– By Chitra Chandrasiri –
One of the best aspects of yoga is that you don’t need any specific equipment or a designated space to practice it. Yoga is accessible to everyone; you can practice it anywhere anytime. Although it is great to work with an experienced teacher, sometimes it is just not possible due to financial, personal or geographical restrictions. Good news is that you can get started with a safe home practice with the resources available online, videos and a good book as a guide as long as you are willing to approach it with consistency and commitment.
One of the biggest obstacles to doing yoga on your own is figuring out where to start and what to do when you first get on the mat. If you have been practicing yoga for a while, you are probably familiar with Sun Salutation or Suriya Namaskar. Many yoga teachers use it as a warm up at the beginning of a class or even base a whole session around it. If you learn this sequence with proper guidance, Suriya Namaskar is probably the best answer to getting started with a home practice on your own.
Suriya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 poses designed to be done in the direction of the sun, at dawn, sunset or any other time during the day. Practicing at least 4 rounds of Suriya Namaskar in the morning in empty stomach is a wonderful way to awaken your body. It is an effective sequence to make you strong, flexible and energetic. When you practice it every day you will feel that your body is getting stronger and flexible, your mind becomes clearer and you feel calm and relaxed.
The sequence of poses in Suriya Namaskar is designed to center you in your heart, to focus your mind, to energize your body and to give you inner strength. Pranamasana centers you, connecting you with your breath and your heart center. Uttanasana relaxes you while lengthening and energizing the spine. Looking up in Ardha Uttanasana gives you confidence to face whatever the day brings you. Astanga Namaskara or Chaturanga (advance variation) makes you stronger. Bhujangasana energizes the spine and open up the chakras while Parvatasana is a relaxing pose. Tadasana seals the sequence.
One of the most important things in Suriya Namaskar is synchronizing your breathing with your body movements. An easier way to remember this is to synchronize all upward movements with inhalation and downward movements with exhalation. For example, raising your arms over head and stretching up is coupled with inhalation and bending forward to touch your toes is coupled with exhalation.
One round of Suriya Namaskar consists of two complete sequences, the first leading with the right foot in steps 4 and 9, the second leading with the left. If you are a beginner, start by doing 4 rounds at slow pace gradually building up to 12 rounds as your body gets stronger and you can do each pose perfectly well. As you get more experienced with it, you can add other yoga poses such as Warrior I & II, Side Plank and Triangle etc for variation. Doing Suriya Namaskar at different pace has different effect; at slow pace it is calming, relaxing, stretching and toning the muscles in the entire body. If done at a fast pace it is an excellent cardiovascular workout for the whole body. With the guidance of a yoga teacher, young children can perform Suriya Namaskar with easier steps imitating animals and nature such as Upward facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, Cobra and Mountain etc.
Sun Salutation as the name suggests, is greeting the sun expressing gratitude for sustaining life on earth. It is not to be considered as a religious practice of worshiping the sun. It is a great way to start the day with an awareness and appreciation of what the sun provides; a simple gesture and an attitude of gratitude for the sun and the nature that we often take for granted.
Let’s begin with this simple yet effective yoga routine that is so versatile offering numerous health benefits.
Those with medical issues such as arthritis, slip disk, back pain and heart disease etc and pregnant women should consult a doctor before practicing Suriya Namaskar. Women should refrain from doing inverted poses (upside down poses) during menstruation and those who suffer severe cramping, lower back pain and severe loss of blood are advised to wait till the period is over before attempting yoga exercise. Suriya Namaskar can be performed during the first trimester of a pregnancy and in fact it is believed to promote easy delivery. Always remember to listen to your body while doing yoga.