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Exercises ~ Yoga

For most of us, today’s lifestyle accentuates mental tensions, worries and seemingly insoluble problems at many levels, such as personal interrelationships, economics and even geopolitical threats of war and destruction.  At the same time the amount of sedentary or semi-sedentary work is increasing due to the increase in technology and labour saving devices.  This has led to a situation in which mental and physical ill health is increasing.  Without an antidote there seems to be little hope.

 

Yoga practices are an ideal antidote to stress and are proving to be the basis of a powerful therapy for mental and physical diseases.  Here are a few yoga exercises(Yoga asan) that I am sure you will find very beneficial as you practice regularly.

Cat pose - (static)

Go onto your hands & knees. Place both hands under neath the shoulder-width apart & below the shoulders, knees hip width apart.

STATIC – Exhale arching your back, tucking your head towards your chest & your tail bone (coccyx) in as you exhale and arch your back, lift your head and tailbone up.  Hold each of these positions a little longer than full breath (inspiration) & full out breath (expiration).  Repeat x 5.

Cat - (dynamic) 

Stay in above starting position, exhale & arch your back, bringing your hips towards the heels of your feet, with the back of the toes turned towards the floor  Bend your your elbows and lower them to the floor. glide down and forward, your chin followed by your chest brushing onto the floor, opening your chest as you come and forward, arching your back & head looking up in front or up towards the ceiling – hold your breath and this position for a few moments before breathing out. Repeat the movement and the cycle x 5 and finish in the child pose with your sitting bone resting on your heels & your arms stretched in front, your back flat & your forehead resting on the floor. 

Stay in this position for five breaths. 

Cat & child pose
Child & downward facing
Pigeon 1
Pigeon 2
Pigeon 3
Spinal Twist 1
Spinal Twist 2
Warrior 1
Warrior 2 

Shavasana, the yogic pose of relaxation, should be practiced with breath awareness after completing surya namaskara.  It rests and relieves any tensions which may be present in the body.  Shavasana, known as the dead man’s pose, involves consciously willing the entire body to relax to the point where it becomes as limp as a lifeless corpse.  Through shavasana complete rest is obtained in a few minutes and afterwards one is able to rise fully refreshed with body and mind in a state of relaxed harmony.

Warrior 2 & Triangle (Trickonasan)
Shavasana -(Corpse pose)Total Relaxation

SURYA NAMASKARAA Technique of Solar Vitalization

Surya namaskara is a well-known and vital technique within the yogic repertoire.  It’s versatility and application make it one of the most useful methods to induce a healthy, vigorous, active life and at the same time prepare for spiritual awakening and the resultant expansion of awareness.

 

For most of us, today’s lifestyle accentuates mental tensions, worries and seemingly insoluble problems at many levels, such as personal interrelationships, economics and even geopolitical threats of war and destruction.  At the same time the amount of sedentary or semi-sedentary work is increasing due to the increase in technology and labour saving devices.  This has led to a situation in which mental and physical ill health is increasing.  Without an antidote there seems to be little hope.

 

Yoga practices are an ideal antidote to stress and are proving to be the basis of a powerful therapy for mental and physical diseases.  Surya namaskara is an integral part of the yogic approach to these problems and can be easily integrated into our daily lives, as it requires only five to fifteen minutes of practice daily to obtain beneficial results remarkable quickly.  It is therefore ideal for even the most active individuals, such as the busy businessperson, the aren’t with a family to manage and feed, the student who is facing examinations or the scientist who spends most of the day thinking.

Surya namaskara is a practice which has been handed down form the sages of vedic times.  Surya means ‘sun’ and namaskara means ‘salutation’.  In ancient times the sun was worshipped as a daily ritual because it is a powerful symbol of spiritual consciousness.  Worship of the outer and inner sun was a religio-social ritual which attempted to placate those forces of nature beyond man’s control.  It was initiated by enlightened sages who knew that these practices maintained health and led to greater social creativity and productivity.

Surya namaskara is composed of the three elements of form, energy and rhythm.  The twelve postures create the physical matrix around which the form of the practice is woven.  These postures generate prana, the subtle energy, which activates the psychic body.  Their performance in a steady, rhythmic sequence reflects the rhythms of the universe, such as the twenty-four hours of the day, the twelve zodiac phases of the year and the biorhythms of our own body.  The rhythmic superimposition of this form and energy on our preset body-mind complex is the transforming force which generates the nucleus of a fuller and more active life and a greater appreciation of the richness of the world we live in.  Try it for yourself and see.

Preparation:

 

Before commencing the practice, stand with the feet together, or slightly apart, arms relaxed by the sides of your body.  Close your eyes and become aware of the whole physical body.

 

Develop awareness of your body as you would in the practice of yoga nidra.  Starting at the top of the head work your awareness down through the body, relaxing any tensions you find on the way.  Your awareness is like a torchlight piercing into the darkness of the body.

 

Then develop whole body awareness again. Ask yourself, how do I feel in relation to my body?  Am I relaxed and comfortable with myself?  Adjust your position so that you are more comfortable.  Feel that you are being pulled upwards by a thread attached to the top of your head.

 

Now take your awareness to the bottom of your feet and feel the soles in contact with the floor.  Feel that your whole body is being pulled downwards by gravity and that all the tensions from the top of your head are being pulled down through your feet and into the ground.  At the same time be aware of the vital force moving up through your body, allowing you to maintain a relaxed and comfortable upright position.

 

Be aware of this for a few moments and then go on to the practice of surya namaskara.

Pranamasana

(prayer pose

Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

Padahastasana

(hand to foot pose)

Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian post)

1 Pranamasana

(prayer pose)

Stand erect with the feet together or slightly apart and close the eyes.

Place both palms together in front of the chest (namaskara mudra).

Maintain your awareness on the mudra, the pressure of the palms and the effect of this mudra on the chest area.  

Mentally offer homage to the sun, the source of all life.

Relax the whole body.

Parvatasana

(mountain pose /

downward facing dog)

5 Parvatasana

(mountain pose /

downward facing dog)

Bring the palms to the floor.

Take the left foot back and place it beside the right.  Simultaneously raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms, so that the body forms a triangle with the floor.

The legs and arms should be straight in the final position.  Aim to press the heels down to the floor but do not strain.  Bend the head as far as possible so that they eyes are looking at the knees.   Focus your awareness at the neck area.

Breathing:  Exhale while taking the left leg back.

Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian pose)

9 Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 4.

Bring the left leg forward placing the foot between the hands.  Simultaneously bring the right knee down to the floor and pus the pelvis forward.  Arch the spine and look up to reassume position 4.

Breathing: Inhale while assuming the pose.

2 Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

Raise and stretch both arms above the head, with palms facing upwards.

Keep the arms separated, shoulder width apart.

Arch the back and stretch the whole body.

Stretch the head as far back as is comfortably possible and be aware of the curve of the upper back.

 

Breathing:  Inhale while raising the arms.

Ashtanga Namaskara (salute with eight parts/points)

6 Ashtanga Namaskara (salute with eight parts/points)

Lower the knees to the floor and then bring the chest and chin to the floor, keeping the buttocks elevated.

The hands, chin, chest, knees and toes touch the floor and the spine is arched.

Focus the awareness at the centre of the body or on the back muscles.

Breathing:  The breath is held outside in this pose.  There is no respiration.

Padahastasana

(hand to foot pose)

10 Padahastasana

(hand to foot pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 3.

Bring the right foot I beside the left.  Straightening the legs bend forward and raise the buttocks while bringing the head in towards the knees.  The hands remain on the floor beside the feet.

This is the same as pos'n 3.

 

Breathing:  Exhale while performing the movement.

3 Padahastasana

(hand to foot pose)

In a continuous movement bend forward from the hips.  Bring the hands to the floor on either side of the feet and try to touch the knees with the forehead.  Do not strain.  The legs should remain straight.

Try to keep the back straight, focusing your awareness at the pelvis, the pivoting point for the stretch of the back and leg muscles.

 

Breathing:  Exhale while bending forward.

Try to contract the abdomen in the final position to expel the maximum amount of air from the lungs.  

Contra-indications:  People with back conditions should not bend forward fully.  Bend from the hips, keeping the spine straight, until the back forms a ninety-degree angle with the legs, or bend only as far as is comfortable. 

Bhujangasana

(cobra pose)

7 Bhujangasana

(cobra pose)

Lower the hips while pushing the chest forward and upward with the arms.

Straightening the elbows arch the back and push the chest forward into the cobra pose.

The legs and lower abdomen remain on the floor and the arms support the trunk.

Unless the spine is very flexible the arms will remain slightly bent.

Focus the awareness at the base of the spine feeling the tension from the forward pull.

Breathing:  Inhale while raising the torso and arching the back.

Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

11 Hasta Utthanasana (raised arms pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 2.

Bend from the hips, raise the torso and stretch the arms above the head.  Arch backwards to reassume position 2.

Breathing:  Inhale while raising the torso and arms.

Ashwa Sanchalanasana (equestrian post)

Keeping both hands in place, on either side of the feet bend the left knee while extending the right leg backwards as far as possible.

The right toes are tucked under and the knee if touching the floor.

Bring the pelvis forward, arch the spine and look up.

The fingertips touch the floor and balance the body.

Focus your awareness at the eyebrow centre.  You should feel the stretch from the thigh moving upward along the front of the body all the way to the eyebrow centre.

Breathing:  Inhale while bringing the chest forward and up and stretching the right leg back.

Parvatasana

(mountain pose /

downward facing dog)

8 Parvatasana

(mountain pose /

downward facing dog)

This stage is a repeat of position 5.

Keep the arms and legs straight.  While pivoting from the shoulders raise the buttocks and bring the head down to reassume position 5.  The hands and feet do not move from position 7.  Raise the buttocks and lower the heels to the floor

.

Breathing: Exhale while raising the buttocks.

Pranamasana

(prayer pose)

12 Pranamasana

(prayer pose)

This stage is a repeat of position 1.

Straighten the body and bring the hands together in front of the chest, reassuming position 1.

Breathing:  Exhale while assuming the final position.

Practice note:  Positions 1-12 constitute half a round of surya namaskara.  To complete the other half the same movements are performed, the only variation being that the left leg is brought back in position 4, and the right leg is moved forward in position 9.   So, one full round consists of 24 movements, two sets of 12 giving a balance to each side of the body in each half round.  When position 12 is completed, lower the hands to the side, and then commence the second half of the round.  One full round consists of 24 asanas.  In an ideal situation these should be performed in a continuous unbroken flow and, except for ashtanga namaskara, each asana should change with each breath.  Of course, if you tire within the round, rest after 12 postures by taking a full breath before commencing the second half.  Breathe normally for a few moments if you need to.  The same applies to each individual asana and between rounds.  Use the time to re-orientate your awareness and posture.  Ask yourself, how do I feel?  Then adjust yourself so that you are comfortable, ensuring that the breath is slow and relaxed before you go on.

 

Hints and Guidelines: Probably the most important point is to avoid strain.   Each movement should be performed with a minimum of effort, using only those muscles required to assume and maintain the posture.  The rest of the body should remain as relaxed as possible.   Relax into each position.  In this way your stretching will be more efficient and enjoyable and you will conserve energy.  Try to make the movements flow loosely into one another, like a dance.

 

Surya namaskara involves alternate flexing of the spinal column backwards and forwards.  Remember that the neck is also a part of the spine and should be stretched to a comfortable limit backwards and forwards according to the asana.  This affords maximum stretch to the body in each position.

Shavasana

Shavasana, the yogic pose of relaxation, should be practiced with breath awareness after completing surya namaskara.  It rests and relieves any tensions which may be present in the body.  Shavasana, known as the dead man’s pose, involves consciously willing the entire body to relax to the point where it becomes as limp as a lifeless corpse.  Through shavasana complete rest is obtained in a few minutes and afterwards one is able to rise fully refreshed with body and mind in a state of relaxed harmony.

 

Technique

After completing the practice of surya namaskara, stand erect and take a few deep breaths.  Then lie down flat on your back in shavasana.  Your feet should be slightly apart, arms separated a few inches from the body, with the palms facing upward and eyes gently closed.   Adjust yourself comfortably, then relax and become perfectly still.

Now bring your awareness down to your feet.  Do not move or become tense – simply be aware of them.  Try to feel whether your feet are tense and if you discover any tension, consciously relax them.

When your feet are completely relaxed slowly draw your awareness up to your ankles and lower legs.  Relax these parts in the same way and then continue moving the awareness up to your thighs, hips and buttocks.  Pause for a moment and feel that your whole body from the waist downwards is relaxed.

Then gradually proceed upwards one step at a time, to your lower abdomen, navel, upper abdomen, chest, back, hands, lower arms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders.   Now pause again to make sure that your whole body from the shoulders down is completely relaxed.  If you discover tension in any part simply become aware of it for a few moments and the tension will melt away.

Now move on to the throat chin, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, top of the head, back of the head, whole head.

 

Expanding the experience

 

When we take our time and move through surya namaskara slowly, with awareness and control of breath, we develop more understanding and knowledge of the body.  One round may take ten, fifteen or even twenty minutes to perform, however, in that time we can perform fifty asanas or more and can loosen almost the entire musculature as well as affecting organs.  At the same time we are not falling into the old habitual tendency of forming habits, rather we are learning to creatively and intuitively flow with the needs of our body.

 

As we become accustomed to the joy and wellbeing of stretching, breathing and learning about the body, it becomes more and more difficult to develop the chronic tensions responsible for disease.  The experience of exploring the body, releasing tension and feeling good is self reinforcing and extends into the day no matter what activity we are performing or what position we are in.  While sitting in a chair we can stretch our arms up or back, or while standing we can simply move into hasta utthanasana or fall forward into padahastasana to remove much of the fatigue and stiffness which develops during a busy day.

 

In this way we take the responsibility for our health and happiness into our own hands and are no longer at the mercy of restricting social conventions and external forces.  We move outside set patters of neurotic behavior and begin to dance through life with joy and spontaneity.  We also affect our environment, for a relaxed and happy person infects the minds of others in a positive way.  Though people may initially make jokes about anything out of the ordinary they soon become inquisitive, especially when faced with their own tensions, generated by modern living.  This is how fads develop.

 

Developing the practice of surya namaskara can have repercussions on our whole lifestyle and attitude to life.  The exploration of ourselves that we initiate in our daily practice expands in concentric circles out into our daily activity, movement, interaction with people and things, and this helps to change our lives in a positive and creative way.

 

Swami Satyananda Saraswati