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12 Steps to Superstar Fitness

That's right! The Surya Namaskara can take you from flab to fab. Here's all you need to know about the 12-set sequence of yoga asanas that can tone your body and free your mind

For those of us who complain about not having enough time to squeeze in a daily exercise regime, the surya namaskara or sun salutation could prove the solution. The sequence comprises twelve Hatha yoga asanas designed to stretch the entire body.

The result is an increase in flexibility, strength, and a boost to immunity. The best part is that it takes just 12 minutes to do twelve rounds of the exercise.

If each asana in the 12-set sequence is done with complete breath awareness, then it works every part of the body. Yogacharya, Shameem Akhtar, trained with the international Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, says, "The arms get toned in the inverted V pose, the legs in all the standing poses. The waist gets slimmer by arching well and deeply in the crescent pose." It exercise also works the thighs, shoulders and back.

Internal massage

The benefits of doing the surya namaskara are deeper, compared to other forms of exercises. It aids overall well-being. "It massages the important glands -- the liver (in the ashtanga namaskara pose), stress glands and kidneys.

In the forward bend, it encourages blood flow to the brain, and therefore makes hair lush and keeps the face looking fresh and young, while tweaking master glands in the brain so that the body's thermostat is set at its healthy best," adds Shameem.

Practice makes perfect

"It is important to learn the technique well before you start pushing yourself to do more rounds. If wrongly done, it can cause cramps or pain in the back or spine. The number of namaskaras that should be done depends on an individual's current fitness level and flexibility," says yoga instructor Harushith Kumble.

Surya namaskara is a great energy booster, and is therefore best done in the morning. Though, if one is pressed for time, it can be done any time of day. It is advisable not to do the surya namaskara close to bedtime, as it could interfere with one's sleep.

The Ideal workout

According to Shameem, the ideal routine (even when you're pressed for time) should include a six surya namaskaras set (five minutes), six asanas (including inversions, twists and arm balancers, which would take another five to ten minutes), pranayama practice (like anulom vilom, a few rounds of which would take ten minutes) and the final relaxation/meditation (five minutes with breath awareness) is best. An ideal set would be 12, covering the right and left legs in one set, adding up to a total of 24 rounds.

"Cardiovascular exercise and weight training complement each other. While running on the treadmill, you exercise your legs, increase heart rate and there are a pattern of similar muscle contractions. In surya namaskara, muscle contractions are on a deeper level and it also improves flexibility, stability and strength, as it includes a variety of movements in different directions," says fitness expert Madhuri Ruia.

As it works on most muscles and organs and improves immunity, surya namaskara helps combat several diseases, including stomach ailments and spinal problems. But in certain health complications, including high blood pressure, it must be taught in a phased manner.

According to some yoga institutes surya namaskaras can delay puberty in children, enabling the child's body and mind to mature together.

This is how they did it

Discipline is key

Kareena Kapoor got her size zero look after doing 50 surya namaskaras in one session accompanied by 1,000 kapalbhartis to get in shape for Tashan.

Her diet included snacks every three hours accompanied with nuts and milk for energy, green vegetables and one slice of cheese. No rice or chapattis for this girl! Kareena Kapoor's Diet Chart - Click Here

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Slow and steady does it

Rani Mukherji started with 5 to 10 surya namaskaras as she had weak nerves and would suffer from cramps. Slowly, she got to over 50 surya namaskaras and 1,000 repetitions of kapalbharti (accompanied by simple cardio exercise). She lost eight kilos in 10 months to achieve her svelte avtaar in Dil Bole Hadippa.

Persistence pays

Neha Dhupia has been doing the surya namaskara for four years. She combines yoga with cardio either in the gym or 50 minutes of running. She has switched to a macrobiotic diet, eating organic foods and whole grains, and has cut out dairy.

Below is an explaination of how surya namaskara is performed in 12 easy steps
For videos and images of how to perform the Surya Namaskar Click here >>

>>Stand erect feet together and palms joined in the centre of the chest in a namaskaras and inhale. Next, exhale and push hands down straightening and lowering the arms until the elbows touch the sides.

>>Breathe in deeply and raise the arms above the head and extend the spine backwards arching the back from the waist. Let the eyes follow the hands while relaxing your neck and keeping hands straight.

>>Exhale, bend forward from the waist and place the hands on the floor besides each foot. Knees should remain straight. Relax with your head and neck in a bending pose. Breathe out completely. If you cannot touch the ground, then let your hands go only as far as they can.

>>Inhale and put your weight on the hands, stretch the right leg behind and rest it on toes. Bend the knee and place it on the floor with your weight on the left foot and arch the spine backward. Lift the head and neck first up and then back. Roll the eyes up. The left foot does not move.

>>Exhale and bring the left foot back in line with the right. Lift the hips up high like a mountain. Push the heels and head down and look at the toes with the head down between the arms.

>>Put the knees down first and then bring the chest down. See that eight parts of the body are touching the floor including two feet, two knees, two hands, the chest and the chin or forehead. Make sure the hips are slightly raised above the ground. Inhale and exhale in this position. Keep the feet together.

>>Lower the abdomen and pelvis to the floor. Inhale and stretch the toes on the floor. Raise your head slowly up, arch the spine and neck and look up. Keep your legs together and the elbows alongside the body slightly bent and keep the shoulders down.

>>Exhale and wiggle your toes forward allowing your feet to rest on the soles while you raise the hips as you did in number 5.

>>Inhale and bring the right foot forward and come into pose number 4 as earlier, but with the leg positions reversed.

>>Exhale and bring the right foot forward (same as pose 3).

>>Inhale and stretch up in a standing pose with your arms up and bend backwards (same as pose 2).

>>Exhale and stand erect bringing the hands back to the centre of the chest with palms together.

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