bhavanani, Ananda Balayogi, Kaviraja Udupa, and P. N. Ravindra. “A comparative study of slow and fast suryanamaskar on physiological function.” International journal of yoga 4, no. 2 (2011): 71.|
|↑14||Bhutkar, Milind V., Pratima M. Bhutkar, Govind B. Taware, and Anil D. Surdi. “How effective is sun salutation in improving muscle strength, general body endurance and body composition?.” Asian journal of sports medicine 2, no. 4 (2011): 259.|
|↑15||Jakhotia, Komal A., Apurv P. Shimpi, Savita A. Rairikar, Priyanka Mhendale, Renuka Hatekar, Ashok Shyam, and Parag K. Sancheti. “Suryanamaskar: An equivalent approach towards management of physical fitness in obese females.” International journal of yoga 8, no. 1 (2015): 27.|
|↑16||Sudarshan, P.O. “Effects of Suryanamaskara Practice on Stress Management – A Randomized Waitlisted Control Study” SVYASA. 2009.|