Yoga Bliss Gambia: International Yoga Day and learning how to Salute the Sun

Happy International Yoga Month! Since United Nations designated an International day for Yoga in December 2014, International Yoga Day (IYD) has since been celebrated on the 21st of June each year. It aims to bring awareness to people of all nationalities and religions about the benefits of yoga. Yoga practiced holistically, will lead to peace and harmony as well as the physical and mental practice brings improved health and wellbeing.

This year’s IYD theme is “Yoga at home and Yoga with family”. Although Gambia has been blessed with having a relatively low prevalence of Covid-19 until now, this pandemic is affecting many people around world, and this theme aims to encourage keeping healthy and fit within your own safe space with your family.

I invite you all to make this your Yoga Month! To assist you with this I will like to introduce you to a 24 step sequence of postures. We call this sequence Salutation to the Sun, Sun salutation or Surya namaskar.

The Sun represents an important aspect of life; vitality, energy and power. For this we should bring our awareness to this life-giving energy that provides and show our gratitude and love. It is recommended to perform this sequence in the morning, as it brings about focus by clearing the mind, increase energy and stamina to prepare your body for the day. The benefits of practicing Surya namaskar are very vast, but I would like to highlight a few following benefits:

  • Increases stamina, strength and flexibility
  • Increases focus and concentration
  • Increases energy and awareness
  • Improves digestion and aids in weight-loss
  • Promotes detoxification
  • Improves hormonal and emotional balance 

There are many variations to the Surya namaskar depending on the school of yoga and the teacher, but generally the fundamental sequences have 12 steps of asanas which are individually repeated and performed first on the right leg followed by the left making up a 24 step round.

If you have clinically significant high/low blood pressure, heart condition, recent surgery, spinal hernia, high-risk pregnancy or pregnancy in the last trimester, please do not perform Surya namaskar.

Performing the 12 steps

2. Raised arm pose (Hastha uttanasana)

As you inhale raise your arms, expanding your rib cage and chest, extend your spine upwards. If you do not suffer from back pain you can come in to a slight backbend, while keeping your core muscles contracted.

1. Prayer pose (Pranam asana)

Standing with your feet together at the top of your mat, bring your palms together to the centre of your heart.

1. Prayer pose (Pranam asana)

Standing with your feet together at the top of your mat, bring your palms together to the centre of your heart.

2. Raised arm pose (Hastha uttanasana)

As you inhale raise your arms, expanding your rib cage and chest, extend your spine upwards. If you do not suffer from back pain you can come in to a slight backbend, while keeping your core muscles contracted.

3. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

As you exhale, lower your arms as you bend at your hip joint to bring your hands to the ground/feet. Relax your neck. If you suffer from back pain or have difficulty to reach the ground/feet, bend your knees together.

4. Equestrian pose (Ashwa sanchalanasana)

Maintaining your palms on the ground, while you inhale, extend your right leg back and lower the knee to the mat. Arms should be extended and you should be gazing forward.

3. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

As you exhale, lower your arms as you bend at your hip joint to bring your hands to the ground/feet. Relax your neck. If you suffer from back pain or have difficulty to reach the ground/feet, bend your knees together.

4. Equestrian pose (Ashwa sanchalanasana)

Maintaining your palms on the ground, while you inhale, extend your right leg back and lower the knee to the mat. Arms should be extended and you should be gazing forward.

5. Downward facing dog pose (Adho-mukho svanasana)

As you exhale bring your left leg back and lift your hips upwards and come into downward facing dog. Your chest should be open pushing towards your thighs; the hips are turned out so that your tail bone is pointing upwards. Your heels are pushing down towards the ground, extending the back of your legs, and your neck should be relaxed. Variation: Perform with bent knees.

6. Chin, chest and knee pose (Ashtanga namaskarasana)

While retaining the exhalation, bring your chin, chest and knee to the ground while keeping a slight bend in the hips keeping it off the mat.

5. Downward facing dog pose (Adho-mukho svanasana)

As you exhale bring your left leg back and lift your hips upwards and come into downward facing dog. Your chest should be open pushing towards your thighs; the hips are turned out so that your tail bone is pointing upwards. Your heels are pushing down towards the ground, extending the back of your legs, and your neck should be relaxed. Variation: Perform with bent knees.

6. Chin, chest and knee pose (Ashtanga namaskarasana)

While retaining the exhalation, bring your chin, chest and knee to the ground while keeping a slight bend in the hips keeping it off the mat.

7. Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)

As you inhale, engage the extended legs and buttocks, push the palms down into the ground beside your chest and lift your chest off the mat, expanding your ribcage. Keep your ears away from your shoulders and gaze upwards. Variation: To keep any pressure of your lower back do not fully extend your elbows, keep them bent with the elbows tucked to the side of your chest.

8. Downward facing dog pose (Adho-mukho svanasana)

As you exhale lower your chest towards the mat and then once again push up, extend your arms and lift your hips upwards. Your chest should be open pushing towards your thighs, the hips are turned out so that your tail bone is pointing upwards. Your heels are pushing down towards the ground, extending the back of your legs, and your neck should be relaxed. Variation: Perform with bent knees.

9. Equestrian pose (Ashwa sanchalanasana)

As you inhale bring your left leg forward to return into an equestrian pose. Gaze ahead.

10. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

With your exhalation, while keeping your hands on the ground/feet step your right foot forward beside your left foot. Bending at your hips your upper body should be stretching downward. Keep your neck relaxed.

9. Equestrian pose (Ashwa sanchalanasana)

As you inhale bring your left leg forward to return into an equestrian pose. Gaze ahead.

10. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

With your exhalation, while keeping your hands on the ground/feet step your right foot forward beside your left foot. Bending at your hips your upper body should be stretching downward. Keep your neck relaxed.

11. Raised arm pose (Hastha uttanasana)

As you inhale come up to standing with a straight back with your legs, buttocks and stomach engaged. Extend your arms and body upwards. If you do not suffer from back pain you can come in to a slight backbend, while keeping your core muscles contracted.

12. Payer pose (Pranam asana)

As you exhale lower your arms back into prayer position, preparing for your 12 steps on the left (step 4 and step 9 with left leg back).

11. Raised arm pose (Hastha uttanasana)

As you inhale come up to standing with a straight back with your legs, buttocks and stomach engaged. Extend your arms and body upwards. If you do not suffer from back pain you can come in to a slight backbend, while keeping your core muscles contracted.

12. Payer pose (Pranam asana)

As you exhale lower your arms back into prayer position, preparing for your 12 steps on the left (step 4 and step 9 with left leg back).

If you are a beginner in yoga, I highly recommend that you practice each asana separately so that you feel confident, comfortable and become familiar with them before performing in a sequence. If you feel that synchronising the breath and movement is intimidating, I suggest that you focus only on the movements initially and perform them slowly to transition from various asnas to move through the 24 steps. As you progress in your practice, you will be able to move through the different asana sequences more confidently, after which you focus on the synchronisation of your breathing.

Photo Credit: www.pranayoga.co.in

In case you suffer from wrist or back pain/injury, I suggest you try the following sequence, which may alleviate pressure from the wrists and lower back in comparison to the standard Surya namaskar.

Photo Credit: www.yogabharati.org

There are also Surya namaskar in the form of chair yoga that is suitable for practicing in the office. Chair yoga also makes it accessible to elderly people who may be physically weak, in a wheelchair or people with clinical blood pressure problems.

Photo Credit: www.yogabharati.org

If you are familiar with yoga and already regularly practice sun salutations, do take this month to explore variations and extensions that have been developed to further your practice. There are many informative clips online that can guide you through different Surya namaskar vinyasa sequences, such as Variation B from Ashtanga yoga.

I hope you can join me in the month of June to incorporate yoga in daily life. You are welcome to contact me on https://www.facebook.com/yogablissgambia to keep you motivated with your practice, and for any Q&A.

About Author

Melissa Kuwahata Daswani

Founder, Yoga Bliss Gambia and Yoga Bliss Creations
Melissa Daswani is a professional yoga teacher trained and accredited in Hatha Yoga from Rishikesh, India. She was introduced to yoga in the early adolesce by her mother who often practised yoga at their home and still continues to practice to date.

Melissa started to indulge in yoga with a keen interest in her 20’s after researching the benefits of practising yoga.

In order to expand her knowledge and practice, she initially enrolled on official training in India during 2009. Her initial stint in yoga teaching began in 2012 in Togo, followed by expanding in the Gambia from 2016. Melissa’s style of teaching incorporates the fundamental and crucial steps of yoga called Hatha yoga, which encompasses the basis of all other styles of yoga. Melissa believes that every individual has something to gain from Yoga which is not limited to mental, physical or spiritual.

Yoga is not a religion but more a spiritual exercise as well as a practice that can universally be incorporated into your daily routine. Melissa offers regular weekly classes in Fajara, the Gambia, which is open to all levels.

She also runs a weekly beach yoga class which is very refreshing and energizing.

It’s her love and dedication towards teaching which allows her the opportunity to share the essence of yoga and its benefits to people from all walks of life.

Whether you reside in the Gambia or a visitor in The Gambia, Yoga Bliss Gambia would love to welcome you to their next class.
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