A yogic routine which not only provides a complete workout for the body but also awakens and balances the inner energy.
Yoga is quite popular throughout the world, with an increased following in recent years. Today, Yoga studios seem to mushroom in every nook and corner of our cities or even quiet towns, in addition to being incorporated as an activity in fancy resorts and retreats. It has become fashionable to be doing some form of Yoga and is a point of conversation and discussion in everyday life. But the form of Yoga that is practiced these days is focused towards just the asanas(postures) as an exercise for the physical body. It has become a mechanical routine with no relation to its spiritual element whatsoever. Is that beneficial? For the body, maybe yes; but the essence of Yoga is lost in such an approach. Only the physical body is remembered whereas the inner being is forgotten and therefore, Yoga as a science for the body, mind and soul loses its meaning. The routines in Yoga cannot and should not be taken as mere physical exercise. They were created with a deeper purpose of holistic wellbeing of body and mind with the ultimate focus of achieving oneness with the supreme being. Yoga includes breathing(pranayama), asanas (postures), prayers and mantras to be practiced together with devotion to make the body receptive to deeper meditation and ultimately experiencing the divine.
One such Yoga routine is the Surya Namaskar, popularly known as Sun Salutation. In the yogic tradition, it is not just a set of stretching exercises but worship of the sun that stands in the center of the universe. In Hinduism, sun is revered as the divine in all things and the giver of insight of the self. He is the one who bestows us with wisdom and enlightenment, removes darkness and ignorance, and spreads his energy that is so vital for all. He is depicted as the physical form of God that can be seen every day. Surya is also regarded as one of the eight forms (attributes) of the benevolent Lord Shiva himself. The most sacred mantra for Hindus, the Gayatri mantra is also a prayer to the divine light of the sun, Savitr, who is the source of inner enlightenment. Therefore, the Surya Namaskar is not intended as a set of exercises but a profound prayer to Surya, asking to bestow his blessings for a sound mind in a strong body. The prayer is to attune the body and its various physical systems to the sun’s energy for a higher connection with the cosmos. For gaining the full benefits of the Surya Namaskar, the asanas should be practiced along with the associated mantras and correct breathing order such that a rhythmic sequence is created. This sequence needs to be performed with devotion and with the awareness turned inwards such that it becomes meditative in nature.
Although Yoga contains hundreds of asanas targeting different parts of the body, benefitting a different organ and focusing on a different emotional center, Surya Namaskar is a comprehensive workout for the whole body with its focus on the Manipura chakra (solar plexus) and the Anahata chakra (heart center). Therefore, the Surya Namaskar is a way to awaken and balance the inner energy to follow the path of the divine soul. It helps to accentuate the spiritual element and with continued practice creates a connection with the divine. Physically, it is a workout for the whole body, improving blood circulation, toning the muscles, and is an excellent cardiovascular workout.
The Surya Namaskar contains 12 asanas to be performed in rhythmic succession with each one associated with the 12 positions of the sun, also corresponding to the 12 Sanskrit names of the sun given by ancient yogis. The 12 names are the attributes of the sun and both the mantras and poses are a form of prostrations and gratitude to Surya. The 12 steps contain 8 basic asanas as the last 4 are the same as the first 4, in reverse order. The starting position is also the ending position. One round of 12 positions is half the routine of Surya Namaskar and needs to be repeated on the other side to create a perfect balance.
The mantra recitation and the asanas included in the Surya Namaskar routine are listed below:
Starting position is also the number 12 pose – Pranamasana – Prayer pose. Standing erect with the hands in namaskar mudra.
1. Om Mitraye Namaha: Salutations to the one who is a friend to all – Hasta Uttanasana (Upward raised arms with hands in namaskar mudra).
2. Om Ravaye Namaha: Salutations to the one who is praised by all, the shining one – Padahastasana (Standing forward bend, hands to feet pose).
3. Om Suryaye Namaha: Salutations to the one who guides us all, dispelling darkness and bringing activity – Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose).
4. Om Bhanave Namaha: Salutations to the bestower of beauty, the one who illuminates us – Dandasana (Plank pose).
5. Om Khagaye Namaha: Praise to the all-pervading one who stimulates all our senses – Chaturanga Dandasana (Four limbed staff pose).
6. Om Pushne Namaha: Bow to the one who nourishes us and fulfills our senses – Ashtanga Namaskara (Face down, flat on the ground. Eight parts touching the ground with hips slightly raised).
7. Om Hiranegarbaye Namaha: Bow to the creator with the golden color, who is radiant and spreads his brilliance – Bhujangasana (Cobra pose).
8. Om Marichaye Namaha: Salutations to the one who gives us the light, showers on us the infinite golden rays to destroy the diseases – Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog, inverted V).
9. Om Adityaye Namaha: Salutations to the inspirer, the son of Aditi, the cosmic divine mother – Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose).
10. Om Savitre Namaha: Salutations to the sustainer of life and purifier of our soul – Padahastasana (Standing forward bend, hand to foot pose).
11. Om Arkaye Namaha: Salutations to the radiant one who is worthy of all the praise and glory – Hasta Uttanasana (Upward raised arms with hands in namaskar mudra).
12. Om Bhaskaraye Namaha: Praise to the cosmic illuminator who bestows enlightenment and wisdom on us – Pranamasana – Prayer pose.
To achieve the full benefit of Yoga as was intended, it is imperative to perform the asanas together with the divinity associated with each pose. A mindful and devoted practice of the rhythmic repetitions of the Surya Namaskar can awaken the inner energies to achieve higher awareness and aligns the inner system with the divine cosmic energies.
Note: There are many different variations of the Surya Namaskar.