From The Complete Yoga Book by James Hewitt, 1978, first edition
Yoga practice is a continual process of discovery--about one's body, one's mind, and the integral relationship of the two. One moves towards re-establishing the kind of body-mind rapport one had in childhood and the retraining of kinesthesis, the sense by which one perceives one's posture, weight, pressure, muscle tone, and so on. This sense is the surest guide to planning posture programmes. Detailed schedules--day to day, week to week, month to month--recommended by writers on Yoga are of little use, and can sometimes be harmful, for readers are certain to find that some of the postures indicated go against the body's wisdom. But guide-lines for shaping a daily program may be indicated. The following rules should be observed:
A case can be made for including the graceful posture series Surya Namaskar in Group B rather than Group A, on the grounds that perfect performance requires advanced co-ordination and suppleness. On the other hand, if we had to wait for perfect performance of every stage of the series, many of us would never be able to garner its enormous benefits. Moreover, most stages of the Sun Salutations fall within the capacities of most students of Yoga, even if the linking of the positions by less advanced students lacks the fluidity of the adept. As to the most difficult stages, even the beginner can achieve an approximation of what is aimed at and the benefit highly thereby, without having to omit any stages from the series. And practice through time makes, if not for perfection in every case, at least for progress towards it. One learns how to make the modifications that bring smoothness to the transitions--a slight bending of the legs as one bends forward, the fingers pressing on the floor instead of the palms of the hands, the head brought in the direction of the knees to even if not resting on them. The important point is for the student to accept his physical limitations and not force himself to the point of strain.
This series is a Yoga programme in itself--a kind of concentrated Yoga potion. Some of the positions have already been given in Group A modifications--for example, the Standing Forward Bend (Padastasana) and the Cobra Posture (Bhujangasana). The great majority of Yoga postures require poised immobility. This is only momentarily true here: you pause only for a second or two in each completed stage before moving on the next position. Adepts take only twenty seconds for a ten-position cycle--but most practitioners will find such a speed destroying the accuracy of performance, and should settle for a slightly slower rate. Nevertheless, several successive cycles should produce perspiration and quickened breathing. Commence with two cycles only, gradually adding two cycles until you are performing twelve, which is the most frequently advocated number, there being twelve names for the sun in the Sanskrit language.
Surya means 'sun', and namaskar means 'salutation', 'obeisance', or 'prayer'. The postures are performed traditionally at sunrise, when the air is deemed to be rich in prana (cosmic energy). The series is a proven vitalizer, bringing a youthful suppleness to the spine and firming and toning the entire body. Each position has its valuable physiological effects, some of which were described earlier. Though much more than just a warm-up, the Sun Salutations serve that function when performed at the start of a Yoga programme. My own preference is to treat them as separate from the main programme of the day, and to perform them on rising in the morning, when they sweep sleep from the limbs and provide an invigorating start to the day.
The first version we give is that most frequently found in Yogic literature. The second version is that taught and written about by Shrimant Balasahib Pandit Pratinidhi, the Raja of Aundh. The third version is that favored by the author, combining stages of the first two. The fourth version is a shortened and simplified series suggested by Archie J. Bahm, in Yoga for Business Executives. Other variations are more concerned with the execution of the stages than with the overall design of the series. Each reader should experiment, decide on the version that best suits her or his build and degree of suppleness and co-ordination, and then give it an extended try-out. Eventually it should be found that the postures flow together and the series takes on the beauty and harmony of a fine piece of music or a work of art.
Position 1. Stand up straight in poised posture, the feet together, the fingers and the palms brought together in front of the chest, the fingers pointing upwards and thumbs touching the chest (the traditional Indian gesture of respect or homage). It will help if the big toes are touching the straight edge of a piece of cloth spread on the floor specially for this exercise, or if the edge or pattern of a carpet or rug provides a suitable guide-line. Pratinidhi's description of this stage advises stiffening the whole body in a wave-like action from the feet (pressing them down on the floor) to the scalp, flattening the stomach on the way (Fig. 59). It helps to think of the body being charged with solar energy. Breathe freely.
Position 2. Inhaling, raise the arms high and back, the palms facing forwards. Throw the head back, bending the spine back from the waist. (Fig. 1) depicts this stage, but the feet should be together.
Position 3. Exhaling, bend forward from the waist and touch the hands on the floor beside the feet, the longest fingers in line with the toes. The adept places the palms of the hands flat on the floor, but the beginner may find it more convenient to touch down the spread fingers. Again: the adept keeps his knees locked and lowers his face against his knees. The beginner usually has to bend his knees a little, and he brings his face as close to his knees as he can comfortably manage. The hands now stay in place until near the end of the cycle.
Position 4. Inhaling, stretch the right leg back and go down on the right knee, at the same time lifting the head up. The hands and left foot stay in position. The toes of the right foot are bent to grip the floor (Fig. 61).
Position 5. Retaining the breath, straighten the right leg and take the left leg back alongside the right, supporting the body on the hands and toes. From the back of the head to the heels should be a straight line. This is the Wheelbarrow Posture (No. 107, Fig. 37).
Position 6. Exhaling, bend the arms and lower the forehead, chest, and knees to the floor. Keep the pelvis raise, pulling in the abdominal muscles. Press the chin into the jugular notch. The hands press down firmly, and the elbows are kept high (Fig. 62). This is called the Eight Parts Posture (Sastanganammasker).
Position 7. Inhaling, straighten the arms and raise the upper body up and back, keeping the pelvis and legs on the ground (No. 136, Fig. 147). This is the Cobra Posture (Bhujangasana).
Position 8. Exhaling, thrust the hips high and swing the head down between the straight arms. In perfect performance the feet are flat on the floor from toes to heels. Getting the heels right down may not be possible at first if the backs of the legs signal resistance. Do not strain: the muscles will loosen up with practice. The back from the shoulders to the hips should be as straight as possible. Pull the abdomen back towards the spine (Fig. 63). (Personal note: Pull in your head and look toward your navel. Rotate your hips backward.)
Position 9. Inhaling, take a long step forward with the right foot, bringing it in line with the hands, at the same time lowering the left knee to the floor and thrusting forward the chest (Fig. 64). This is Position 4 with the right knee now forward instead of the left.
Position 10. Exhaling, assume Position 3 again by bringing the left foot forward beside the right foot, raising the hips, and straightening (or nearly straightening) the legs (Fig. 60).
Position 11. Straighten up from the waist and swing the arms high and back, inhaling (No. 8, Fig. 1). This is a repeat of position 2.
Position 12. Exhaling, lower the arms to the sides and sand up straight (No. 56, Fig. 8).
This completes one cycle. In performing the second cycle repeat the twelve positions, but take back the left leg at Position 4 and step forward with the left foot at Position 9. Thereafter continue to follow this alternating leg sequence.
When the reader has studied the above description of the twelve positions and consulted the illustrations, he should find the following list helpful for quick reference.
The above guide describes performance of cycles 1, 3, 5, and so on. For even-numbered cycles, only Position 4 and Position 9 are different.
The following ten positions are those taught by Shrimant Balasahib Pandit Pratinidhi, the Raja of Aundh, as a complete form of Yoga exercise. For adults, he gives three hundred cycles daily as the target to aim for. Other Yoga teachers give Surya Namaskar as but one part of Yoga posturing, with twelve cycles daily the recommended quota.
Pratinidhi gives the following breathing regulation for the above ten-position sequence.
The author prefers breathing out on Positions 4 and 7, breathing in on Position 8 and holding the breath on Position 5.
The author suggests and recommends the following combination of postures:
This follows Sun Salutations I, except that the inverted V position is performed twice, as it is in Sun Salutations II. This makes for a natural and easily-remembered in-out breathing sequence, with only one holding of the breath in position. For quick reference:
Archie J. Bahm, in Yoga for Business Executives (Stanley Paul, 1967), suggests a ten-position cycle in which the legs are kept together at all times. It can be summarized as follows:
This has the merit of simplicity, and avoids the rather awkward leg-split changes and postures. But it also misses their physiological benefits, stretching the whole body and massaging through thigh pressure the abdomen and its contents. However, readers who find difficult the leg positionings of the first three series of Surya Namaskar could perhaps with advantage use version IV for conditioning purposes, incorporating the leg-bending later. Mr. Bahm suggests varying the distance of the hands from the feet.
Dhirenda Brahmachari introduces an entirely new stage into Surya Namaskar. In the leg back position, lean as far back as you can and stretch the arms up and back, the palms of the hands turned up with the thumbs touching (No. 78, Fig. 19).