Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation, Meaning, How To Do, Benefits

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S

“There is no Ashtanga Yoga without Surya Namaskara, which is the ultimate salutation to the Sun God” – K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Surya = Sun
Namaskar = Salutation

Surya Namaskar means Sun Salutation or Salute to the Sun. Surya; the Sun God is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortality in Hindu mythology. According to Rig Veda, Surya is the soul, both for moving and unmoving beings.

Surya Namaskara is a Yoga practice which includes performance of 12 asanas i.e. poses in a sequence. It is a cycle which starts with standing position and ends back at the same position and includes different inter-linked poses in between start and finish. Many variations of Surya Namaskar have been explained in different treatises and different schools of practice of Yoga.

Sun Salutations are traditionally practices early in the morning as a mark of greeting the Sun and the new day. The sequence of asanas is a complete practice by themselves. They can also prepare you for a longer asana routine. It is important that you synchronize your breathe with the movements of your body as you flow through the sequence of poses in your practice.

The sequence of these poses has its origin in the Hatha Yoga tradition. The set of 12 poses included in this practice are dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, who is a Hindu solar deity mentioned in Vedic literature. Each pose is associated with a mantra i.e. holy hymn according to some sources.

Chandra Namaskar means Moon Salutation. This is explained as a variant of Surya Namaskar.
Read – Health Benefits Of Yoga: Mind And Body

History, Etymology, Origin

Simple forms of Sun Salutations are explained in Ramayana (Yuddha Kanda, Canto 107) like Aditya Hridayam. These are in no way related to the sequence of Surya Namaskar poses practiced nowadays.

Surya Namaskar exercises are linked with Saint Samarth Ramdas of 17th century.

The Rajah of Aundh, Bhawanrao Shriniwasrao Pant Pratinidhi popularized these set of Yogic exercises and named them as Surya Namaskar in 1920s. He has described them in his book ‘The Ten Point Way to Health: Surya Namaskaras’ in 1928.

According to Anthropologist Joseph Alter – Sun Salutation was not recorded in any text of Hathayoga before 19th century. It was also not considered as yoga. Poses included in Surya Namaskara were not considered as asanas.

Dands and Surya Namaskar – The exercises done by traditional Indian wrestlers were called as dands which means staff. These are described in Vyayama Dipika in 1896. According to Norman Sjoman, the yoga scholar practitioner suggested that ‘the father of modern yoga’ Krishnamacharya used these dands as the basis for sequence and for his transitioning vinyasas. Different Dands resemble Surya Namaskar poses Tadasana, Padahastasana, Chaturanga Dandasana and Bhujangasana very closely. His students K. Pattabhi Jois (creator of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) and B.K.S Iyengar (creator of Iyengar Yoga) learnt Surya Namaskar and flowing vinyasa movements between asanas from Krishnamacharya. They also adopted them in their schools of Yoga practice.

Guru Shivananda had originally conceptualized Surya Namaskar to promote health care through sunlight. His student Vishnudevananda had mentioned this in his book ‘The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga’ in 1960. Elliott Goldberg, historian of modern Yoga  notes that Vishnudevananda modeled the positions of Surya Namaskar for photographs in the book and that he had recognized the sequence beneficial for fitness exercise. (Read more)

Steps, poses and sequence of Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 yoga poses. They are connected by jumping or stretching movements. These poses vary between schools of Yoga practice.

a. Sequence of asanas of Surya Namaskar in Iyengar Yoga

First Sequence

  1. Tadasana
  2. Urdhwa Hastasana
  3. Uttanasana
  4. Uttanasana with head up
  5. Adho Mukha Shvanasana
  6. Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  7. Chaturanga Dandasana

Reverse Sequence – the above said asanas are done in reverse sequence and returned to Tadasana.

  • Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  • Adho Mukha Shvanasana
  • Uttanasana with head up
  • Uttanasana
  • Urdhwa Hastasana
  • Tadasana

Note – Other poses can be inserted into the sequence.
Read – Easy Rules For Practicing And Mastering Yoga

b. Sequence of asanas of Surya Namaskar in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

In this we have two sequences of Surya Namaskar.

Type A

  1. Pranamasana
  2. Urdhva Hastasana
  3. Uttanasana
  4. Phalakasana
  5. Chaturanga Dandasana
  6. Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  7. Adho Mukha Shvanasana
  8. Uttanasana
  9. Pranamasana

Type B

First Sequence

  1. Pranamasana
  2. Utkatasana
  3. Uttanasana
  4. Ardha Uttanasana
  5. Phalakasana
  6. Chaturanga Dandasana
  7. Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  8. Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Second Sequence (on one side)

  1. Virabhadrasana
  2. Phalakasana
  3. Chaturanga Dandasana
  4. Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  5. Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Third Sequence (on other side)

  • Virabhadrasana I
  • Phalakasana
  • Chaturanga Dandasana
  • Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  • Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Fourth Sequence

  • Ardha Uttanasana
  • Uttanasana
  • Utkatasana
  • Pranamasana

We can see that this sequence too starts with Pranamasana and ends with the same asana.

Type B Surya Namskara is more intense in comparison to type A. It is –

  • more aerobic than type A
  • has two extra poses
  • involves workout of more muscles
  • challenges the cardiovascular system

One should master type A surya namaskara before starting type B. Both these types of practices are linked to the breath. With each movement and pose the practitioner inhales and exhales. Therefore they both are good breathing practices. (Read more)

c. Typical Surya Namaskara cycle

  1. Pranamasana
  2. Hasta Uttanasana
  3. Uttanasana
  4. Anjaneyasana
  5. Adho Mukha Shvanasana
  6. Ashtanga Namaskara
  7. Urdhwa Mukha Shvanasana
  8. Adho Mukha Shvanasana
  9. Anjaneyasana (opposite side)
  10. Uttanasana
  11. Hasta Uttanasana
  12. Pranamasana
    Read – Ashtanga Yoga – Eight Branches Of Yoga

d. Steps or Asana sequence of Surya Namaskara in Shivananda Yoga and their association with Mantras

The asanas are linked to 12 names of Surya, the Sun god.

Sl NoStep / Asana of Surya NamaskaraAssociated Mantra (name of Sun God)
1TadasanaOm Mitraya Namah
2Urdhwa HastasanaOm Ravaye Namah
3PadahastasanaOm Suryaya Namah
4Ashwa SanchalanasanaOm Bhanave Namah
5ParvatasanaOm Khagaya Namah
6Ashtanga NamaskaraOm Poosne Namah
7BhujangasanaOm Hiranya Garbhaya Namah
8ParvatasanaOm Marichaye Namah
9Ashwa SanchalanasanaOm Adityaya Namah
10PadahastasanaOm Savitre Namah
11Urdhwa HastasanaOm Arkaya Namah
12TadasanaOm Bhaskaraya Namah

Bija Mantra (seed sound chant) and Chakra association with Asanas of Surya Namaskara

Sl NoStep / Asana of Surya NamaskaraChakra nameBija MantraBreathing
1TadasanaAnahataOm HramExhale
2Urdhwa HastasanaVishuddhaOm HrimInhale
3PadahastasanaSwadishtanaOm HrumExhale
4Ashwa SanchalanasanaAjnaOm HraimInhale
5ParvatasanaVishuddhiOm HraumExhale
6Ashtanga NamaskaraManipuraOm HrahSuspend
7BhujangasanaSwadishtanaOm HramInhale
8ParvatasanaVishuddhiOm HrimExhale
9Ashwa SanchalanasanaAjnaOm HrumInhale
10PadahastasanaSwadishtanaOm HraimExhale
11Urdhwa HastasanaVishuddhaOm HraumInhale
12TadasanaAnahataOm HrahExhale

Other asanas which can be inserted into Surya Namaskara sequence

Lolasana, Janusirsasana, Navasana, Paschimottasana and Marichyasana are some of the asanas which can be introduced into the sequence of Surya Namaskara to tap the desired results.

Interesting facts

Yoga and MET – The energy cost of Surya Namaskara ranges from 2.9 MET (light) to 7.4 MET (vigorous). To achieve higher end range it is essential to inculcate transition jumps between the poses. MET means metabolic equivalent of task. It is the unit used to measure the energy cost of exercise. Less than 3 METs are counted as light exercise, 3-6 METs is moderate exercise and 6 or over is vigorous exercise.

Surya Namaskara world record – A team of mountaineering instructors from Darjeeling, in 2019, climbed Mount Elbrus to its summit and completed Surya Namaskara there at 18,600 feet. This is claimed as a world record.

How to practice Surya Namaskara?

In order to get maximum benefits of Surya Namaskara it is essential to perform the poses in the mentioned chronology. New poses can be introduced with the consent of the tutor into the sequence. It is better done on empty stomach and early in the morning, at sunrise preferably.

One round of Surya Namaskara consists of 2 sequences. The first sequence is practiced on the right side and the second sequence is performed on the left. One should pay attention to the breathing patterns while doing each pose.

I will be explaining only one popular Surya Namaskara sequence here to understand how it is practiced. (Read more)

StepAsanaHow to doBreathingBenefits
1Pranamasana (Prayer pose / The Centering pose)Stand erect with feet together, Keep hands in prayer position in front of your chest, Keep your body weight distributed evenly.ExhaleBuilds focus Relieves mental stress and anxiety  
2Hasta Utthanasana (The Raised arms pose)Inhale as you stretch your arms up and arch them back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight Relax your neckInhaleImproves digestion Remedy for backache, fatigue, anxiety and asthma
3Pada Hastasana (Standing forward bend pose / The hands to feet pose)Fold / bend forwards Press your palms down Let the fingertips be in line with toesExhaleGood remedy for stress, osteoporosis, anxiety and headache, Strengthens knees and thighs Opens up the hamstrings, calf muscles and hips
4Ashwa Sanchalanasana (The Lunge Pose / Equestrian Pose)Bring the right or left leg (whichever side you are doing) back & place the knee on the floor Arch back, lift your chin, look upInhaleStrengthens spine, Increases lung capacity, Enhances one’s will power
5Parvatasana (The Mountain Pose) Straighten the bent leg and take it backwards, Keep the right and left foot together Raise the butts, the two hands are on the floor and support the body weight, Lower the head such that it comes in between the two armsRetain / ExhaleStrengthens muscles of arms and legs, Tones the spinal nerves, Improves blood circulation to the spinal region
5aDandasana / Chaturanga Dandasana / Phalakasana (Stick / Staff Pose or Four limbed Staff Pose or Low plank pose / Plank Pose)Take the left leg back and bring the whole body in a straight line, keep your arms perpendicular to the floorRetainStrengthens arm, Tones abdomen, Builds core strength
6Ashtanga Namaskara (The Eight Limbed Pose)Lower your knees first, then your chest and then your forehead, Keep your hips up and toes curled underSuspend / ExhaleTones and strengthens the arms, shoulders and legs, Releases tension around the neck and shoulder, Improves flexibility of spine
7Bhujangasana (The Cobra Pose)Lower your hips, Point your toes and bend the back, Keep the legs together and shoulders down, Look upwardsInhaleTones abdominal muscles, Improves blood circulation, Helps relieve menstrual pains Remedy for sciatica and backache
8Adhomukha Shwanasana (The downward facing dog pose)Curl your toes under, Raise your hips Pivot into an inverted ‘V’ shape Push your heels and head down, Keep your shoulders backExhaleImproves blood circulation, Calms nerves Relieves stress, Relieves symptoms of menopause, Remedy for headaches and backache
9Ashwa SanchalanasanaStep forward and place the right or left foot between your hands, Rest the other knee on the floor, Look upInhaleSame as in step 4
10Pada HastasanaBring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist, Other steps as in step 3ExhaleSame as in step 3
11Hasta UttanasanaStretch your arms forward, then up and back over your head Bend back slowly from the waist as in step 2InhaleAs in step 2
12PranamasanaGently come back to upright position, bring your palms together in prayer pose Bring your arms down by your sidesExhaleAs in step 1


In step 1 – Tadasana may be performed instead of Pranamasana.

In step 2 – Urdhwa Hastasana / Talasana – Upward Salute Pose may be practiced instead of Hasta Uttanasana.

In step 3 – Uttanasana may be performed instead of Pada Hastasana.

In step 5 – Dandasana may be performed instead of Parvatasana. Other schools have mentioned Chaturanga Dandasana in place of Dandasana.  

In step 8 – Parvatasana can be performed instead of Adho Mukha Shwanasana.
Read – Types Of Pranayama – Effect on Health – Through An Ayurveda View-Point

What mistakes to avoid!

  • One should follow proper breathing cues as indicated with each pose. Not following the same may not bestow essential benefits.
  • Never miss any pose in the sequence. If done, it would break the cycle of breathing and movements.
  • Do not extend the knee too ahead during Ashwa Sanchalanasana.
  • Never do the poses of the sequence too quickly. Also do not increase the sets of practice until you perfect the poses first. Make a slow and humble beginning and master the poses.

Benefits of Surya Namskara

  • Each position explained in Surya Namaskara sequence, be it any variant or from any school of Yoga, complements each pose and stretches the body in a different way.
  • Regular practice increases physical and mental energy along with intensification of thought and memory process.
  • Each pose alternately expands and contracts the chest to regulate breathing.
  • It provides great flexibility to the spine and joints when practiced regularly. It strengthens the bones It also trims the tummy and waist.
  • It lubricates the joints and increases blood supply to them.
  • It increases blood circulation in all organs of the body.
  • It prepares and tones up the body for practice of other asanas.
  • It stretches and strengthens the whole body.
  • It increases the strength of arms and waist muscles.
  • It activates all muscles, organs and nerves.
  • It improves the working efficiency of the internal organs and tones them up.
  • It helps in detoxifying the body.
  • It improves eyesight.
  • It improves digestive process and balances metabolic functions.
  • It helps in keeping the mind calm and cool, helps control anger.
  • It stimulates Surya Nadi / Pingala Nadi. This in turn increases energy and stimulates digestion.
  • It removes energy blocks in the body by enhancing the flow of prana.
  • When Surya Namaskara is practiced as exercise it helps in weight loss.
  • It balances the endocrine system.
  • When practiced with Bija Mantras the Sun Salutation poses strengthen the heart.
  • The breathing sequence practiced in Surya Namaskara strengthens the lungs and enables rich oxygenation of the body. (Read more)

Related Videos

Surya Namaskar Step by Step / Sun Salutation

Surya Namaskar – Step by Step

Effect of Surya Namaskara on doshas and tissues

Since many poses are involved in sequence of Sun Salutation, they help in balancing all the three doshas collectively.

Similarly most tissues are positively impacted by these practices. Mainly it helps in toning up the muscles, bones and joints. Surya Namaskara is also beneficial for most channels and organs of the body. It provides good exercise when done properly and regularly and keeps the entire body and mind in a state of health.

Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)

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