Surya means sun and namaskara means salutations. Surya namaskara is a series of twelve physical postures which is practiced as an offering to sun, which symbolizes spiritual consciousness. The twelve postures are woven in a manner which gives complete movement to spinal column and other joints and limbs of body. All postures are practiced with breath rhythm which makes practice more complete and profound.
What is Surya Namaskara
Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation has a special place in all yogic traditions. This is because yoga understands life processes as an intimate interconnection with the cosmos. The sun that we see in the distant sky is not a separate entity but forms a cohesive unit of total life that flourish on Earth. Without sun life will be impossible on Earth. This mutual dependence of life was clearly understood by the ancient yogis who developed this powerful system of Surya Namaskara.
There is ample evidence about the periodic changes on the surface of sun and its correlation with terrestrial phenomena. With this integrated practice of Surya Namaskara we become aware of the effects of the sun on our lives and can attune ourselves with the cosmic nature and revitalize our lives.
Surya Namaskara is a series of 12 physical postures which combines the effects of Yogasana and Pranayama. Surya Namaskara is practiced at sunrise facing the sun. It can also be practiced during sunset. Surya Namaskara flexes and stretches the spinal column and limbs through their maximum range. The series of asanas in Surya Namakara gives such a profound stretch to the whole of body that it becomes a complete form of exercise. In yoga the sun is represented by pingala or surya nadi, the pranic channel which carries the vital, life-giving force. Hence Surya namaskar is an excellent practice of activating prana (life force) in our system.
Surya Namaskara warms-up our body and brings about the general flexibility in the body preparing it for Asana and Pranayama. It helps to revitalize and refresh our body and mind at the dawn so that we can productively utilized the day till dusk. It can be practiced in three different phases. Each phase has its own distinct benefits.
1. Slow pace helps to make body flexible
2. Medium pace helps to tone the muscles
3. Fast pace is excellent cardiovascular workout and also helps in weight loss
Pranayama is a vast field of yoga, which utilizes certain breathing techniques to help us understand the essence of prana. The Rishis (sages) have linked prana with the breath in its gross form, hence they initiated a complete system of breathing techniques, that initially would help them to understand their breath at the physical level and then to realize the essence of prana. Each technique has its own benefits but there are at least five common benefits for all pranayama i.e. breathing techniques.
Breath is the most vital process of the body. It is the closest thing to us and yet the most forgotten. No matter what we eat, how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, how skinny or young or wise we are—none of it will matter unless we’re breathing correctly. Yet, the truth is that our capacity to breathe has been deteriorating through the years and the main reason is the stressful lifestyle. Research have clearly shown that more than the average of people is breathing incorrectly, which lead them to a list of many chronic diseases.
In ancient times, the hatha yoga masters had understood that our life span is depended on the rhythm of the respiration. By observing the animals, they noticed that animals with slow breath rate such as tortoise have longer life span than those animals with high breath rate, such as dogs. For this reason they started to begin aware of their breath and focused on their breathing patterns. After long observation and realization the Hatha Yogis introduced a complete system of breathing techniques, which at the gross level is related to the breath and at the subtle level is related to higher level of consciousness through the expansion of prana. This system is called ‘Pranayama’
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the classical texts and the most influential on hatha yoga, mentions eight pranayama. That is Suryabheda, Ujjai, Seetkari, Sheetali, Plavini, Moorcha, Brahmari, Bhastrika. Each one of them has certain benefits and certain contraindictions. Some benefits are common for all pranayama – breathing techniques.
All pranayama techniques increase lungs’ capacity
Pranayama ‘trains’ the muscles of respiration and the respiratory organs. It strengthens the respiratory muscles and it helps the lungs to become more elastic, resulting in a healthier process of breathing. The techniques of pranayama draw sufficient air to the lungs and allow more time for the oxygen to mix with the blood flow. The oxygenated blood will be transported to the cells, which are nourished by it.
All pranayama techniques alleviate heart diseases & hypertension:
The breathing techniques of pranayama minimize the stress on the cardiac system by slowing down the breath. When the breath is slow it gives rest to the heart. Coronary muscles are relaxed without reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain and the other body parts, resulting in a balanced blood pressure and healthy heart.
All pranayama techniques harmonize the endocrine system
During breathing techniques the circulation of the blood is very active and its quality very rich, because of the oxygen supply. The rich supply is brought to the endocrine glands, it enhances their function and along with the regulated breathing helps to balance the system.
All pranayama techniques harmonize the autonomic nervous system
All the major structures of the respiratory system have nerves related to the autonomic nervous system. Inhalation brings in oxygen and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Exhalation brings out the carbon dioxide and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Hence, both hemispheres of the nervous system are stimulated, which results to their balance.
By understanding pranayama we understand how the billions of molecules we bring in with each breath have built our bones, sheaths of muscle, blood, etc. By understanding pranayama we realize that breathing techniques are a very powerful medicine, because breathing in different patterns can really influence our overall health.