In Indian tradition and culture, Yoga has always been a part of the daily regime for attaining and sustaining a healthy life. Yoga, unlike the sport or the exercise, is a discipline of life that is comprised of 8 stages – also known as Ashtang Yoga - yam (code of conduct, self-restraint), niyam (religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion), asana (integration of mind and body through physical postures), pranayam (regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body i.e. controlled breathing), pratyahar (abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects), dharana (concentration, one-pointedness of mind), dhyan (meditation) and Samadhi (the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state).
Ashtang Yoga was a part of the Dinacharya (daily regime) and was followed to attain the main aim of Ayurveda, which is to maintain the good health of a healthy person and then, cure the diseased.
Thus, Yoga was followed in daily regime. Though there were variations in Yoga over a period of time, Surya Namaskar slowly became well known. Surya namaskar literally means the salutations or greetings (namaskar) offered to sun (Surya) by bowing. The origins of Surya Namskar are not so well known but many references connect to Sant Ramdas Swami of 17th century from Maharashtra. Later the king of Aundh in Pune, popularized the Surya Namaskar and made it a tradition in the local households. One Surya Namaskar is comprised of a sequence of ten asanas. A Surya Namaskar cycle consists of ten asanas (positions) performed consecutively one after the other. The cycle begins with Stithi or Pranamasana; the prayer posture. The following steps then follow it in a sequence.
Step 1- Hasta Uttanasana,
Step 2- Padahastasana,
Step 3- Dakashinpad Prasarnasan,
Step 4- Dwipad Prasarnasan,
Step 5- Saashtang Namasakarasan,
Step 6- Bhujangasan,
Step 7- Parvatasan
Step 8- again Dakashinpad Prasarnasan,
Step 9- Padahastasana and
Step 10- coming back to Stithi.
These individual asanas have their own physical benefits and also help against the auto immune-diseases like Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension or heart diseases. Step 1- stretches the thoracic, abdominal and intestinal muscles; helps us to lift the Prana upwards. Step 2 to step 9 includes the movement in which the abdominal organs, the vital organs are massaged gently and stimulated. The abdominal muscles and spinal nerves are toned and the Prana is moved downwards. These asanas strengthen the arm and leg musculature too.
All these postures are arranged in such a way that each step is complimentary to the other. For example, backward bending alternates with forward bending. Thus, sun salutation or Surya Namaskar is a kind of activity which involves and stimulates almost every part of the body and is considered as a complete wholesome exercise. Regular practice of sun salutation in a proper way leads to development and strengthening of almost every part of the body. It is such an exercise, which can be performed by anybody irrespective of age, gender, season and place.
The Sun and the Moon have a very special importance in the Indian Culture. Though most of the festivals are based on the position of the Moon, Makar Sankranti is one such festival that is based on the position of Sun – a day that marks the change of season as the sun enters the sign of Capricorn or Makar. Makar Sankranti ushers in longer days; thus, the festival symbolizes sunshine in life, signifying the importance of light during the times of darkness. To mark this occasion, HSS Germany organizes the Surya Namaskar Yadnya (Yadnya- ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with mantras). The participants perform Surya Namaskar from 1 to 108 or as many as they can.
In this, people perform daily as many Surya Namskars as they can till Ratha Saptami, the 7th day of the Hindu calendar of the month Māgh. This day is also considered as the birthday of Sun god and hence as an offering to the Sun and to receive the blessings for a good health, Surya Namaskar Yadnya is performed by many Hindus worldwide.
Author: Dr. Priyanka Ganpat Chorge
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