Demystifying Surya Namaskar: Benefits and Ancient Origins
What is Surya Namaskar?
Surya Namaskar or sun salutation is an ancient technique that consists of a set of yoga asanas or poses as a way of paying respect to the sun. The sun has always been worshipped throughout human history and referring to Hindu mythology specifically, the Sun-God or Surya is a symbol of health and immortal life. As per the ancient texts of Rig Veda, the sun is the soul of both moving and unmoving beings.
There are twelve different postures or asanas in Surya Namaskar which are performed one after the other in sequence. The asanas stretch the body while contracting and expanding the chest alternately to regulate the breathing. With daily practice, Surya Namaskar Yoga benefits the body by improving the flexibility of the spine and joints as well as by trimming down the extra fats from the body. It also prepares the body for other asanas and yoga practices.
Although several variations of the Surya Namaskar postures exist today, usually, it consists of
- Pranamasana (Prayer pose)
- Hastauttanasana (Raised arms pose)
- Hastapadasana (Standing forward bend)
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
- Dandasana (Stick pose)
- Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with eight parts)
- Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog pose)
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
- Hastapadasana (Standing forward bend)
- Hastauttanasana (Raised arms pose)
- Tadasana (Mountain pose)
Surya Namaskar: Mythology and Ancient Origins
Surya Namaskar is one of the most important asanas or pre asanas in yoga practice. Worshiping or offering pranams to the Sun-God gives a sense of bliss and it also has its own deep history, spread all over the world. The Abrahamic faiths labeled sun worship as Pagan. In most of the civilizations found so far, the worship of the Sun-God was prominent and there were hardly any that didn’t do it. Though the process of worship was not the same, all of these diverse civilizations commonly accepted the sun as the ruler, the sacred king, of both upper and lower worlds. In some civilizations, the process of sun worship was detailed and systematic, and for some, it was done using solar motifs.
In India, many kings have ruled as the descendant of the Sun-God. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata talk about the two major clans and their descendants. The Ramayana chronicles the life of Sri Rama who came from Surya vamsa (clan of Sun God) and the Mahabharata details the life of Sri Krishna who came from Chandra vamsa (Moon Dynasty).
The worship of the Sun-God is also mentioned in the history of ancient Egyptian civilization, where Sun God was called, “Re”. According to their beliefs, when the sun starts moving over the heavenly ocean - the sun starts his journey as young God Kheper, then in the afternoon, he is full-grown Sun, “Re”, and becomes Atum in the evening.
Before the advent of Christianity, all the rituals of the ancient Mexican and Peruvian systems had important place for Sun. Their rulers were considered as incarnation of Sun God. The Japanese too worshiped goddess “Amaterasu” who was connected to Sun God.
The most famous recent example of solar cult is the Sun dance of the North America which was officially banned in America in early nineteenth century.
Worship of Sun-God in Indian Culture
In Indian culture, the Sun god or Surya was worshiped in a well-defined and systematic manner and it is important to understand what does Surya stand for and what is its role in our nourishment. “Surya”, means the one who travels, the one who creates and the one who inspires. Surya also means the indwelling lord. Therefore, the followers of yogic path spent three times a day in worshiping the lord who is indwelling person in Sun, such worship is called as Sandhya vandana.
One of the reasons the followers of Sanatana dharma worship Sun God because Sun rays in the morning makes the world active and alert after the apparently inert dark night.
Incidentally Sun God also represents the transcendental knowledge. In Gita Sri Krishna says to Arjuna that originally the knowledge of Gita was taught to Sun God and eventually he taught it to Manu. Hanuman, the great devotee of Sri Rama also received the knowledge from Sun God.
Therefore, It is observed that the intelligent class of people in India never fails to worship Sun God through proper process. It is believed that the Sun is god and getting connected to his energy gives rise to higher levels of intelligence. Certainly some scientific research should be carried out by modern scientists in this regard.
During the Surya Namaskara, the Yogis chant the various names of Surya and every name has its specific meaning which denotes a particular function. Some of the names of Surya and their functions are;
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- “Savitra” denotes the creative energy of the lord.
- “Hiranya” means the one whose bodily complexion has a golden hue.
- “Bhagah” The word bhagavan comes from Bhaga which refers to the one who cannot be seen by ordinary eyes, a property of blazing Sun. Similarly, the supreme lord also cannot be seen by the ordinary eyes and is unseen by us.
- “Mitrah” Mitra means friend, one who can be understood by all because he provides for everyone. Mitra also means one who unites all human beings.
- “Varuna” is that form of Sun which is worshiped after the Sun is set. Varuna is the lord, who controls our indiscipline behavior.
- “Pushanah” refers to the quality of Sun providing nourishment through his rays. Therefore, he is pusha the source of nourishment.
In this way, each name of Surya denotes some aspect of his activities during different times of the day. The practicing Yogi begins his day and his asana by offering his respect to that Sun-God who reminds him of the presence of the supreme. Therefore, in the Gita, it is that said the Sun-God is the eye of the Supreme Brahman. It is believed that the sun is like the witness to all of our activities like an eternal CCTV camera which cannot be tampered with by anyone and remains a constant active witness.
Let us make our asana be an act of gratitude and devotion to develop healthy body, healthy mind and a grateful heart
Importance of Surya Namaskar
Surya Namaskar is the ultimate asana that strengthens the back and muscles of the body. One of the major advantages of Surya Namaskar is it’s a complete workout for the entire physical system that can be performed without any equipment. Moreover, it is a great way to free oneself from the monotonous and exhaustive daily routines of life.
Ancient Indian sages had always revered Surya Namaskar highly due to its impact on the different energies that govern our physical and mental well- being. It is said that the solar plexus, a system of radiating nerves found at the pit of the stomach, is connected to the Sun. Hence, with the regular practice of Surya Namaskar, the solar plexus size is enhanced, which increases creativity, intuition, confidence, decision-making abilities, and leadership.
There isn’t a fixed time of the day when Surya Namaskar should be practiced, however, traditionally, it is performed at sunrise. That’s the time when the sun rays are most appropriate and beneficial to revitalize and rejuvenate the body. It can also be performed at dusk to unwind and relax after a long day.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar
The Surya Namaskar yoga benefits are multi-faceted. It can bring about much-required changes in the mind and body as well as in other crucial aspects of your life. Here are some of the sun salutation benefits
Brings More Emotional Stability The deep breathing techniques and specific postures in Surya Namaskar balances the seven chakras of the body. As a result, the brain functioning is improved while also increasing creativity, emotional stability, and mental capacity.
- Healthy Hair Surya Namaskar increases blood flow to the scalp and nourishes it. This helps to prevent hair problems like premature graying, hair thinning, and loss.
- Helps Lose Weight The Surya Namaskar can be done at a pace faster than usual to burn down a lot of calories. It can act as a good cardio exercise that works on every part of the body and improve metabolism. Moreover, it involves different bends and stretches that help to lose the flab around the body evenly, especially the belly.
- Glowing Skin Surya Namaskar keeps the skin young, radiant, and healthy by improving the circulation of blood through the body. Besides, it is also known to help your skin retain its firmness, prevent the onset of wrinkles, and delay aging by keeping stress at bay.
- Improves Digestive SystemA good digestive system is essential to maintain a healthy and disease-free body. As Surya Namaskar enhances blood circulation in the body, it facilitates better functioning of the intestines. This, in turn, enables better absorption of nutrients and improve overall health.
- Better Menstrual Cycle The poses and stretches of Surya Namaskar can help one develop stronger abdominal muscles and regulate the menstrual cycle. Regular practice of the asana can also help to ease the process of childbirth.
- Lowers Blood Sugar Level Individuals who perform Surya Namaskar regularly tend to see major improvements in their physical and mental states. The asana enhances the functioning of their nervous system and makes it easier to calm down and get rid of anxiety. It also works wonders for people with thyroid problems by normalizing the activity of the endocrine glands.
- Improves Breathing As Surya Namaskar supplements the breathing process, it ensures that the lungs are well ventilated and the blood is sufficiently oxygenated.
- Battles Insomnia Fighting insomnia is one of the crucial health benefits of Surya Namaskar. It relaxes the mind, helps it get rid of the burdens and worries, and improves the sleeping pattern.
Therefore, it is highly recommended to practice Surya Namaskar regularly to experience the multitude of benefits it occurs
Other benefits of doing Surya Namaskar daily
- It consists of the right mix of postures and warm-ups to keep your body healthy and free of diseases.
- It keeps the mind and body balanced.
- It strengthens the heart as well as other internal organs of the body.
- It improves the functioning of the spinal nerves, respiratory system, and lymphatic system.
- It tones the muscles of the abdomen, back, leg, arms, hands, and shoulders and promotes flexibility.
- It boosts energy levels and increases awareness.
Over to You
In the chase for a spectacular dream life, most of us have been dragged into hectic schedules and energy-draining work shifts, all of which can take a serious toll on our health and happiness. Technically, this leaves hardly any time to unwind, let alone taking time out for exercise. Even, sparing a few minutes towards developing the right health and mind seems like a grueling challenge.
If you find this relatable, don’t worry. We, at Govardhan Ecovillage, can help you come out of it and get your life back on track. All you need to do is participate in our certified yoga courses and rewind yourself at our yoga retreat.
The energy radiated from the sun in the form of heat and light is what sustains life on earth. Taking a few minutes for yourself to practice Surya Namaskar or sun salutation can work wonders in various aspects of your life and offer greater stability. With this in mind, Govardhan Ecovillage encourages everyone at its yoga retreat to practice the sequence of asanas in Surya Namaskar and reap its immense benefits.
At Govardhan Ecovillage, we can promptly put you on the journey to a healthier and better version of yourself!