By Anu Ahluwalia
April 1997 O Sun, your golden body covers the door to truth in the manner a lid covers the mouth of a vessel. Please open this door and lead me to the truth
O Sun, your golden body covers the door to truth in the manner a lid covers the mouth of a vessel. Please open this door and lead me to the truth Surya, the sun, is venerated because it is the central source of energy in our solar system. Its warmth, brilliance and purity take the form on Earth of vital life energy. Since the beginning of history, man has looked towards this radiant star in awe, and longed to imbue himself with its energy and its radiance. Yoga believes that just as we are all a part of this unfathomable universe, we too have a universe within us. It is for us to explore this universe within and find its sun, the central source of energy and wisdom, which governs us. Surya Namaskar, or Salutation to the Sun, is a sequence of 12 asanas, to draw in peace, harmony and strength in the body. Each step flows into the next in a graceful and continuous movement and is performed facing the rising sun, in the spirit of devotion. This series of exercises activates the endocrine glands and the chakras (vortexes through which the vital life energy or prana is channeled into us) energizing the entire body in a balanced way. Surya Namaskar accords overall strength and flexibility to the body, which is why it is generally performed before other asanas. The simple exercises fight aging and rejuvenate the entire body. They nurture the higher emotions of love, peace, and compassion, bringing about a sense of harmony and well-being. While performing the steps, breath coordination and awareness of the chakras is required. There are 12 mantras or alternatively 12 seed (beej) mantras, which may also be mentally repeated with each step. In the initial stages, try to coordinate the steps with breathing. Proper breath control is essential for the flow and control of prana. Once you are comfortable with the flow of the asanas, awareness of the chakras and mantra recitation can be incorporated at each step. Often, we are hard-pressed for time on weekdays for a complete yoga session. On such days seven or more rounds of Surya Namaskar followed by savasana will suffice.
A complete yoga session can be done on the weekend. This way you build flexibility, strength and balance without investing too much time. Ideally, these exercises should be performed early in the morning, exposing your body to the sun's rays. But if, for some reason, it cannot be performed in the morning you may do so in the evening on an empty stomach, in a well ventilated room. Initially, you may start with three rounds and gradually build up the stamina for 10 to 12 rounds. Practice the exercises at the pace you feel comfortable with. If you feel tired after a few rounds, rest by lying down with eyes closed for a few minutes. Avoid jerks and never push your body into a state of discomfort. Unlike Jane Fonda's much touted phrase 'Go for the bum', in yoga pushing your body beyond its limit is not recommended, and you yourself are the most qualified to define your limit. But be honest in discriminating between a lack of will power and bodily discomfort to ensure that you pull through the exercise plan. It is advisable, therefore, to keep it regular, at a fixed time and location, else you will find your laziness getting the better of you. Gradually your system will gain strength and you will be able to perform these exercises almost effortlessly, and the days you skip the routine, you will feel as if you have missed out on your daily dose of energy. Remember, Surya Namaskar is more than an exercise plan, it is a form of devotion to the Central source of life on Earth, and more importantly, the source of light within us. Exhale and told your hands in front of your chest in the gesture of a prayer, bringing your awareness to the heart center. Om Mitraya Namah. Inhale deeply and raise your hands up and stretch backwards with your eyes open. Bring your awareness to the throat center. You may not be able to bend back very far initially, so go as far as you can without discomfort. To avoid feeling giddy keep your eyes open and focused at a fixed point. Hold for a few seconds and gently move into the next step. Om Ravaye Namah. Exhale and bend down completely to touch the floor with the palms of our hands. If you are not able to bend completely, bend as far as possible and then bend your knees to rest your palms on the ground. Slowly your body will gain flexibility to accomplish this step properly. Bring your awareness to the root of the spine. Om Suryaaya Namah. Inhale and bend the left leg while stretching the right leg backward with your toes and knees touching the ground. Lift your gaze towards the sky, bringing your awareness on the forehead center. Do not release your breath. Om Bhanave Namah. Retain the breach, move the other leg back and lift both knees off the ground. The heels, hips, head moves in one line, in a push up position. Bring your awareness to the neck center. Om Khagaya Namah. Exhale and bring our body to the ground. In this position, known as ashtanga namaskar, or eight curved positions, only eight parts of the body touch the ground two feet two knees, two hands, chest and forehead. The abdominal region is raised and if possible the nose is also kept off the ground, with only the forehead touching it. Bring your awareness to the navel. Om Pushne Namah. Inhale while slowly raising your trunk, straighten the arms and bend your head backwards. Bring your awareness to the root of the spine. Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namah. Exhale and form an inverted 'V' as done in step five, bring your awareness to the neck center. Om Marichaye Namah. Inhale and come down in to the posture at step four, folding the left leg and stretching the right leg. Bring your awareness to the forehead. Om Adityaya Namah. Exhale and raise your body into the bending position as in step three, bringing your awareness to the root of spinal column. Om Saavitre Namah. Inhale and raise yourself completely stretching backwards as in step three, and bring your awareness to the neck center. Om Arkaya Namah Exhale and bring your hands in the same position as in step one. bringing your awareness to the heart center. Om Bhaskaraya Namah. This concludes one round of Surya Namaskar. Bring your hands down to the side after each round. Relax and observe your body with your eyes closed. Begin the next round only after you feel prepared. Notice that the position of hands on the floor remains at the same spot throughout one round.
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