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Saluting the Sun

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BODY'S BEST


April 2017


Saluting the Sun

‘Sun Salutation’ or Surya namaskara is a common and popular form of yoga practiced worldwide. Let’s look at the poses and the benefits we can gain by doing them.


Sun salutation is popular because the poses allow us to exercise our whole body. This set of 12 asana (postures) is best done outdoors, and if possible, facing the east in the early morning.


Before Yoga

Yoga is always done on an empty stomach and empty bowel. This is because having food in our gut can break the rhythm of our body when we are doing yoga.

Moreover, we may experience nausea, bloating or gas if we eat before doing yoga. Some people with certain gut conditions like diverticulosis (pouches forming in the wall of the large intestine) can end up with complications. For those planning to lose weight, doing yoga on an empty stomach can tap on the energy reserves in their body fat.

So, to get the most benefit out of yoga, we should avoid eating beforehand and empty our bowel as much as we can.

We need to be able to move without restriction, so wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothes – preferably cotton, which can absorb sweat and keep us cool and dry.

Next, we should invest in a lightweight but sturdy yoga mat, which can give us a strong grip and adequate padding to prevent injuries. The mat should also be easy to clean since we will be sweating a lot during yoga. We can also keep a hand towel nearby to wipe away sweat.

After looking for a suitable location where we will not be disturbed for about 30 minutes, we should place the yoga mat facing the sun. If indoors, we should place the mat facing the east.


Let’s do yoga!

One complete set of the sun salutation consists of 12 asana. Each asana has a special name in Sanskrit which is translated into English. The asana name describes the pose. We basically do step 1 to 5 followed by step 6 and 7, which are unique. Then step 8 to 12 is a repeat of step 1 to 5 in reverse.


In step 1pranamasana (prayer pose), we stand facing the east with our feet together, our hands hanging loosely by our side and our weight equally balanced on both feet. As we breathe in, we lift our arms up and while we breathe out, we put our palms together in front of our chest in a prayer pose. We are relaxed in this pose.

In step 2hastauttanasana (raised arms pose), we breathe in while lifting our arms up and back. We need to keep our upper arms close to our ears. At the same time, we tilt our neck slightly backwards and look up at an angle. In this pose, we get to stretch ourselves from the tips of our fingers to our heels.

Moving on to step 3hasta padasana (hand to foot pose), while breathing out we bend forward from the waist and stretch our arms as much as we can to reach our feet. We must keep our legs straight and try not to bend our knees. Over time, we may become flexible enough to place our palms on the floor next to our feet. This is yet another form of stretching. Then, we breathe out and move on to step 4.

For step 4ashwa sanchalanasana (equestrian pose), we breathe in while stretching our left leg back as far as we can and placing our right foot in between our arms. We place our palms flat on the floor and look straight ahead. Then, we breathe out and move on to step 5.

Step 5parvatasana (mountain pose), we breathe in and push our right leg back while stretching our arms to the front. Our feet should be flat on the floor to allow us to keep our legs straight. We should be looking down. Then, we breathe out and move on to step 6.

In step 6ashtanga namaskara (salute with eight parts or points), while breathing out we gently place our knees on the floor, lift our hips slightly and place our chin and chest on the floor. Our buttocks should be slightly raised. Our hands should be placed just below our shoulders with our palms flat on the floor. At this point, eight parts of our body are touching the floor – our hands, feet, knees, chest and chin. This can be a challenging pose but we can do it with daily practice.

For step 7bhujangasana (cobra pose), while breathing in we lift our chest up with our arms straight or slightly bent, push our shoulders back and look up. Our legs must be straightened and stretched to the back.

In step 8, which is the same as step 5, we breathe out, lift our hips, stretch our arms out and place our palms on the floor. Our legs should be straight with our feet placed flat on the floor. We need to look down.

For step 9, we breathe in and move back to the pose in step 4 except now our right leg is stretched back and our left leg placed between our arms with the left knee bent.

Breathing out, we move to step 10, which is the same as step 3 – we bend forward from the waist and stretch our arms as much as we can to reach our feet.

In step 11, which is the same as step 2, we breathe in while lifting our arms up and back. At the same time, we tilt our neck slightly backwards and look up at an angle.

While breathing out, we move to the last step, which is step 12. We lift our arms up and while we breathe out, we put our palms together in front of our chest in a prayer pose. This is the same as step 1 so we complete one set of sun salutation asanas.


A moment to reflect

Although we do the sun salutation step by step, our movement should be in a continuous flow from step 1 to 12 and in tune with our breathing. We can achieve this over time with daily practice.

We can also repeat step 1 to 12 several times – as many times as we can endure. Ultimately, we can do up to 12 repetitions in one session but reaching that level will take time and patience as we gradually build our strength.

Early cultures honoured the sun as the source of all energy and light in the universe; the principle behind the Sun Salutation is to ‘bow to’ and connect the inner self with the sun. The idea is that, by so doing, we absorb the life giving energy of the sun, which helps keep us healthy.

While we cannot prove that bowing to the sun grants any direct health benefits, a study found that regular practice of Sun Salutation did improve muscle strength, general endurance and reduce the percentage of body fat.

Note: This article is merely an explanation of the Sun Salutation asana and the various benefits. It is best to learn these asana under a trained yoga instructor. Do consult your doctor before starting yoga.

References:

1. CureJoy. Available at www.curejoy.com
2. The Art of Living. Available at www.artofliving.org
3. The Independent. Available at www.independent.co.uk
4. WebMD. Available at www.webmd.com
5. Yoga Journal. Available at www.yogajournal.com
6. US National Library of Medicine. Available at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov


















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