108 Surya Namaskar for longevity
Picture Source: Yoga Institute.
I am fond of a quote by my favorite motivational speaker Tony Robbins, “People will do more to avoid pain than they will do to gain pleasure.” And, I am a living example. I was invited as a guest faculty for an international conference in the Middle East, and the organizers were kind enough to provide me a business class ticket. Surprisingly that day there was nobody else in the business class other than me. I was treated like a Maharaja and offered ala carte dinner with drinks. After the dinner, they closed all the window shutters and put on the curtains, provided me privacy and wished me good night! However, unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy that luxury due to my obesity! That pained me a lot, and that day I resolved to do something about my weight at the earliest. Nevertheless, I wanted to do the same without changing my food habits as I am a foodie!
Recently Google Inc. said humans could live for 500 YEARS. Such longevity will be possible due to medical breakthroughs and a rise in biomechanics. Google Ventures has invested in genetics firms and cancer startup tech giants and also set up Calico – anti-aging research and development labs with the hope of extending our lives five-fold! Google venture’s Mr. Bill Maris said: ‘We have the tools to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision. I hope to live long enough not to die.’ But professor Sir Colin Blakemore from the University of London believes there’s a limit on human life. This accomplished neurobiologist believes 120 years ‘might be an absolute to human lifespan.’ I don’t know whether I will live up to that time to see those inventions. Definitely not with a diaper on and dependent on others!
If at all if I live, I should be living an active life of 18 hours a day like I am living as of today. I looked at two extraordinary people who lived an active life for nearly a century or more than a century. And I deeply explored what they did to live that fruitful life. One was Malladihalli Raghavendra Swamiji who was popular as “Tiruka” and Yoga guru B.K Iyengar who made yoga famous at International level. I had read somewhere that B.K Iyengar used to do 108 Surya Namaskar or Sun Salute at one stretch every morning and he lived for 95 years, very active life. Whereas Tiruka Swamiji went a step ahead and could do 1008 Surya Namaskar a day, and he lived a busy life of 106 years. Hence, I decided to emulate them.
The origin of Surya Namaskara dates back to the Vedic times. It is supposed to have started as a Lord Hanuman’s guru dakshina or gratitude to guru Surya. However, it was Raja of Aundh (now part of Maharashtra) introduced Surya Namaskar into the schools of his kingdom in the 1920s. He also published a small book, urging every man, woman, and child to adopt this practice for the sake of their physical and spiritual health.
I started my quest for productive longevity with Surya Namaskara by attending Patanjali yoga classes. The first day, by the time I did six Surya Namaskar, I was panting for my breath, and my heart appeared to throb in my mouth and my dress drenched in sweat. Performing 108 Surya Namaskar became a distant dream!
However, I didn’t give up, and I preserved. I had a fantastic yoga teacher, who was a mathematics teacher by profession. He instructed me not to concentrate on the number of rounds. Rather focus on the process and doing the right way. Each round of Surya Namaskar has 12 steps. Each step is a Yoga pose or Asana and has unique advantages and health benefits.
Along with physical exercise, it also involves breathing exercise. We have to chant a mantra during each Asana. The steps, how to perform them, the mantra to be chanted and the benefit we get is given in the table-I. To start with I was not even performing each step right. The first week I just did only six Surya Namaskar and concentrated on performing each pose or asana right. Next, I learned the breathing pattern required for each step and the mantras. At the end of two weeks, I could sense transformation within myself.
I adopted the Japanese method of management, “Kaizen,” i.e., the daily progressive improvement which I practice in my professional work. I increased the number of Surya Namaskar gradually to twelve in the third week. This time it was easy. I persisted with twelve rounds for three days and then increased to eighteen. I continued this routine of an increasing number of rounds on every fourth day. I needed a piece of motivational music which was in tandem with the steps. The Omkara music I used, in the beginning, was too monotonous.
That is when I remembered the ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ song which I had used earlier to choreograph a classical dance during my postgraduate education as a cultural secretary. This beautiful piece of music which describes eight avatars of Ma Durga and extermination of Mahisura turned out to be the right for my purpose. I compared my obesity to the Mahishasura and each step as an individual avatar of Ma Durga to eliminate my obesity. Once I found the tune, there was no looking back. I reached 108 Surya Namaskar in one go within a short time. In the latter half, I increased the number of rounds on every fourth day, from six to twelve. The Mahishasura Mardini song lasts for 14.9 minutes, and I have tuned it to play twice on my iPhone. I take about 28 minutes to do 108 rounds. Omkara by Pandit Jasaraj will follow the Mahishasura Mardini.
The best part is, 108 Surya Namaskar is followed by ‘Shavasana’ or corpse position for about 6 minutes. When I am in Shavasana pose drenched with sweat, I could feel that my body is hot and the heart pounding. However, slowly I could feel that my body is gradually cooling down, heart rate slowing down and all muscles of the body relaxing. As I listen to Omkara and stop thinking about anything else, I reached a state of transcendence state. Many a time I used to get a feeling that I have attained a sort of Nirvana and I have become lighter and floating in the air.
Some fitness expert had advised focussing on a particular area of the body or muscle group while doing Surya Namaskar. Once I was able to to do 108 rounds in a stretch, each week I started focussing on my abdominal muscles, or back muscles or hamstrings and so on. Such a focussed application started giving me the results similar to weightlifting or CrossFit training. As such each round of Surya Namaskar has 12 Asanas, when we perform 108 repetitions, we end up performing 1296 Asanas. My target heart during the rounds reached anywhere between 130 – 170 beats per minute according to my Fitbit. Each round of Surya Namaskar known to burn 13.90 calories. When performing 108 rounds, we end up burning 1500 calories. That’s huge for a 30-minute workout!
My physical transformation was tremendous. With little change in my food habits, I reduced 10 kgs in 8 weeks and enhanced my stamina required for a full day trek in most treacherous locations. One of the physical activity I used to love was trekking and mountaineering. I had stopped doing it for a long time due to obesity. Now, I resumed this trekking to my favorite spots again. I made of invitation as a guest faculty to different places and countries as an opportunity to trek in most picturesque and unusual locations.
Most important of all, started getting benefit in my professional work. I perform many complicated surgeries which sometimes last more than 8 hours, that too standing. Of the late, I used to feel tired. After my transformation, I could go on operating without a break for straight 12 hours. I have type II diabetes, and I could get perfect control of my blood sugar levels. While many of my contemporaries are on anti-hypertensive drugs, my blood pressure is perfect. The twelve mantras and the breathing exercises accompanied by each step had an incredible effect on my lungs. My vital capacity, i.e., amount of air I can breathe in (Inhale) increased. My allergic bronchial asthma almost disappeared. Most important of all, I became more calm and peaceful. Now I can concentrate on the tasks close to my heart better.
Surya Namaskar is a whole body exercise which involves yoga, breathing exercises, CrossFit training, weight lifting (lifting one’s own body!) and stretching exercises. A must for all health enthusiasts who are short of time.