Most of us multi-tasking, ever-evolving busybodies actually lead a very sedentary life. Our high-tech gadgets and gizmos never stop; meanwhile, our body sits (and probably slumps) in a mediocrely comfortable office chair. This lifestyle isn’t necessarily the best thing for our posture, stress or sanity. It’s important to take time every day to counteract this nonsense.
I have heard countless complains of backaches and pains from (mentally worn out, on top of it all) people – myself included. But by bestowing the intense powers of the Sun with Surya Namaskar, I, along with many others, have cultivated core strength and personal power.
Salutations to Surya
Surya Namaskar, which literally translates to “Sun Salutation,” is a series of 12 Yoga poses that are performed in a specific sequence. It captures the energy and qualities of the Sun for willpower, strength and stability. Physically, practicing Surya Namaskar gives the entire body a deep stretch while at the same time toning every muscle. Mentally, performance of Surya Namaskar can be calming, centering and clearing. It is traditional to honor and greet the sun with gratitude as it rises, 12 times (6 times on each side alternating between your right and left legs) every morning. Some determined souls salute the sun an impressive amount of 108 times, but let’s stick to 12 for now.
Performing a Proper Sun Salutation
Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) – Begin by standing with your feet pressing firmly into the ground and your palms together at your heart center. Bring the shoulder blades up and then roll them back as you let them melt down onto your back for proper alignment. Imagine that a string is pulling your head up into the sky to lengthen the spine. Activate the core by bringing the navel and pelvis inward as if they are trying to reach your lungs. This is known as a root lock and feels a bit like a kegel exercise.
Hasta Uttanasana (Hand-Raising Pose) – Inhale deeply and bring your arms out and up. Place your palms together above your head as you look up and lean back using the strength of your abdominals and lower back to support you.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose) – Exhale fully as you dive forward with a straight spine to place your hands flat on the mat on either side of your feet. Let your head hang loose and bring your stomach to rest against your thighs and your forehead onto your shins. This is an amazing two-in-one stretch for the legs and back.
Alanasana (High Lunge or Crescent Pose) – Inhale and lift your head to look forward while maintaining a straight spine and then bring your right leg back for a firm lunge.
Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (High Plank Pose) – Bring your left leg back by your right leg to come into a solid, straight plank position. Contract the core and use all muscle groups to sustain a proper plank.
Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees, Chest and Chin Pose) – Exhale as you lower your knees, chest and chin down to the ground preparing to flow into step seven.
Bhujangasana or Urdhva Mukha Svanasa (Cobra or Upward-Facing Dog Pose) – Inhale as you fluidly slide forward and up into Cobra or Upward-Facing Dog.
For Cobra – Keep your forearms on the ground and look up toward the sky as you use the muscles in your lower back and abs to bend yourself backward.
For Upward-Facing Dog – Place your palms into the ground and raise yourself up and back with straight arms, again activating the lower back and abs.
Each variation works the lower back and abs, but Upward-Facing Dog provides an added impact on the arms. Pick your preference.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) – With an exhale, lift your hips up and back toward the sky while at the same time rooting your hands into the ground for Downward-Facing Dog. Here, I like to imagine that a string is pulling my tailbone diagonally into the sky while another string pulls the cervical vertebrae into the Earth. Utilize your root lock again by drawing the navel and pelvis inward. Rotate and really push those hips back – You should feel a significant opposing stretch in the hamstrings and spine. Downward-Facing Dog is an amazing pose, which works the entire body and sends energizing blood flow to the brain. Keep breathing as you hold this pose for at least five breaths.
Alanasana (High Lunge or Crescent Pose) – Inhale and bring the right foot forward into a lunge as you look ahead.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose) – Bring the left foot to meet the right foot and exhale as you fold forward into yourself. Keep the legs straight and bring your chest onto your thighs and forehead to your shins.
Hasta Uttanasana (Hand-Raising Pose) – With a straight spine, inhale as you rise up, bring your palms together above your head and lean back as far as you can.
Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) – Stand in a tall and stable pose with your hands at your chest, completing the cycle just as you began.
Salute and Repeat
Ideally, we want to repeat steps 1-12 alternating between the right and left legs for a total of six rounds on each side, but you can start with less if you don’t feel comfortable with 12 just yet. It’s extremely important to listen to your body – don’t overdo it. You can start with six sets – three rounds on each side – and work your way up to 12 when you’re fit and ready! With consistent practice, this challenging series becomes fun and enjoyable. You’re well on your way to reaping the benefits of Surya Namaskar for a glorious body and mind.