What ancient masters knew intuitively about yoga, modern science is seeking to quantify with statistics and in-depth studies. What cannot be measured though, is the way yoga makes you feel, as if you have done something important for yourself. Surya Namaskar, often used as the opening sequence in a yoga practice, is one such module that is in the spotlight for its many benefits.
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The History of Surya Namaskar
Known in the west as the Sun Salutations, Surya Namaskar was first developed thousands of years ago by the ancient Hindus who worshipped the sun, or Surya, as the creator of all things. The execution of Surya Namaskar is often presented visually with students ranged in a circle, suggesting that the roots of this practice were indeed inspired by a reverence for the sun. The root of Namaskar, namas, translates as "to bow or adore". At the start of every yoga class, students bring their hands together in front of their hearts to begin the first round of Surya Namaskar.
Surya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 postures that flow one into the other guided by the inhale and exhale of your breath. The first posture is Mountain pose. It is in fact, the posture that should begin every yoga practice; not just the Sun Salutation. Some of the more recognizable poses that comprise the Sun Salutations are Upward and Downward Dog and Four-Limbed Staff poses. Always starting and ending in a standing position, you'll engage every major muscle group as you stretch and ground into every pose. Linking the postures with your breath ensures the safe execution of every pose that demands exertion and the release of tension when in counter-pose. Attempt each pose in the Surya Namaskar series before you string them together. Discover the nuances of the postures and be aware of your limits. Surya Namaskar yoga is a challenging undertaking, but with practice can be enjoyed for its many benefits.
Each one of the postures in Surya Namaskar was designed to benefit a portion of the body. The very first act of bringing the palms together in front of the sternum facilitates the spreading of the scapula which can become scrunched during a normal day of stress. When lowering into Plank Pose, the triceps are engaged and by holding the pose a few seconds longer, strengthened. The legs are engaged in alternately stretching and grounding into a pose such as Warrior Two. By maintaining this posture for the length of several breaths, the quadriceps of the forward bending leg along with the hamstrings of the back outstretched leg are strengthened with the effort of keeping you balanced. Contracting your abs throughout the series will ensure the safety of your lower back and have the added benefit of whittling your waist.
As with a regular yoga practice, you'll enjoy the stress-relieving, mood-enhancing benefits of Surya Namaskar. It's not just the repetitive motions, but the deep and regulated breathing that gives you the sensation of "getting away from it all." Your complete focus is on what you're doing and not anything else that might cause you stress.