surya namaskar asanas

Surya Namaskar is a graceful sequence of twelve asanas, poses performed as one continuous exercise.

Components of Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar is composed of three main elements – asana form (alignment), energy and rhythm (breath) and manthras (japa/bija). Chakras, energy centers and bandhas, locks, are not addressed in this post.

Twelve Asanas

This version begins and ends with Samastithihi – translated as Even Standing. Stand lifted from the base of your spine with your feet hip-width apart. Arms are resting on either side with palms facing forward – open and ready to receive from the practice. This position is in addition to the twelve asanas of the original sequence.

One full round of Surya Namaskar consists of two sets of the twelve asanas is listed below. You may practice the Samskritham pronunciation of each asana by listening to the audio clips.

Samastithihi

Pose #

Asana

English Name

Breath

1. Pranamasana

Prayer Pose Exhale
2. Hasta Uttanasana

Raised Hand Inhale
3. Pada Uttanasana

Forward Bend Exhale
4. Ashva Sanchalasana

Equestrian Pose Inhale
5. Parvatasana

Mountain Pose Exhale
6. Ashtanga Namaskar

Eight-Point Pose Suspend
7. Bhujungasana

Cobra Inhale
8. Parvatasana

Mountain Pose Exhale
9. Ashva Sanchalasana

Equestrian Pose Inhale
10. Pada Uttanasana

Forward Bend Exhale
11. Hasta Uttanasana

Raised Hand Inhale
12. Pranamasana

Prayer Pose Exhale

Differences in Traditional Version

  • Asana #3 Variation – this asana is sometimes reffered to as Pada Hastasna (Foot to Hand) or Hasta Padasana (Hand to Foot) pose. In Pada Hastana, your hands are placed under your feet and hence considered different from this version.
  • Asana #4 Variations:
    • Hands placed in prayer position
    • Hands placed beside the feet
    • Asana replaced by Anjaneyasana – where the arms are raised upward, palms interlaced with index fingers pointed. (Bihar School of Yoga Version)
  • Asana #5 is sometimes substituted with Adho Mukha Shvanasana, Downward Facing Dog. In Parvatasana, the body weight is centered and may be used as a resting pose. Adho Mukha Shvanasana the body weight is over the legs and is a very active and dynamic pose.

Breath

“Think of your body as a wind instrument. Your breath is the wind through the instrument. For asana practice, your body is the instrument through which the breath, the carrier of prana – life force flows” says Eric Schiffman. The right flow of the breath produces the right music. Similarly your breath, ignites the prana and initiates movment through exhales and inhales. This provides a steady rhythm for stretch and release.

In the begining, coordinating the movement with the breath can be a challenge. Many times I have been asked ‘how fast should sun salutations be performed?’ It is the breath that dictates the pace and rhythm of every Surya Namaskar. If you are concentrating on how quickly you are coming in and out of each pose, then you are not working with the breath.

Check colunm #4 in the above table. Do you notice a pattern for inhales and exhales? Each time the body opens up and out, the chest cavity expands and you will inhale. Each time the body folds and closes in, the chest cavity narrows and you exhale.

Start with regular breath. Once you become familar with the asanas and comfortable with the sequence, Ujjaiyi breathing may be introduced. This breath is both energizing and calming. It must be practiced separately in a seated pranayama, breathing practice before adapting it into movement. It takes a qualified teacher, mastery in transitions and disciplined practice to introduce Ujjaiyi breath in Surya Namaskar. In time you will become skillful at making breath and movement inseparably entwined. With repeated practice – Abhyasa, your concentration is refined in preparation for meditation. 

Surya Namaskar Manthras

There are two sets of manthras for the traditonal Surya Namaskar – bija or seed manthra. and Japa Manthra, which is essentially a longer version of the bija mantra. You may practice the Samskritham pronunciation of each Japa manthra by listening to the audio clips.

Japa Manthra

# Asana Japa manthra (Sanskrit) Japa Manthra (English)

Salutations to the One Who

1. Pranamasana ॐ मित्राय नमः

AUM Mitraya Namaha  Befriends  all
2. Hasta Uttanasana ॐ रवये नमः

AUM Ravaye Namaha Causes change
3. Pada Uttanasana ॐ सूयार्य नमः

AUM Suryaya Namaha Source of Creation
4. Ashva Sanchalasana ॐ भानवे नमः

AUM Bhanavay Namaha Illuminates
5. Parvatasana ॐ खगाय नमः

AUM Khagaya Namaha Moves in the sky
6. Ashtanga Namaskar ॐ पूष्णे नमः

AUM Pushnay Namaha Giver of strength and nourishment
7. Bhujangasana ॐ हिरण्यगर्भाय नमः

AUM Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha Golden Cosmic womb
8. Parvatasna ॐ मरीचये नमः

AUM Marichaye Namaha Powerful rays of the Sun
9. Ashva Sanchalasna ॐ आदित्याय नमः

AUM Adityaya Namaha Son of Cosmic Mother,  Adithi
10. Pada Uttanasana ॐ सवित्रे नमः

AUM Savitray Namaha Beneficial to all
11. Hasta Uttanasana ॐ अर्काय नमः

AUM Arkaaya Namaha Source of Life Energy
12. Pranamasana ॐ भास्कराय नमः

AUM Bhaskaraya Namaha Guides to Enlightenment

Bija Manthra

# Asana Poses Breath Bija Manthra  Sanskrit

Bija Manthra  English

1. Pranamasana Prayer Pose Exhale ह्राम् AUM Hram
2. Hasta Uttanasana Raised Hand Inhale ह्रीम् AUM Hrim
3. Pada Uttanasana Forward Bend Exhale ह्रुम् AUM Hrum
4. Ashva Sanchalasana Equestrian Pose Inhale हैृम् AUM Hraim
5. Parvatasana Mountain Pose Exhale ह्रौम् AUM Hraum
6. Ashtanga Namaskar Eight-point Pose Suspend हृह AUM Hraha
7. Bhujangasana Cobra Inhale ह्राम् AUM Hram
8. Parvatasna Mountain Pose Exhale ह्रीम् AUM Hrim
9. Ashva Sanchalasna Equestrian Pose Inhale ह्रुम् AUM Hrum
10. Pada Uttanasana Forward Bend Exhale हैृम् AUM Hraim
11. Hasta Uttanasana Raised Hand Inhale ह्रौम् AUM Hraum
12. Pranamasana Prayer Pose Exhale हृह AUM Hraha

Other Versions

You will find several versions of Surya Namaskar such as Surya Namaskar A and B  by Beryl Bender Birch, especially in Ashtanga yoga. Here the number of asanas in the each sequences varies – 10 (A) or 18 (B). These are used as warm-ups in many yoga studios. Adding other asanas into the traditional sequence called Vinyasa flow is popular as well. Once you have mastered the original sequence, you will be able to expand the vinyasa safely.

However, if you are choosing to make Surya Namaskar a spiritual practice, then begin with the traditional sequence with the bija/japa manthras. Add the Ujjaiyi breath and learn how to focus on chakras and bandhas (advanced practices) to enhance concentration, Dharana and prepare for Dhyana, meditation.

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Next Post: Surya Namaskar Abhyasa

 

surya namaskar salutations to the sun

The Sun. Topic of many a conversation.

We complain when the Sun unleashes its glory – a scorching summer day. But we endure knowing it is shortlived at the approach of cold weather. We also complain that the Sun is not warm enough – a dark, freezing winter day. When a ray of sunlight cuts through the curtain of darkness it is a mood altering moment. It has a potential to transform a frown to a smile, letheragy to action and sadness to joy. It’s no wonder yogis all over the world raise their hands up in gratitude when the clouds part for the sun.

rising_sun

As we step on the yoga mat to begin our salutations to this wonderous cosmic light, a feeling of reverence is essential to invoke its grace. To avoid making sun salutations just another form of exercise, here are a few thoughts on the origin and history of this ancient tradition to help evoke reverence in your personal practice.

Origins

The Samskritham (Sanskrit) name for Sun Salutations is Surya Namaskar, सूर्यनमस्कार.

Surya, the Sun is revered as a form of God, in Hindu philosophyThe word Surya is derived from the root ‘sur’ to shine or ‘svir’ to promote wellness.

The ancient texts – the Vedas and Upanishads consider the elements of the universe –the sun, moon, earth, air, water – sacred. Surya has been represented by various names (nama) and forms (roopa). Among other names, Surya is called Savitar, Vivasvat, Aryaman and is adored for health, strength, courage and most importantly for igniting the light of spiritual consciousness.

Rig Veda, oldest of the four Vedas, salutes Surya as Shipivishta, the one who enters everywhere with the nutrient power, an energy source; yogis refer to the same as Prana.

In Vedic rituals, Surya was denoted as a wheel (on coins), gold plate and a lotus flower. In 200-100BC, Surya was represented as a globe with radiating rays on coins. Surya in human form, represented on coins goes back to Greek and Persian origins.

Svastika, स्वस्तिक, symbolizing the Sun, has been found in the prehistoric remains of Spain, Portugal, and Greece and in Native American tribes.

The science behind the lines of the Svastika:

The four arms of the Svastika indicate the position of the Sun at midnight, sunrise, noon and sunset. The four short lines of directions and the four points of cosmic cross indicate the apparent movement of the Sun from East to West. This figure symbolizes the reproductive aspect of the Sun, was taken as the symbol of fertility, luck and auspiciousness.

Reverence

There are many mantras, hymns in the name of Surya. A few are mentioned below.

The most famous among them is the Gayathri Mantra, revealed to Sage Vishvamitra. Daily prayers included chanting of the Gayathri Mantra, Arghya (offering of water) at dawn, noon and dusk.

Surya Gita, Song of the Sun, is a portion of the text called Tattvasarayana, composed by Sage Vashishtha. The first translation was printed in 1904. It is a dialogue between Surya and his charioteer Aruna on the cause and effect of one’s actions in the process of the evolution of the soul.

Surya Dvadasha Naman, is another text that includes verses for the Sun in twelve different forms relating to the monthly Zodiac signs.

Adithya Hrudhayam, the One shining in the heart, is a prayer given to Lord Rama by Sage Agastya during his battle against the demon king Ravana to save his consort, SitaThe names praising the Sun are in verses 10 – 13. The last sentence in the verse 15 states “Salutations to Thee who is the One being manifest in the twelve forms”.

This is a popular hymn and is used as a therapeutic and spiritual antidote. Astrologers and priests advise those with various problems to chant this hymn with the right intention each day for 12, 24, 48 or 108 days.

The festival called Makara Sankrathi or Pongal in the name of Surya, is observed all over India since seventh century A.D. On this day, the first harvest is offered to Surya in gratitude for showering His energy and light for health, fertility and sustenance of all beings.

Although any day of the week can be used for worship of Surya, Sunday is considered auspicious. Sages and yogis rose before sunrise to complete their ablutions and to catch a glimpse of dawn’s first rays by prostrating to the cosmic light.

Twelve Prostrations

The traditional Surya Namaskar consists of twelve asanas, poses arranged in a specific vinyasa, sequence. Although other vinyasas have been created, the bija (seed) mantras are twelve in number and not generally used in longer sequences.

Why twelve? Here is probably a clue to the origin of twelve asanas and mantras in the current practice of traditonal Surya Namaskar.

The pre-Vedic period refers to six major solar deities called Surya, Savitar, Vishnu, Pushan, Mitra and Ushas. However, throughout the Rig Veda twelve solar deities collectively referred to as Aditya, sons of Aditi, the Vedic Goddess of space/ether were popularly used in worship.

In addition, the Yajur Veda, contains a complex set of verses called Surya Namaskar Prashnam.  The number of individual mantras is 130. The person who recited these verses had to prostrate before the Sun after each individual mantra, thus prostrating 130 times.

This practice of prostrations was later adapted as twelve prostrations in the Hata Yoga version of Surya Namaskar. The twelve solar deities, Adityas were then used to create the coresponding bija (seed) mantras to accompany the prostrations.

Sun Meditation

This is an energizing and reverential way to begin your day.

Sit outside in your yard or on a bench in a nearby park. Face the sun and close your eyes.  Wrap your whole body with sunlight. Allow the golden rays of the sun circle around you, starting near you and then spreading in concentric circles to encircle your loved ones far and near, and finally the whole world. 

yogasonnenuntergang_jpeg

If you are not able to go outside because of  winter, seat yourself near a window facing the east sun. Align yourself with its energy and meditate on its golden rays. Visualize the sun’s light entering your physical body for healing and renewal. 

Feel the light and warmth on your skin. Let your heart be open with gratitude. Let your negative thoughts be transformed into loving, generous thoughts. Stay with the rhythm of your breath and sit for as long as your heart wants. You can chant the Divine Light Prayer printed below if you like.

Divine Light Prayer  by Swami Sivananda Radha

Fill your entire being with the Light. Breathe deeply and affirm:

I am created by Divine Light

I am sustained by Divine Light

I am protected by Divine Light

I am surrounded by Divine Light

I am ever growing into Divine Light

Slowly exhale and relax. Feel the warm glow of Divine Light suffuse your entire body, outside as well as inside. Acknowledge silently to yourself:

“Every cell of this my physical body is filled with Divine Light;

Every level of my consciousness is illumined with Divine Light.

The Divine Light penetrates every single cell of my being,

Every level of consciousness.

I have become a channel of pure Light.

I am One with the Light.”

When you are done, take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes. Starting with a downward gaze allow the eyes to slowly roam. See the world around you that has been lit up by the sun – as if you are discovering it for the very first time. Try to hold on to the effects of the meditation as you go about your day.

Wisdom

The idea of introducing the history of ancient practices is to add reverence to a very physically-oriented practice of Surya Namaskar. Setting aside the idea of a perfect body image and replacing it with gratitude can deepen the practice of yogasana.

In yoga philosophy the Sun represents health and vitality – mental and physical. By practicing Surya Namaskar with all its components, we bring health to our body, peace to the mind and joy to the heart. When practiced with a meditative mind and a devotional heart, sun salutes aide in developing santosha, contentment, vairagya, detachment and prepares the mind for Dharana, yogic concertration.

Ancient yogis taught that each of us are replicates of the universe at large, with rivers, seas, mountains, stars, planets, sun and the moon – within us. (Shiva Samhita 11.1-3) The ‘outer sun’ they asserted is in reality an extention of our own ‘inner sun’ – the subtle spiritual heart. On this ‘the inner teacher’ our wisdom guide – we place our deep faith and begin our daily practice.

Next Post: Surya Namaskar Asanas 

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Saraswati, Satyananda Swami.1930. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra Bandha. Bihar School of Yoga. Munger, India.