We often get asked why we practice Surya Namaskar, in every class so we thought we’d write a blog to shed some ‘light’ on the subject. In Sanskrit Surya means Sun and Namaskar means ‘to bow down’, so we are ‘saluting’ the Sun. It’s a sequence of flowing poses done with the rhythm of the breath which has physical and mental benefits. We also practice it to honour the Sun which gives us energy, if there wasn’t a Sun life would cease to exist on the planet.
As mentioned before, the breath is synchronised with the movements of the body, you inhale during backward bending postures and exhale during forward bending postures. The synchronising of deep breathing with movement is essential as it helps to detoxify the blood and relax the body. More importantly, focusing on breath helps to bring you into the present moment. The first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras translates to ‘Yoga is Now’, so when you’re in the present moment you’re practicing Yoga.
Let’s look a little deeper into the benefits of saluting the sun:
1. Strengthens the Spine
The poses alternate between forward and backwards bends, these movements stretch and flex the spine through its total range of motion. This improves the flexibility of the spine and also stimulates blood flow to the spine and central nervous system CNS) keeping them healthy. It is essential to have a healthy CNS because all thoughts that flow through the mind, every action and emotion experienced in the world flows through the CNS. Without it we wouldn’t survive. A healthy spine ensures that we maintain mobility; “The yogi will tell you that you feel and look as young as your spine is elastic”. Richard Hittleman
2. Helps you Detox
The sequence requires you to inhale and exhale deeply; this process ventilates the lung thoroughly and oxygenates the blood. Raised oxygen levels in the body also acts to de-toxify the blood by getting rid of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases via the lungs. Oxygen also plays a vital role in every metabolic process in the body. Nutrient compounds inside our cells are oxidised by enzymes and this process is our main source of energy. So practice Sun Salutes to raise your energy levels!
3. Helps to Lower Stress and Increase Immunity
When we control and deepen our breath, like we do in Surya Namaskar, we help calm ourselves right into a state of bliss. How? Well, like all forms of yoga, it helps to reduce anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is responsible for the rest and relax response in the body, meaning the body is not in a state of stress. When the body not under stress, the heart rate is reduced and it invests its energy in nourishing the organs. This in turn strengthens the immune system because the organs, stimulated by blood, are functioning optimally.
4. Improves Digestion and Helps with Weight Loss
In the same way the forward and backwards bends, stimulate the spine, they also increases blood flow to the abdominal organs by stretching and compressing them. This improves your digestive system and is great for alleviating constipation when practiced on an empty stomach. Surya Namaskar can give you an excellent cardiovascular workout helping you to lose weight. Your abdominal muscles are also strengthened meaning that your core muscles get a great workout...bring on the 6 pack!
5. Stills the Mind and Makes you Happy
This sequence can become a moving meditation when you’re focused on your breath and there are many fantastic reasons to engage in any type of meditative practice. When you focus the mind on stillness regularly, it gives you the skills to consciously quiet your mind whenever you feel overwhelmed. The deep relaxation brought on by meditation triggers the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and oxytocin (amongst others). These neurotransmitters are linked to happiness. Serotonin has a calming effect; it eases tension and helps us feel less stressed and more relaxed and focused. Oxytocin creates feelings of calm, contentment, and security, while reducing fear and anxiety.
Practicing Surya Namaskar is very beneficial for your body and your mind, plus they are the BEST way to start or end your day. . If you regularly practice the sequence, you’ll notice that you’ll get stronger and your mind will become clearer. Even if you can’t make it into Western Wellness, practicing a few rounds at home will lift the mood and calm the mind.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)