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The obvious characteristic of surya namaskara is the fact that it exercises the entire body. The back is bent forwards and backwards, the arms and legs are bent and straightened, the abdomen is compressed, stretched and so on. It is an integral exercise that influences the health of the whole body. It is not confine d to developing one part of the body, such as the arm muscles, like so many other forms of exercises and gymnastics.

The body consists of various systems and organs which interrelate and coordinate with each other to give the best possible health and efficiency. It is very easy for these systems to become disrupted. The result is disease and lack of vitality etc. Surya namaskara brings these systems - the circulatory, respiratory, endocrinal, etc. - into balance with one another, thereby helping to prevent and remove disease. Let us briefly discuss some of the main systems in the body and how they benefit from surya namaskara.

Digestive system: The abdominal organs and stomach are alternately stretched and compressed. This imparts a healthy massage to the internal organs and ensures that they function correctly, or if they don't currently work efficiently, encourages them to do so. Many diseases of the digestive system can be prevented and removed by the regular practice of surya namaskara.

Eliminative system: Rapid elimination of waste materials from the body is essential. Often undigested waste products remain in the intestines and bowels due to constipation, which can result in various other disorders. Surya namaskara stimulates the peristalsis of the intestines helping to remove any tendency towards constipation.

The kidneys are also important eliminative organs. They filter impurities from the blood and eliminate them from the body in the form of urine.

Therefore, any disorder or inefficiency in the workings of the kidneys will result in impure blood. Surya namaskara gently massages these two organs, increases their supply of blood, as well as speeds up the circulation throughout the body. The result is that the kidneys are encouraged to function properly while at the same time the blood is given an additional flush and filter through the kidneys. For best results one should supplement the daily practice of surya namaskara by drinking plenty of clean, fresh water.

A high proportion of the body's waste products are eliminated through the skin. This process works particularly well when a person sweats profusely. Often toxins accumulate in the skin, manifesting as boils and pimples. If a good sweat was developed regularly there would be less tendency for this to happen as the toxins would reach the outer surface of the skin and be washed off. Surya namaskara results in increased perspiration and thereby encourages the elimination of toxins from the body, helping to prevent skin ailments. This is an excellent method of acquiring a fresh com plexion, especially if one takes a bath after surya namaskara or the yoga practice program.

Circulatory system: Surya namaskara increases the heartbeat and the workings of the whole circulatory system, helping to eliminate waste materials from the body. Areas of sluggish blood are also removed and replaced by purified and oxygenated blood. All the cells of the body receive extra nutrition enabling them to function more efficiently. This leads to better health and increased vitality.

The lymphatic system is also speeded up. This svstem is most important in protecting the body against infection. It is the body's auto-therapeutic system and without it the body would quickly succumb to disease. Surya namaskara, by increasing the circulation and the removal of poisonous bacteria, directly aids the lymphatic system to work more efficiently in its fight against illness.

Respiratory system: Most people tend to breathe superficially in short and shallow gasps. This starves the body of the oxygen it requires for perfect health. Carbon dioxide also tends to accumulate in the system. Further under-utilization ofthe lung capacity allows a build-up of germs which can lead to various illnesses. Surya namaskara, when done correctly, accentuates the exchange of air to and from the lungs, opens and expands the intricate alveoli, or air sacs, of the lung tissue and exercises the muscles of the surrounding chest region. The lungs are emptied of impurities and stale air and the body and brain are revitalized by the extra supply of oxygen they receive. One can almost feel the extra super-charge of energy.

Endocrinal system: This system plays an important part in determining our well-being and attitude towards life. It consists of a large number of different chemicals (hormones) which interact with each other, reinforcing or counteracting each other. Even the slightest imbalance can cause widespread repercussions in the form of disease. A well-known example is diabetes. There are many other illnesses which are a direct result of hormonal imbalance. The hormones are the officers of the body, the brain is the commander and the parts of the body are the soldiers. It is the hormones that mobilize and coordinate the different functions of the body. Rate of growth, sexual functions, excitability and so on are all controlled by hormones.

Surya namaskara harmonizes this system helping to remove any irregularities by directly massaging the relevant glands and improving their blood flow. Imbalance of the endocrinal system is often caused by mental tension. Surya namaskara can help to remove or reduce this deeper cause of hormonal malfunction, especially if it is supplemented by other yoga practices.

Nervous system: The multitudes of nerve connections throughout the body are gently stretched, massaged and stimulated while doing surya namaskara. It is these nerves that connect the different parts and organs of the body with the brain. The nerves are the intermediaries. Even if an organ is in perfect condition it can only function as well as the nerves will allow. If the nerves are unhealthy then the functioning of the associated organs must suffer. If the pipe connecting the water tank to the tap is blocked, then the tap cannot work properly, even though it might be perfectly new. It is the same with the body's nervous system. The nerve fibres determine how well the organs and muscles of the body function.

Most modern, sedentary people don't exercise their bodies sufficiently. As a consequence the nerve connections tend to become lazy and atrophy develops. Surya namaskara tones up these nerves and simultaneously awakens the associated brain centres. One feels more alive after a few rounds of this exercise.

Muscles and skeleton: Surya namaskara exercises all the main muscles and joints in the body. The muscles are contracted and extended and any impure, stagnant blood is redirected back to the lungs and kidneys for purification. It is an excellent method of loosening up the body for asana practice.

Subtle influences: Surya namaskara can give many additional and perhaps more important benefits beyond the physical. It depends on your attitude. If you are aware and totally involved with the intonation of the mantras, the breathing and the movements, it will induce peace of mind. It is therefore a very useful exercise in reducing emotional conflict, neurosis and stress, especially when supplemented by other yoga practices. If one is devotionally inclined then the exercise can be done with full knowledge of the significance of worshipping the sun. This will purify the heart and mind. Sun a namaskara also helps to bring the flow of pranic or bioplasmic energy into balance and remove blockages in the nadis through which it flows. Surya namaskara is an excellent practice with which to start the day. It helps to prepare you in every way to face the oncoming day with physical and mental strength and confidence.

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