Scientific Benefits of Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation (Part 1)
Synopsis: Salutation to Sun, especially at dawn is an ancient practice. In this article we will explore how the Suns rays effect our serotonin levels, vitamin D levels, help us with insomnia and better blood circulation. We will understand the many scientific benefits of Surya Namaskar and how it not only boosts our mental and physical agility, but also assists in weight loss and a healthy heart.
Sun is the most important source of life on earth. It is worshiped as God in many cultures. It not only gives life, but also maintains and heals it. There are several neurological, physical, emotional benefits of Sun’s rays. The morning sunrise activates the Heart Neurons, making one a happy, joyful person. Scientists believe that 20-30 minutes of morning sun’s rays may shrink fat cells below ones skin’s surface, helping them be fit and healthy.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) helps us imbibe the soft light of the dawning sun for optimum physical and mental health. It is an ancient yoga techniques which includes twelve poses in sequence. It holds tremendous health benefits for the practitioner.
Many people, for generations have been following and reaping the benefits of it, without a full understanding of this yogic exercise. A scientific outlook will help us with the right understanding and approach towards this powerful yogic technique.
SUNLIGHT AND SEROTONIN
Pineal gland in our body is responsible for the production of a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that is associated with improved mood, more energy, helping one keep calm, positive, and focused. Sunlight increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. Chronic low serotonin levels due to low sunlight exposure in winters are thought to be one of the contributing factors for depression during winters, commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Early exposure to sun in the form of Surya Namaskar is one of the best non pharmacological interventions for increasing serotonin.
Serotonin is also believed to be a precursor of the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for our sleep cycle. Studies have shown that early exposure to sun, gets sleep hormone melatonin production ready for later in the night.
BENEFITS OF SURYA NAMASKAR
Several benefits of regular practice of Surya Namaskar has been studied successfully by many scientists. It is a very good form of physical exercise as it engages core, stretches the hamstrings, improves blood circulation, benefits the internal organs, and promotes overall health. One can practice the technique per their requirement and time.
Slow pace: This helps with flexibility in the body
Medium pace: This is useful for toning ones muscles
Fast pace: At fast pace it is an excellent cardiovascular workout
Let us one by one discuss and understand few of the scientific benefits of Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation:
1. Helps with Digestion
The sequential poses increase the blood flow to the digestive tract resulting in better functioning of the intestines. Due to the alternate stretching and compression of the abdominal organs in the exercise series, the digestive fire gets activated which helps get rid of constipation and other stomach problems. The forward bend pose (Padahastanasana or Utthanasana/ Hand to feet pose) presses the abdomen helping in releasing trapped gasses.
2. Weight Loss
Surya Namaskar is a full-body workout. When it is practiced at a fast pace, it brings up the heart rate and is an excellent cardio vascular exercise. It rigorously exercises the abdominal muscles assisting reducing weight around the stomach area. The asanas tone the abs and strengthen the musculoskeletal system.
In terms of calorie count (approximate value) in a 30-minute exercise session: Weightlifting burns 199 calories, tennis 232 calories, football 298 calories, rock climbing 364 calories and running 414 calories. A 30 minute Surya Namaskar session burns 417 calories.
3. Improves Metabolism
A new study shows that exposure to bright light alters ones metabolism. Scientists found bright light exposure increased insulin resistance. Surya Namaskaar increases the metabolic rate of the body. According to new study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, scientists state that not enough sunlight can affect the body’s metabolism.
Fat cells beneath the skin can sense light, and they behave differently when exposed to light that mimics indoor lighting vs. natural sunlight. Fat cells can sense sunlight and not getting enough increases metabolic syndrome risk.
4. Helps with Insomnia
Morning sunlight is the key to a good night’s sleep. Human body follows the circadian rhythm of day and night. When sunlight hits your skin, it not only triggers vitamin D production, but also inhibits the release of a sleep hormone called melatonin. At the same time, it also boosts serotonin levels which improves your mood and energy to start the day.
5. Increased Blood Circulation
The active inhalation and exhalation process throughout the Surya Namaskar exercise, keeps the blood oxygenated and lungs ventilated. The increased blood flow, provides glow to the skin and luscious, healthy hair: It also improves the skin tone. The Sun Salutation incorporates diverse yoga asanas that enhance the supply of blood and oxygen to various organs in the body. The optimal flow of blood in the body helps detox the body, making it free from toxic elements and carbon dioxide.
6. Vitamin D
The body has the ability to make its own vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is important for bones, blood cells, and immune system. It helps the body absorb and use minerals, like calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin D from sunlight is a natural blood cleanser. It acts as a natural antibiotic that assists white blood cells in clearing up infections. It does this by stimulating immune cells to make a protein called Cathelicidin in the skin. This is the reason why the skin clears up after being in the sun for sometime.
Observational studies have found low blood levels of vitamin D in patients with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) as well as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) due to Gravesʼ disease. Daylight and sunlight are very important for the production of Vitamin D and thyroid function.
7. Fitness and Flexibility
Surya Namaskar is a comprehensive workout that benefits the entire body. The 12 postures in the series, stretch and strengthen muscles, joints, ligament, as well as the skeletal system. It boosts the fitness levels of the body and keeps the spine flexible and supple. The first and last pose of Surya Namaskar, the Pranamasana (prayer pose) is especially effective for the lower body. It strengthens the legs, ankles, and feet, firms the hips, relieves sciatica, and reduces flat feet.
8. Boosts Intelligence and Focus
Surya Namaskar calms the mind and helps improves concentration. Few asanas in the Surya Namaskar series gently stimulate the nerves, reduce anxiety, and fortify the nervous system, promoting positivity. In Pranamasana, the hands are folded in Namaste position close to the heart. Studies have shown that the folded hands, connects the right and left hemisphere of the brain bringing harmony and balance to the mind and body.
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9. Lowers Blood Pressure, Heart Problems and Diabetes
Surya Namaskar is a natural remedy for blood pressure. It strengthens the heart muscles and helps correcting irregular heartbeat. The practice also keeps blood sugar levels in check for diabetic patients.
In a study, when volunteers were exposed to 30 minutes of summer sunlight without sunscreen, their nitric oxide levels went up and their blood pressure went down. Nitric oxide, is a molecule produced in the body that dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. In a recent study, it was discovered that skin uses sunlight to make nitric oxide.
10. Regulates Hormones
Nervous system and endocrine system are the two main systems which control and co-ordinate each and every activity of our body. Surya Namaskar aids in the proper functioning of endocrine glands and regulates hormonal secretions.
Spending too much time indoors, deprives a person of vital wavelengths (commonly referred to as ‘native electromagnetic frequencies). These light wavelengths are the UV and IR lights which maintain certain hormones in the body, for metabolism, energy and hormonal balance.
Check out the Second Part of the article : Scientific Details of Surya Namaskar
Research shows that the light received from the sun through the retina is delivered directly to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus. This in effect stimulates the release of hormones, cortisol and dopamine which provide energy and motivation.
Surya Namaskar enhances the health of ones body, mind, and soul. It is one of the best ways to keep the body free from diseases and to lead a healthy, positive and happy life.