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Let the sun shine in

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 Let the sun shine in

(Or why you should practise the sun salutation every single day)

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The summer solstice is taking place tomorrow, 20 June 2020, at exactly 22.43pm (BST).  This is when the sun reaches its highest and northern most points in the sky and marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.  I've been planning to write a blog about the beautiful sun salutation sequence for a while. The eve of the summer solstice seems like the perfect time!

So what exactly is the sun salutation?

The sun salutation vinyasa is a well-known and much-loved practice within the yogic tradition comprising a series of twelve physical postures. It alternates between backward and forward bending poses that flex and stretch the spinal column and also massage, tone and stimulate all the muscles and vital organs of the body.

In fact, the sun salutation gives such a profound stretch to the whole body that it is said that few other forms of exercise can be compared with it and its regular practice is one of the most rapid methods of obtaining a supple body (Swami Satyananda Saraswati). 

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But although the physical benefits are important, the sun salutation is so, so much more than being just a physical practice. This blog is intended to help you to learn a little more about the rich tradition of this sequence to deepen your understanding and, hopefully, enhance your enjoyment.

To begin with, we should remember that the sun salutation has actually been handed down from the Vedic times many thousands of years ago with its origins in the ancient practices of worshipping the sun on a daily basis. The ancient texts actually state that a person who worships the sun becomes powerful, active, intelligent and lives a long life. 

In Sanskrit, the practice is known as surya namaskar, the word surya referring to the sun and the word namaskar meaning salutation and so we have come to know the sequence as the sun salutation.  However, if you study these beautiful words in a little more depth, the word namaskar may be more accurately translated as,

I bow my head with complete gratitude and offer myself to you wholeheartedly without being biased and partial.   

And the word surya as,

The one who expands and illuminates the world. 

So, when we do our daily surya namaskar, we are effectively bowing with complete gratitude before the one who illuminates the world.  This is what it means to be a true sun worshipper!

We also know that surya namaskar is a complete sadhana or spiritual practice because it includes the potential not just for the asana practice but for pranayama, mantra and meditation, too. 

We shall be taking a look at each of these elements in turn.

The Twelve Poses of the Sun Salutation Sequence.

Let’s begin by looking at the poses.

Classically, the sequence is made up of twelve asanas (although there are many variations) and their performance in a steady rhythmic sequence, reflects the rhythms of the universe: the twenty four hours of the day, the twelve zodiac phases of the year, the moods of the sun and the bio-rhythms of the body.  

The breath should ALWAYS be synchronised with the physical movements of surya namaskar. This is so, so important as this connection amplifies the benefits and ensures that you are breathing as deeply and rhythmically as possible. This will help to remove carbon dioxide from your lungs and replace it with fresh oxygen to revitalise your body and brain. 

shutterstock_129803654_613929886137The twelve poses in the classical sequence, together with the associated breath, are as follows:

Pranamasana/Prayer pose - Breathe out

Urdhva Hastasana/Upward salute - Breathe in

Uttanasana/Standng forward bend - Breathe out

Anjaneyasana/Lunge - Breathe in

Adho mukha svanasana/Down facing dog - Breathe out

Astanga namaskara/Eight point salute - Hold breath

Bhujangasana/Cobra - Breathe in

Adho mukha svanasana/Down facing dog - Breathe out

Anjaneyasana/Lunge - Breathe in

Uttanasana/Standng forward bend - Breathe out 

Urdhva Hastasana/Upward salute - Breathe in

Pranamasana/Prayer pose - Breathe out

 

The Twelve Surya Mantras.

Interestingly, every year, the sun passes through twelves different phases. In the west, these correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac. In Hindu astrology, these correspond to the twelve rashis, or moods of the sun, each mood having its own name or mantra.  

You can repeat each of these sun mantras in their respective order in conjunction with the twelve movements of the practice. I have recently developed a new found love for mantras and am slowly teaching myself each of the surya mantras. This is such a beautiful way to deepen your own practice!

Om Mitraraya Namaha - Salutations to the friend of all

Om Ravaye Namaha - Salutations to the shining one and the one who offers blessings on all life

Om Suryaya Namaha - Salutations to the dynamic aspect of the sun who induces activity

Om Bhanave Namaha - Salutations to the sun as guru who takes us from darkness to light

Om Kagaya Namaha - Salutations to the one who moves quickly through the sky

Om Pushne Namaha - Salutations to the giver of strength and nourishment

Om Hiranaya Garbhaya Namaha - Salutations to the golden cosmic self

Om Marichaye Namaha - Salutations to the Lord of the Dawn

Om Adityaya Namaha - Salutations to the son of Aditi, the infinite cosmic Mother

Om Savitre Namaha - Salutations to the stimulating power of the sun

Om Arkaya Namaha - Salutations to the source of all life energy

Om Bhaskaraya Namaha - Salutations to the one who leads us to enlightenment 

A Sun Salutation Meditation.

The ideal time to practise surya namaskar is at sunrise, the most peaceful time of day, in the open air. 

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Before commencing the practice, close your eyes and become aware of your whole body. Gently relax your whole body. Next become aware of the soles of your feet in contact with the earth, feel that any tension is being pulled down through the body and into the earth. At the same time, become aware of the vital force, the prana, surging up from the earth and infusing your whole being.

Finally, take a moment to meditate. Bring the awareness to the eyebrow centre and visualise a brilliant red rising sun infusing the whole body and mind with its vitalising and healing rays. Imagine facing the early morning sunrise (if you are not doing so already!). Breathe here for a few moments before you begin the physical practice (Swami Satyananda Saraswati).

Twelve Benefits of the Sun Salutation.

The regular practice of surya namaskar offers us so many benefits. The following are just a few. Use them to encourage you to maintain a daily practice.

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  • Stimulates agni (digestive fire) to improve digestion 
  • Tones the spinal nerves
  • Helps weight loss
  • Strengthens the leg and arm muscles
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Balances the endocrine system
  • Relieves constipation
  • Improves concentration
  • Removes congestion
  • Improves lymphatic drainage
  • Slows down degeneration of the brain
  • Delays degeneration of the body 

Twelve Important Contraindications and Guidelines.

Hopefully, knowing how beneficial the sun saluation is has encouraged you to practise more regularly but, as with any practice, it’s important to work safely and build up slowly. Begin with a daily/regular practice of 2/3 rounds slowly increasing the number of rounds you do until you can practise twelves rounds comfortably. 

And ALWAYS avoid the practice in the following circumstances:

  • If you have a high fever
  • If you have a severe migraine/headache
  • During the first two days of the menstrual cycle
  • If you have a hernia
  • If you are pregnant
  • If you have high blood pressure 
  • If you have a coronary condition
  • If you have had a stroke
  • If you have a serious back condition
  • In the hot sun or when you have been in the hot sun
  • On a full stomach
  • On a full bladder/bowel

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And finally, 

because I do love my poetry, a quote from one of my favourite poets:

Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth,

"You owe me."

Look what happens with a love like that,

It lights the whole sky.

- Hafiz

So beautiful.  

I really hope this blog has been helpful and inspired you to bring new elements into your practice.  Do drop me a line with any feedback about your experiences or if you’ve got any questions about this beautiful practice.  Always happy to help!

Namaste

Love,

Brenda X

Photo credit : Kelly Akers Photography; Shutterstock.

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  1. A drea

    Thank you for that explanation it means so much more now xx

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  2. Janet Carling

    Very interesting and makes me want to practice the sun salutation even more! Thank you. X

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  3. Annie Dunn

    Lovely blog Brenda. So helpful and informative. I especially like the idea of using the twelve surya mantras with the twelve movements. I love all the poems you incorporate into our practise. Thank you Annie ?xxx

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  4. Christine Taylor

    Very clear and extremely informative-thank you Brenda ?

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