“Oh no!” I woke up late again...and I missed my morning walk, again.
“I have a 9 am call and I have to get Mihika (my daughter) ready and help her finish breakfast before that. I am going to be rushed - let me try and go for a walk in the evening instead.”
This is the typical morning for me. The reasons might change but the outcome does not. Sadly, exercise becomes the first casualty of busy mornings. Every day seems to bring new challenges and coming up with a workout routine that adapts to this seems like an impossible task. Some days I have 30 mins you can spare, other days I have less, what exercise should I do?
Sometimes I ask myself - Am I sacrificing this time for the family? Or am I just not prioritising enough? I can’t really blame anyone for this because despite having adequate support, it just seems impossible to just squeeze in that 20-30 mins of exercise regularly.
Does this sound familiar to you? The feeling of not being able to get into some form of exercise routine can be really upsetting. Our daily life doesn't seem to be getting any simpler or easier, so wouldn't it be great if you had an exercise option that’s simple, flexible and that you can do anywhere or for however long you’ve got, be it 10 min or 30 min?
Here’s my recommendation: The Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
Instead of worrying about what each morning will throw at you, aim to do as many rounds of Surya Namaskars as you can.
Why you should do it.
The Surya Namaskar is an ancient Yogic practice and is one’s way of paying respect to the Sun which is the source of energy for all living beings on earth. It comprises 12 graceful Yoga postures synchronised with breath awareness. Performing this sequence is known to energise the whole body and activate all the major muscles. It’s also very effective in calming the mind and your body.
The key benefits of regular Surya Namaskar practice include:
- Helps build strength.
- Improves flexibility.
- Improves blood circulation.
- Helps with stress relief, recovery, balance and mood.
The key thing is to do it mindfully.
How can you start?
Here’s a safe way to get started with the Surya Namaskar. All you need is yourself, an empty stomach and a mat.
If you have medical conditions or are unsure about whether you can attempt the Surya Namaskar, please do consult with your doctor/physician first.
If you are completely new to Yoga or have last practised the Surya Namasakar a long time ago, you should start with familiarising yourself with the 12 individual moves first. Start with the beginner variation that is shown in this video.
A few important points:
- Focus on the alignment of the various joints in each step.
- Pay close attention to the breathing instructions.
- Once you’re comfortable with each move you can link them together into 1 full repetition.
- Don’t rush this and take your time to get the basics right. Any mistakes you make here will add up as you increase the repetitions and intensity. So get it right at this stage itself.
- Take your time, keep reminding yourself about the key points and don’t forget to breathe.
- Gradually increase the repetitions based on how you’re feeling and the time you have.
To start with, it’s likely that you’re not able to go as deep in some of the poses or you need to stop after every repetition. That’s perfectly ok. Do it at a pace that is comfortable for you. While the video may make it look smooth and effortless, I assure you that it’s hard work!
As you continue your practice, you’ll find that you’re able to go deeper in certain poses and also do more repetitions. That’s what progress looks like, be sure to notice and celebrate these small wins because they all add up to a healthier you.
If this starts becoming easy, you can start exploring some of the additional poses from the Intermediate level discussed below.
If you are a regular practitioner of Yoga, you may already be familiar with the basic moves, all you may need is audio instructions to guide you through the steps. You can try some dynamic style Surya Namaskars which includes challenging poses like the Utkatasana (Imaginary Chair Pose) or Veera-Bhadra-Asana (Warrior Pose). They’re demonstrated in the video below.
Be sure to synchronise your breath as you transition from one pose to the other. It is important to be completely aware of your breathing throughout the practice.
If you find the above too easy, then you can begin your practice of the dynamic version of the Surya Namaskar at a faster (but controlled) pace and then complete the practice by slowing down and holding each pose for a longer duration of time, for the last few rounds.
Each pose should ideally be adapted based on your individual movement patterns and abilities, as we all have our tight and weak spots. So I would recommend that you get some sessions with an experienced teacher. This way you can avoid some common mistakes and get feedback and corrections on your technique. An experienced teacher will also be able to suggest modifications that are suitable for your body.
The most common mistakes that I see often include the following:
- Incorrect breathing technique, including sacrificing (holding) your breath to get into a pose.
- Incorrect alignment of the spine, by leaning to one side more or twisting it without realising.
- Rushing into a pose, and not spending enough time getting deep into each pose.
- Increasing the number of repetitions too fast or by too much.
It will help if you take a video of yourself doing it (from the side and the front) and review and compare it against the reference videos linked above. This can be very helpful in helping you spot mistakes and correct them.
When to practise?
The best time to practise Surya Namasakar is early in the morning. As the name suggests, it is meant as a salutation to the rising sun. The Surya Namaskar completely rejuvenates and energises your entire body. This helps you begin the day on a positive and energetic note and sets the tone for the rest of your day.
However, if you are pressed for time or better fits your schedule, you could practise it in the evening as well. Either way, your stomach should be empty (wait at least 2 hrs after your last meal). It could get too uncomfortable if you practise with a heavy stomach and you may even end up having stomach cramps and pain.
Choose a time that works for you.
The most important thing is to get started and get it done. The only bad workout is the one that did not happen!
How to practise with consistency
Want to stay motivated to do Surya Namaskars every single day? Here are some quick ways to squeeze in some time for the Surya Namaskar into your routine.
What does your day look like?
A lot depends on what your day’s schedule looks like. Focussed Surya Namaskar practice for as little as 5-15 minutes a day can be very helpful. And you can do this many times during the day. For example, 5 minute sessions four times during the day = 20 mins. It all adds up, so don’t think you need big blocks of time to do it. Practise as many sets as you can depending on time availability and your endurance. Don’t worry about how many calories you burnt or how many sets you got in the stipulated time. Some people love to play calming music to stay focussed during practice.
Finally, remember that it is not a race. Focus on your form and posture, listen to your body and rest whenever you need to.
How to plan your Surya Namaskar on a busy day?
- Wake up in the morning, grab your coffee and head to your terrace or balcony for 10 mins of Surya Namaskars.
- Have 10 mins in between work calls? Do 5 repetitions.
- Work call starting a few minutes late? That's another 3-5 repetitions.
- Do 2 repetitions every hour on the hour from 9am-6pm (EHOH). That means 2 repetitions at 9am, 2 at 10am and so on with the last 2 repetitions at 6pm
Surya Namaskars on a stressful day is a great tonic too!
- Shut down your laptop, do 5 repetitions and then move on to other things.
- Done for the day and want to unwind? Do 5 slow repetitions (with music if you want).
- Teach your kids and do it together. They can do it EHOH with you, they'll make sure you don't forget.
- Have your friends do a few on your next Zoom catch-up. 1 extra repetition for every minute someone is late!
Include Surya Namaskars as warm-up.
Surya Namaskar practice activates all the major muscles and energises the entire body. This means that you can include it before any workout as a great way to stretch and warm up all your major muscles and joints. So, whether it is a walk, a run, cycling or weight training, 2-3 rounds of Surya Namaskar can really help get you ready to do well in your workout.
Hope that gives you some ideas to get started!
How do you make progress?
In the beginning, you may find that you are unable to reach the floor, touch those toes or keep your spine straight in some of the moves especially if it’s been a long time since you did much exercise.
Patience and consistency is the key to success with Surya Namaskars.
If you ask me for one thing that matters the most - it’s repetition. If you keep practising the same moves over and over again, you’ll find yourself getting very comfortable in all these moves. With time you’ll find that you’re able to go deeper in some poses, hold them for longer, feel smoother with the flow and have the endurance to do many more repetitions.
It’s important that you stay mentally engaged with the practice. Don’t watch TV or try to do something else during your Surya Namaskar practice. The quality of your effort matters and this will show in your progress too.
Practising with strength
In Yogic philosophies, there is only one definition for Asana (body posture) which says that the posture we hold should be comfortable, stable and peaceful. So it is important to feel that equilibrium when you practice the Surya Namaskars. Once you have mastered the moves, it may get tempting to try out 108 Surya Namaskars within a week. Listen to your body - it will tell you when you are ready. Until then, practise and slowly work your way up to those sets. It may take a few months. That’s absolutely fine. Correct posture and a calm mind is more important than accomplishing crazy numbers.
So, think of your Surya Namaskar practice as more than a workout or a weight loss tool, instead embrace it for the holistic health benefits it will bring you.
Hopefully, this famous quote by Nelson Mandela will help us remember what it takes to achieve something:
It always seems impossible until it is done.
So without any further delay, gather yourself and begin your practice today.