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Written by Dr Ashwini Konnur,
The Sun is our primary light source, without which life on earth would be impossible. One could call the Sun, the visible God or Surya Deva. One simple way to express your gratefulness to Surya Deva is to practice Surya Namaskar or to simple bow down to the Sun, every morning.
Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit simply translates as ‘Sun salutation’. Surya Namaskar is a set of 12 powerful yoga postures that provide a cardiovascular workout to almost every part of the body. Scientifically, it is said that the Sun controls the solar plexus, a point behind the umbilicus i.e. center of the human body. Practicing Surya Namaskar regularly stimulates and regulates the solar plexus which in turn helps balance emotion and increase creativity and imagination. Apart from regulating the mind, Surya Namaskar helps strengthen the body and reduces excess body fat.
Chanting the Surya Namaskar mantra in every round enriches the benefits of Surya Namaskar which in turn develops more positivity. The body (through the physical movement), the mind (though the solar plexus) and the spirit (through the chanting of the mantra) benefits from practicing Surya Namaskar.
The Surya Namaskar Mantra (with meaning):
Om Mitraya Namah – I bow to the one who is friendly to all
Om Ravayre Namah – I bow to the shining and radiant one
Om Suryaya Namah – I bow to the one who is a guide to all
Om Bhanave Namah – I bow to the illuminant
Om Khagaya Namah – I bow to the one who is all-pervading and moves through the sky
Om Pushne Namah – I bow to the nourisher of the universe
Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namah – I bow to the creator
Om Marichaye Namah – I bow to the one who is destroyer of disease and who is light giver
Om Adityaya Namah – I bow to the son of Aditi, the cosmic divine Mother
Om Savitre Namah – I bow to the purifier
Om Arkaya Namah – I bow to the radiant and glory one
Om Bhaskaraya Namah – I bow to the giver of wisdom and cosmic illuminator
It is very important to practice Surya Namaskara in the right way with proper breathing practice. It is best done early morning on an empty stomach. One can also practice Surya Namaskar in the evening, at sun set. As Surya Namaskar includes a lot of stretches, it is important to find a spacious and well-ventilated room or any open space to enjoy doing it.
Always remember your body limitation. Never over stretch, respect your body. A beginner may be very enthusiastic and may be lured to replicate his/her fellow practitioner or instructor but recall that each body has different flexibility rate. There is no point in harming yourself to get a better stretch. As you practice your stretch will automatically get better. The inkling is not to compete with anyone but it is to benefit oneself and improve one’s positivity and health. As a beginner one could start with just two rounds and slowly rise to four rounds and then can reach up to 12 rounds which is ideal number to practice.
An expert Yogi might do up to 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar! This can be challenging and requires stamina, physical fitness and above all mental resolve and discipline. Regular practice of Surya Namaskar is a complete body workout and one can see the effects of their practice with increased energy through the day, better digestion, sharpness and focus.
It also strengthens shoulder muscles, tones the spine, promotes flexibility in back and hips. Surya Namaskar improves blood circulation, tones abdominal muscles and stimulates lymphatic system and also reduces excess body fat. It is an excellent way to manage stress and alleviate depression.
The 12 postures can be done in varying speeds and with some variations (10 or 12 postures). Those who are interested in reducing body fat could them at a faster pace and that may include only 10 postures (skip Shashankasana).
Speedy practice of Surya Namaskar is also a very good warm-up exercise. Surya Namaskar done in medium pace could be a great cardiac workout. A slow practice of Surya Namaskar, with focus on the breath is a great muscle toner and body strengthener. It relaxes your mind, body and soul.
Take the help of a yoga instructor to start your Surya Namaskar practice. This will avoid unwanted injuries and tissue damage to the body.
The 12 steps of Surya Namaskar:
Sthiti – Tadasana – Stand erect with legs together, bring your palms together as in Namaskar mudra.
Step 1 – Hasta Uttansana (Raised Arms pose)
While inhaling, lift both hands above your head and bend the trunk backwards.
Step 2 – Pada Hastasana (Forward Bend pose)
Bend forward while exhaling, keeping your spine straight and without bending your knee. Try to touch the forehead to the knee joint, palms on the floor on either side of the foot.
Step 3 – Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
Inhale and kick the right leg back, as far as possible. Push the buttock forward so that the left leg is perpendicular to the ground and look up.
Step 4 – Santulanasana (Balancing pose)
Exhaling take the left leg also back resting only on palms and toes. Keep the body straight from head to toes inclined to the ground at about 30 degree.
Step 5 – Shashankasana (Hare pose)
While inhaling, bend the legs at the knees and rest them on the floor with buttocks resting on the heels, without altering the position of the palms and toes. As you rest the forehead on the ground exhale. Relax and breathe normally.
Step 6 – Sastanga Namaskara (Salute with eight parts)
Exhale without shifting the positions of hands and toes and glide the body forward. Hold the breath and rest the forehead, chest, knees and toes on the ground. Raise the buttocks off the ground.
Step 7 – Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Inhale, rise the head and trunk making the spine concave upwards without lifting the position of the hands and feet. Arch the back as far as you can until the elbows are straight. Keep the knees off the ground.
Step 8 – Parvatasana (Mountain pose)
While exhaling, raise the buttocks, push the head down until the heels touch the ground without shifting the position of hands and feet.
Step 9 – Shashankasana (Hare pose)
Step 10 – Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
Inhale and bring the right leg in between the two hands. Arch the back concave upwards until the right leg is perpendicular to the ground.
Step 11 – Pada Hastasana (Forward Bend pose)
Exhale and bring the left foot forward next to the right foot and touch the knees with the forehead as in step 2.
Step 12 – Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms pose)
Inhale and roll the spine up and your hands go up and bend backwards. Exhale and return to Sthiti.
Although Surya Namaskar is beneficial in many ways it should be avoided by those suffering from inflamed joint problems, after a recent surgery, hypertension, vertigo and severe cardiac problems.
As you complete your Surya Namaskar, take time out to simply lie down and relax the body. It is advisable to lie down in Yoga Nidra to allow the body to adjust to the effects of the stretches. Daily practice of Surya Namaskar followed by Pranayama (breathing) and meditation is definitely the key to a healthy body and harmonious mind.
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