Surya Namaskar is a Sanskrit term usually translated as Sun Salutation. It is a series of yoga movements traditionally practiced in the early morning to greet the sunrise, beginning with what the "Yoga Journal" calls Prayer pose: palms pressed together in front of the chest, fingers pointed up. This is the traditional greeting used by Indians as well as many yoga practitioners. It is usually accompanied by the word "namaste," which is a variant of "namaskar." These words have a similar meaning, which essentially acknowledges the divine essence of the person being greeted.
Of the five major types of yoga moves – forward bends, backward bends, balance poses, twists and inversions – Surya Namaskar's 12 positions incorporate mostly forward and backward bends. Because their movements work out the entire body, they are often practiced as a comprehensive routine. This especially common for those who don't have the time for a longer routine or who have not learned enough different poses yet to create their own balanced sequence.
Learning the Sequence
In beginning classes, the different positions of Surya Namaskar are often taught separately so that the student can memorize the movements in order to be able to later perform them in sequence without stopping in between. This adds a meditative aspect to the entire sequence. It is also helpful for beginners to practice the movements separately in order to fully experience how the different positions affect their body. If beginners have trouble with some of the more difficult movements, such as Four-limbed Staff pose, the instructor can suggest easier variations.
In its forward and backward bends, such as in the Standing Forward Bend, the third position in the sequence; Upward-Facing Dog, the seventh position; and Downward-Facing Dog, the eighth position, Surya Namaskar stretches the spine, hamstrings, calves and hips. Plank pose, the fifth position, and Four-limbed Staff pose, the sixth position, strengthen the arms and core muscles, including the abdominals. Yogasite.com shows a version of the sequence that includes two lunges, one on each side, performed as the fourth and ninth positions; the lunge stretches the groin, thigh and chest muscles.
Breathing correctly in Surya Namaskar is important for several reasons: Deep, regular breathing throughout the sequence strengthens respiratory muscles and floods the entire body with fresh oxygen. Breathing deeply and regularly contributes to the meditative quality of the sequence and leaves the practitioner feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Patricia Rockwood has been a professional copy editor and writer for more than 25 years. She is an avid gardener with a certified Florida backyard habitat. Rockwood has practiced yoga for more than 40 years and taught for much of that time. She is also a professional mosaic artist.