Surya Namaskar
Salutations to the Sun

HISTORY OF SURYA NAMASKAR

The origin of SN and its first form – 10 postures

The Sanskrit name “ surya” refers to the Sun and “namaskara” means salutations. The practice of Surya namaskara has been handed down from the enlightened sages of the Vedic age. The Sun is the source of all life on earth and the Sun Salutations is an age-old practice of expressing our Gratitude and Reverence to the Sun. The Sun symbolises spiritual consciousness and in ancient times was worshipped on a daily basis.

There are many beautiful stories about the origin of Surya Namaskara. One of the stories goes this way. Hanuman— the divine “Vanara “ monkey god, the great devotee of Lord Rama who is the hero of the Ramayana, is one of the central characters of the epic Ramayana. As a child little Hanuman wanted to learn everything about the world and was advised by his mother Anjana to learn from Surya the Sun God since he saw everything. When asked to become Hanuman’s teacher , the Sun god replied “I have no time. I travel all day and rest all night. I cannot pause to teach you.” Little Hanuman persisted “Why do you have to pause? I will ride in front of your chariot each day and you can teach me while you are travelling”. The Sun god replied “But my glare will be too hard to handle and the pain and the heat will be intolerable.” Little Hanuman was determined, he persisted, he was not one to give up, “It does not matter, knowledge cannot come without suffering. One must work hard.”
Surya was impressed and agreed to become Hanuman’s teacher – “Guru”. Hanuman spent thousands of years flying in front of the Sun God’s chariot since one must always face the Guru and never turn one’s back towards the Guru, staring at the Sun from sunrise to sunset, listening to everything that Surya had to say. From little Hanuman – the monkey boy he became Hanuman the god of infinite wisdom. As an offering of gratitude to Surya, Hanuman then offered his respectful salutations – Namaskars to Surya. Thus were designed the Sun Salutations which yogis would follow for all eternity !

The second story goes this way. About 157 years ago, around 1920, there was a king in the state of Aundh, now in Maharashtra. The king Bhawanrao Shriniwasrao Pant Pratinidhi was a practitioner of yoga and he practiced the Surya Namaskar as part of his spiritual practices as a form of Sun Worship. He is said to have integrated it into his yoga routine and popularised it for its physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. He described it in his book published in 1928 “The Ten point way to health : Surya Namaskars”. According to the king this practice was a commonplace Marathi tradition. This early form of Surya Namaskar has 10 steps. It does not have the raised hands posture (Hasta Uttanasana), which has later been incorporated into the sequence.

The anthropologist Joseph Alter says that the Sun Salutations was not recorded in any Hatha yoga text before the 19 th century.

SURYA NAMASKAR – A COMPLETE SADHANA

According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, this dynamic group of asanas is not regarded as being a traditional part of hatha yoga practices as it was added at a later time. However, it is an effective way of loosening up, stretching, massaging and toning all the joints, muscles and internal organs of the body. It’s versatility and application makes it one of the most useful methods of inducing a healthy, vigorous and active life while at the same time preparing for spiritual awakening and the resulting expansion of consciousness.

Surya Namaskara is a complete sadhana, spiritual practice in itself – it includes asanas, pranayama, mantra and meditation techniques. Starting and ending with the Pranam Asana with the hands placed at the heart centre in the prayer pose – which is called by various names such as the Hridaya mudra or Atmanjali Mudra this beautiful practice is a moving meditation. This prayerful practice begins with a humble salutation to the Sun god – the light outside and to the light within each one of us, the soul which resides in our hearts . How do we know that the soul resides in the hearts ?
The Vedas state that the soul resides in the heart:
hṛidi hyeṣha ātmā (Praśhnopaniṣhad 3.6) [v18]
sa vā eṣha ātmā hṛidi (Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad 8.3.3) [v19]

The word hṛidi indicates that the soul is seated in the region of the heart. Yet, consciousness, which is the symptom of the soul, spreads throughout the body.
So each and every asana of the Surya Namaskar has a special significance.

Add relaxation and Heartfulness meditation, based on the heart, at the end of your suryanamaskar session and you have a complete exercise to rejuvenate your body from the gross body to the subtle bodies.

3. Revival by Swami Sivananda

By the Bihar School and the Shivananda School. The 12 step yoga

Swami Shivananda founder of the Divine Life Society played a major role in popularising yoga as we know it today and in merging Surya Namaskar into the contemporary yoga practices. Swami Shivananda was a medical doctor turned sannyasi. He wrote a book “Yogic home exercises” 1939. His disciple Swami Vishnudevananda opened Shivananda yoga centres worldwide. His book “Complete illustrated book on yoga” 1960 was very popular. Another of Swami Sivananda’s disciples, Swami Satyananda Saraswati set up the Bihar School of yoga, 1964 . All of them were instrumental in popularising Surya Namaskar among the masses in India and also internationally. The Sivananda/Bihar style of Surya Namaskar which is very popular today is a 12 step practice – into which the raised hands posture -Hasta Uttanasana has been introduced. There is a slight variation in the Surya Namaskar practiced by these two schools. In some yoga traditions including the Sivananda yoga tradition, each step is associated with a mantra linked with the twelve names of the Sun God, Surya .

Link to Sun Salutations video on Heartfulness YouTube

4.Other Surya Namaskars

Another very influential teacher of yoga was T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989). His disciples popularised his style of yoga world wide. He made a lot of innovations in yoga. He taught a programme of yoga asanas at the Jaganmohan college under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore. Krishnamacharya made the flowing movements of Surya Namaskara the basis of his Mysore style yoga. His students K. Pattabhi Jois who created modern day Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and B.K.S Iyengar, both learned the Sun Salutations and flowing vinyasa movements between asanas from Krishnamacharya and used them in their styles of yoga. In these schools of yoga the twelve yoga asanas of the Sun Salutations are connected by jumping or stretching movements.
In the Ashtanga vinyasa style there are two Sun Salutations sequences, types A and B.

5. Benefits

The benefits of Surya Namaskar are too many to enumerate, here are some of them. The benefits of both Asanas and Pranayama are obtain with this practice:
Energetic: Surya Namaskara activates the Pingala nadi (Surya nadi) which enhances the energy level in the body.
Cardio respiratory: Improves cardiorespiratory function.The practice helps in optimum utilisation of the lungs and the respiratory function.
Digestive: Stimulates and balances all the systems of the body, including the digestive system. Stimulates the abdominal muscles and other internal organs.
Immunity: Boosts immunity. Improves metabolism.
Detox: The expansion and contraction of muscles helps in redirection of impure blood to the kidneys and fresh blood to the lungs.
Brain enhancement: Improves and increases mental awareness by bringing fresh , oxygenated blood to the brain. It enhances cognitive functions.
Weight Management: Practicing at a fast pace helps to burn fat and lose weight.
Skeletal impact: Improves the circulation to the spinal nerves and in turn tones all the muscular system as well as stretches all the articulations. Improves posture.
Meditative effect: Slow and rhythmic movements synchronized with regular deep breathing creates a meditative effect. These postures generate prana, the subtle energy, which activates the psychic body.

6. Precautions

The following are some GENERAL precautions to be kept in mind but please remember that this practice should always be taken up under the guidance of an experienced yoga instructor.
Surya namaskara should not be practised by people with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease especially in its dynamic form. A slow practice can be done under the guidance of a qualified Yoga teacher.
For the same reason, those who have had a stroke will avoid this practice.
People with back pain, sciatica, any spinal problems should consult and practice with appropriate modifications under the supervision of a qualified Yoga trainer.
Surya Namaska is not practiced during menstruation if one has heavy or painful periods, and during pregnancy. There are modified forms of Surya NAmaskar for pregnant women that you can learn from a Yoga teacher who has certified in prenatal Yoga.

How to practice

Always listen to your body and don’t use undue force . There are various modifications of the Surya Namaskar. There is even a Chair yoga version of the Surya Namaskar. So select a version which works for you.
Here are general guidelines for the practice:

Surya namaskara must be done on an empty stomach.

Keep your eyes open during the practice.
Initially breathe normally and once you are comfortable with the postures incorporate the breathing pattern .
Don’t strain the body and do not over stretch. Increase the practice gradually and with consistent practice your flexibility will improve.
Avoid jerky movements.
Don’t hold your breath and make sure that you smile while practicing to avoid straining yourself. The movements should be slow and gradual.

Each round generally takes 2 to 3 minutes to perform, depending on the speed and intensity of the practice.

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Additional information

Asanas with the Sun Mantras
Om Mitraya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the friend of all.
Pose: Pranamasana or Prayer Pose

Om Ravaye Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the shining one.
Pose: Hasta Uttanasana or Raised Arms Pose.

Om Suryaya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to he who induces activity.
Pose: Uttanasana or Standing Forward Bend.

Om Bhanave Namaha
Significance: Salutations to he who illumines.
Pose: Ashwa Sanchalanasana or Equestrian pose.

Om Khagaya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to he who moves quickly in the sky.
Pose: Phalakasana / Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana
or Plank Pose.

Om Pushne Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the giver of strength and nourishment.
Pose: Ashtanga Namaskar or Eight-Limbed Pose.

Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the golden cosmic self.
Pose: Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose.

Om Marichaye Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the Lord of the Dawn.
Pose: Parvatasana or Inverted V Pose.

Om Adityaya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the son of Aditi, the cosmic Mother.
Pose: Ashwa Sanchalanasana or Equestrian pose.

Om Savitre Namaha
Significance: Salutations to the stimulating power of the sun.
Pose: Uttanasana or Standing Forward Bend.

Om Arkaya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to he who is fit to be praised.
Pose: Hasta Utthanasana or Raised Arms Pose.

Om Bhaskaraya Namaha
Significance: Salutations to he who leads to enlightenment.
Pose: Pranamasana or Prayer Pose.

Ref. Article by Devdutt Pattanaik – Designing the Surya Namaskar – Indian mythology
Ref. Commentary of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Mukundananda

APMB book

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-ancient-origins-of-surya-namaskar-sun-salutation

https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/here-comes-the-sun/

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-origin-of-the-sun-salutation