Here is a definition of suryanamaskara. The Sanskrit word surya means ‘sun’, and namaskara means ‘salutation’ or ‘worship’. Therefore, this practice is known as ‘salutation to the sun’ or simply “sun salutation”.
ryanamaskara is a dynamic exercise. It revitalizes the whole body, removes all signs of sleep and is excellent for preparing the body and mind so that the practitioner can get maximum benefits from the subsequent asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (science of breathing), meditational practices and so on. It loosens up all the joints, flexes all the muscles of the body, massages the internal organs, activates the respiratory and circulatory systems as well as helps to tone all the other systems of the body. In short, it harmonizes the whole body-mind complex.
The best time to practise suryanamaskara is early in the morning, with the rising sun. However, if you are someone who cannot wake up with the rising sun, then you can practise sun salutation at almost any time of the day and at any place.
It is important to note that you do not require any special preparations. If you feel tired during the day, a few rounds of suryanamaskara will quickly restore the lost vitality, both physically and mentally. And if you are feeling angry or depressed, suryanamaskara is an excellent antidote. It helps in removing emotional disturbances.
Surynamaskara is a rhythmical, symmetrical exercise which is really a pleasure to perform. When perfected, the body almost appears to flow through the different movements without any effort or conscious will. Each part of the body seems to move automatically into the right position at the right time and in the right sequence without any effort.
Importance of the sun
Can you imagine life on this earth without the heat and light from the sun? In truth, there would be no life and no movement. If the sun ceased to exist then life would be snuffed out like the flame of a candle.
The sun has been adored since time immemorial. Our ancestors indeed worshipped the sun with awe, knowing that it generates the heat and light necessary to sustain life. Most of the ancient civilizations developed religions which were based on sun worship. It was personified by various deities: Mithras of the Persians, Osiris of the Egyptians, Baal of the Chaldeans, Apollo of the Greeks and Surya, the Lord of the heavens in the vedic period of India, among others. All these deities represent rejuvenation of the world’s existence. For this reason, people from ancient civilization consecrated various temples and other places for the worship of the sun: the pyramids of Egypt, the Yucatan of Mexico, the Zigguruts of Babylonia and Chaldea.
“There is an earthly, material sun, which is the cause of heat; and all who are capable of seeing it, even those who are blind, can feel his heat. And then there is an eternal sun, which is the source of wisdom; and those who are spiritually awakened will see this sun and be conscious of His existence.”
~ Paracelsus, the medieval alchemist ~
Symbolic and spiritual significance
Let us consider the Hindu trinity – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer. These symbolize three aspects of life and relate directly to the daily movement of the sun. The passage of the sun comprises of three phases – the rising, the midday and the setting phase. In time these came to represent the three aspects of life – growth or creation, sustenance or maturity and death, destruction or decay.
Thus evolved Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma, the creator, symbolizes dawn, the time when things come alive and the daytime cycle starts again. Vishnu the sustainer, symbolizes daytime when the sun radiates energy into the world allowing things to grow and live. Shiva, the destroyer, symbolizes the setting sun, which takes with it the energy vibrations of the sun. Yet this disappearance of the sun is only a prelude to its resurrection the following morning. Sunset is necessary for the sun to rise again; decay is necessary for growth, replenishment and rejuvenation, in the same way as destruction of previous concepts is necessary for spiritual growth.
The sun itself is a symbol. It symbolizes spiritual illumination and knowledge, the light in the darkness of ignorance. Also, it represents the essence and the spirituality which exists in all material things. Therefore, it is this essence which is worshipped by the more enlightened people of the ancient cults and religions.
The rising of the sun is a time for joy and wonder as it actually raises all things from the dead. It restores life again on this earth. Human beings wake up in the morning while plants get energy from light, and via photosynthesis they produce oxygen which is vital for human beings. To tell the truth, without oxygen human beings will cease to exist.
Suryanamaskara consists of five essential aspects. In order to gain optimum results, the practitioner must follow all the five aspects accordingly . They are as follows:
There are twelve physical postures which correspond to the signs of the zodiac. During the sun’s apparent journey through the heavens it passes through each of these celestial houses in turn. It remains in each zodiac for about thirty days and triumphs over each sign as it enters its domain. As such, each position in suryanamaskara corresponds to one of these signs of the zodiac.
The whole movement of suryanamaskara from start to finish synchronizes with breathing. Each position associates itself with inhalation, exhalation or retention of breath. Thus, nothing is forced or unnatural, for the breathing corresponds to the pattern one would normally do in relation to the physical movement. Correct automatic breathing should occur naturally without any prior instructions.
They are associated with each of the twelve positions of suryanamaskara is a specific mantra. Thus, a mantra is a combination of syllables, sounds or phrases, realized by ancient sages, which have been widely known in India for thousands of years. Actually, mantras are evocative sounds and through their power of vibration have subtle, yet powerful and penetrating effects on the mind and body. While performing suryanamaskara, one needs to repeat a particular mantra silently or aloud with each position.
When we combine suryanamaskara with correct breathing and these bija mantras (seed sounds), we energize the entire mind and intellect. These bija mantras create a vibration and it is this which creates the energy. Mantras may or may not have specific meanings, but the vibrations which they create should reach every fibre of one’s being. The mantras of suryanamaskara are energized sound. When repeated loudly, clearly and with devotion, these mantras give the greatest possible benefits to those who utter them.
The “bija” or seed mantras are as follows:
- Om hram
- Om hrim
- Om hrum
- Om hraim
- Om hraum
- Om hrah
The full mantras, one for each movement of the exercise are:
- Om Hram Mitraya Namah
- Om Hrim Ravaye Namah
- Om Hrum Suryaya Namah
- Om Hraim Bhanave Namah
- Om Hraum Khagaya Namah
- Om Hrah Pushne Namah
- Om Hram Hiranyagarbhaya Namah
- Om Hrim Marichaye Namah
- Om Hrum Adityaya Namah
- Om Hraim Savitre Namah
- Om Hraum Arkaya Namah
- Om Hrah Bhaskaraya Namah
The meanings of these names of the sun are as follows:
- Mitra – friend
- Ravi – shining
- Sunn – beautiful light
- Bhanu – brilliant
- Khaga – who moves in the sky
- Pushan – giver of strength
- Hiranyagarbha – golden centred
- Marichi – lord of the dawn
- Aditya – son of Aditi
- Savita – beneficent
- Arka – energy
- Bhaskara – leading to enlightenment
However, before attempting to integrate these mantras with each position it is strongly advised to first perfect the physical movements and synchronize the breath in suryanamaskara to gain the maximum benefits.
It is vital to note that without awareness the many beneficial results are reduced.
On completing each round, the practitioner must relax. This is a supplementary practice that he must do without fail. We can adopt any relaxation technique, but the best method is shavasana (corpse pose).
Anyone can learn suryanamaskara to perfection. But you must be willing to persevere and practise regularly. In the first place you must familiarize yourself with the twelve postures. In the initial stage only be concerned with mastering the sequence of the physical movements, paying little or no heed to the breathing or mantra repetition. Eventually you will start to perform all the movements automatically, with little or no conscious thought or direction. Finally, the movements will be programmed into our subconscious mind.
Awareness of the physical movement is very important. After mastering suryanamskara, we must learn to correctly synchronize our breaths with our movements. Awareness should be on both the physical movement and the breathing. We can later learn the mantras and synchronize them with each position.
In the final stage the awareness should be directed as much as possible on the movement, breathing and mantra repetition. In its final form, suryanamaskara consists of these different aspects welded together to give an integrated whole.
Therefore, to make sure that the final practice is correct it is essential to master this technique in the progressive manner described.