As a spiritual practice surya namaskara or salutations to the sun dates back to the ancient vedic period when the sun was worshipped as a powerful symbol of spiritual consciousness. The practice has ever since been utilised to awaken the solar aspects of an individuals nature and release the vital energy for the development of higher awareness.
According to Prashnopanishad, the sun is the source of prana (energy) for everything that exists on the planet Earth. The Rigveda says, The rise of the sun illumines earth, sky and the space beyond the sky. The sun is the atma, the part of eternal God, in every moving and non-moving being.
The sun is considered as the only manifest form of the eternal principle. It is the giver of everything that we need, food, water in the form of rain, oxygen/energy/prana, light/vision, warmth, good strong health, intellect and so on.
In the Gayatri mantra we worship the sun, the supremely luminous creator of three worlds, the earth, sky and the space above the sky, and request him to guide our intellect. Worship of the sun is an act of acknowledgement (thanksgiving) and a process of receiving this energy. It consists of chanting the Gayatri mantra and other surya mantras and hymns, the practices of surya namaskara and nadi shodhana pranayama and meditation on the sun. One of the five major tantras, Saura tantra, is devoted to the practices of sun worship.
The practice of surya namaskara as it exists today was later added to the original vedic version of sun worship. The bija mantras and surya mantras as used in the practice of surya namaskara in Satyananda Yoga originally belonged to Tricha-kalpa-namaskara of Brahmakarma Samuchchaya, a technique of sun worship.
Yogic philosophy describes two types of energies in our bodies. The first, prana shakti, flowing in pingala nadi, is the solar, positively charged energy with masculine characteristics, and corresponds to the breath in the right nostril. The second, manas shakti, flowing in ida nadi, is the lunar, negatively charged energy having feminine characteristics, and corresponds to the breath in the left nostril. Prana shakti is responsible for physical activity, extroversion, dynamism, courage, leadership qualities, aggression, reasoning and logical understanding, etc. Manipura chakra, the psychic centre also known as the solar plexus, located behind the navel in the vertebral column, is the storehouse of prana shakti. In contrast, manas shakti is responsible for mental activity, introversion, nurture and growth, empathy, qualities of acceptance, adjustment and surrender, creativity, the ability to find non-conventional alternatives, intuitive understanding, artistic abilities, etc.
Both these energies are equally important for dealing with lifes different situations as well as for spiritual growth. The sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system in the physical body may be equated to a great extent with prana shakti and manas shakti respectively. The practice of surya namaskara activates prana shakti and manipura chakra. The Suryopanishad states that people who worship the sun as Brahman become powerful, active, intelligent and acquire good health and long life. The Puranas recommend that one should pray for good health to Lord Sun.
Awakening of prana shakti bestows agility, flexibility, good posture, lean body, good health, physical strength, courage, dynamism, self-confidence and clear thinking. The heightened state of prana shakti is necessary for day-to-day living, when facing the external world and its inbuilt stress.
The research studies presented here were carried out in the Dept of Applied Yogic Science of Bihar Yoga Bharati by MSc students as their dissertation/experimental project. The first study by Ravi Shankar (MSc 20012003) shows the effect of surya namaskara on pingala/ida or right/left swara dominance. The second study by Nirmala Thomas (MSc 20032005) shows the effect of surya namaskara on the level of self-confidence and some aspects of health.
Regular practice of surya namaskara for one month will correct ida dominance in asthmatics.
Subjects: 20 asthmatics, 10 females and 10 males, from Barh, Bihar, were selected for the experiment. Their ages ranged from 25 to 45 years. None had any other major disease. Depending on their willingness to practise yoga regularly, they were assigned to either the experimental or the control group.
Parameter: Record of dominance of nasal flow (right or left) at sunrise and sunset time
Procedure: All the subjects were taught the method of checking nasal flow dominance (swara) using their hands. They were given a diary to note down their swara at sunrise and at noon.
The experimental group was introduced to the practice of surya namaskara. They were given two slow and five fast rounds of the practice every day for 30 days. There was no intervention with the control group. Neither of the groups were doing any other yogic practices. They did not make any changes to their lifestyle just prior to or during the experimental period.
According to the science of swara yoga, the pattern of the swara is predetermined and in tune with the lunar movement. On a given lunar day a certain swara should be dominant at sunrise and at sunset. Deviation from the normal pattern indicates imbalance at one or more kosha levels. At sunrise and sunset, readings were collected on the first and last seven days of the experimental period. These readings were compared to the expected normal swara of that lunar day and time. Readings that deviated from the normal were labelled abnormal and it was noted whether the deviation was towards the left or right nostril.
Table 1 shows the abnormal swara in the first week (pre value) and the last week (post value) of the experiment in the experimental group.
Table 1: Abnormal swara pattern in the experimental asthmatic group
Out of 10 subjects, 7 showed diminished left swara dominance or a change towards right swara dominance and 3 showed insignificant change (See Graph 1).
Table 2 shows the abnormal swara in the first week (pre value) and the last week (post value) of the experiment in the control group.
Table 2: Abnormal swara pattern in the control asthmatic group
Out of 10 subjects, 2 showed more left dominance; 7 showed no or an insignificant change and 1 showed a decrease in left dominance (See Graph 1).
The dynamic practice of surya namaskara stimulates pingala nadi or the right nasal flow.
In another experiment, Dr. D. B. Lad (MSc 20002002) found that regular practice of surya namaskara reduces body weight and abdominal girth. He experimented with 12 young men (aged 16 to 22 years) from Munger, Bihar, practising 12 dynamic rounds of surya namaskara daily for one month. The results are presented in table 3.
Table 3: Effects of surya namaskara on body weight and abdominal girth
Regular practice of surya namaskara for three months will improve self-confidence and relieve minor menstrual complaints in young women
Subjects: Fifty students from Providence Womens College Hostel, Calicut, Kerala, all young women aged 18 to 23 years, were selected as subjects. None had any major disease. All were living in the same hostel and had the same lifestyle. Fifteen were not interested in doing yoga, and were allotted to the control group. The remaining 35 formed the experimental group.
Procedure: The subjects were allotted to either the experimental or control groups according to their willingness to practise yoga regularly. The three questionnaires were administered at the beginning (pre) and at the end (post 3 month) of the experimental period. Sitting height was measured with a measuring tape while they were sitting comfortably on the floor in a cross-legged posture.
The experimental group was guided through the practice of surya namaskara and were practising 12 dynamic rounds by the end of the second week. Mantra chanting or chakra awareness was not included. The yoga class was conducted daily for one month. One student dropped out of the experiment. At the end of the first month the experimental group was asked to fill in the ASCI self-confidence questionnaire. They were asked to continue with the practice on their own. After two more months, i.e. a total of three months of practice, all four parameters were collected again. During this two month period, 20 subjects out of 35 became irregular in their practice and dropped out of the study, so 15 subjects were included in the final data analysis.
The data on self-confidence was collected three times, pre, at the end of the first month and at the end of the third month, for the experimental group but only twice, pre and at the end of the third month, for the control group. Interpretation of the score is as follows.
|7 and below||Very high|
|45 and above||Very low|
Table 4 shows the ASCI self-confidence questionnaire scores of the experimental and control groups. The results show that after three months of regular surya namaskara practice the self-confidence level improved highly significantly in the experimental group, while in the control group there was very little change (See Graph 2). In the experimental group the mean score dropped from 31.533 to 21.867. Both scores are within the average group, but at the extremes of the range, which means the subjects moved from a low-average to a high-average level of self-confidence. Therefore, the results are not only statistically significant, but also significant in practical daily life. Even within one month a change was observable in the 34 subjects who practised surya namaskara for one month, the mean score dropping from 31.56 to 27.7.
Table 4: ASCI self-confidence score after three months
As a physical measure of self-confidence, change in posture was observed by measuring height while the subjects were sitting cross-legged. A self-confident person sits erect and hence the height is comparatively greater than when a person is not confident. Table 5 shows the sitting height of the experimental group of 15 subjects.
Table 5: Sitting height in cm
The menstrual history questionnaire inquired into three aspects of menstrual problems: regularity, menstrual flow and pain accompanying menstruation. In the experimental group one person had an irregular and scanty menstrual flow. She did not benefit from three months of surya namaskara practice. Nine subjects had menstrual pain before the experiment began. At the end of three months of practice, in four the pain had completely stopped and in the remaining five it was reduced (See Graph 3). In the control group two students had irregular periods, none had menstrual flow problems and ten had painful menstruation. There was no change in these problems at the end of the three months (See Graph 3). Table 6 shows the data on menstrual complaints in both groups.
Table 6: Menstrual problems
The general health questionnaire revealed an improved energy level and better health in the experimental group, and almost no change in the control group. Table 7 shows the data regarding change in general health.
Table 7: Change in energy and general health
Health problems reported by subjects
Regular practice of surya namaskara for at least three months raises self-confidence, improves posture, helps manage menstrual complaints and boosts overall general health.