CHENNAI: The Suryanamaskar, or sun salutation, is one of the most well-known and frequently practiced yogic sequences. To me, it is the perfect combination of yoga and pranayama as it combines asanas and breathing in a sequence according to the body’s extension or contraction in a pose, which is then followed by another. This linear array of dynamic postures is an ode to the sun and looks very beautiful as a performance! The multi-dimensional movements mimic the sun’s rays and bring energy to the practitioner.
There is no other sequence quite like it in terms of a flow that also engages antagonist muscles. Suryanamaskars are done in pairs, with the right leg or the left leg leading alternate sequences. It’s not important how many rounds are done, rather, the breathing, range of motion and alignment must be done correctly. I advise a 10-minute warm up or a walk before this practice for the postures to flow smooth.
We will look at the classical 12-step Suryanamaskar.
● Stand in tadasan (mountain pose) in namaskar mudra. Breathe normally. Next inhale and raise your arms over your head and bend backwards in utthita hasta utthanasan by extending your stretch while looking upwards. Feel a stretch in your anterior body and a contraction in the posterior.
● Exhale and bend at the hip, taking your face towards the knees, the crown of head parallel to the floor and hands on either side of your feet in padhastasan — hands to feet position. Keep your knees straight, kneecaps lifted, abdomen pulled in, posterior body stretched and look at your knees.
● Next look forward, inhale, lengthen your spine forward and take the right leg back as far as possible, keeping your toes on the floor. This is the ashwa sanchalanasan – equestrian pose. Look upwards. The right knee can be on or off the floor, with the thigh and hip flexor stretched.
● Take the left foot back, bringing both feet parallel to each other in adho mukha svan asana — downward faced dog or the inverted V pose. In this pose the buttocks are lifted towards the ceiling and your heels are on the floor, with your face towards your knees and crown pushing towards the floor.
● From this pose, step back slightly and lower the pelvis so that the body at the dandasan - the plank position. Exhale. Keep the core engaged, buttocks tight, pelvis lifted and hands directly below the shoulders. Look down between your hands.
● Next drop knees to the floor, drop your chin down and place it beyond the hands and hold the pose without breathing in for two counts. Your pelvis should be off the floor and knees bent. Eyes forward in sakshat pranam — eight body parts touching the floor. Stretch the lower back and lumbar spine.
● Now slide the upper body forward and lift the head, shoulders and chest towards the ceiling/sky. Feet are together, tops of your feet on the floor, pelvis on the mat, chest straining forward, neck arched. Look upwards with elbows slightly bent and close to the ribs, palms flat on the floor in Bhujangasan — Cobra pose. Upper back and cervical spine stretch.
● Next curl toes and lift the mid section off the floor in adho mukho svanasan — downward faced dog or inverted ‘V’. Exhale here. Heels should push towards the floor and crown of the head should drop down. Move the face towards the knees. Look towards your nose/belly button and push your tailbone upwards. Pull up your pelvic floor muscles and the belly button to the spine. Stretch the calf, thigh, sides and back.
● Now inhale and look forward and bring the right foot forward between the hands, left leg behind you and left knee on/off the floor (repeat of position 3).
● Exhale and bring the left foot forward to the right foot. Face to the knees in the forward fold padhastasan or hands to feet position (repeat of position 2).
● Inhale and come up to stand with knees slightly bent for the safety of your knees and back. Extend hands above the head in a clean curve and stretch back in utthita hasta utthanasan (repeat of position 1). Gaze upwards.
● Lower the arms by your sides and come back to samasthiti. Look forward.
Repeat the sequence with the left leg leading. This would complete one pair/round. Repeat more times as per your fitness level.
Suryanamaskar benefits the entire body and all the systems. It increases one’s vital energy and contributes to warming up the body, as it works on a large number of muscle groups. It also helps in elevating one’s heart rate and metabolic rate if sustained for more than 20 minutes in isolation or with other asanas.
Do not practice suryanamaskar if you have a heart ailment, high blood pressure or hernia. Those with back pain should exercise caution and avoid the asana during the 3rd month of pregnancy.
Anshu Vyas Seetharaman is a yoga and fitness trainer at Sri Aurobindo Society, Bengaluru. (110 Gangadhara Chetty Road, Ulsoor)
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