The last two days of the year 2008 in my household were healthy and inspiring, which I hope will be a steppingstone for a healthy and active 2009. During those days, I managed to initiate my two children (ages 8 and 11), my niece (age 9), and my husband into yoga through “sun salutations,” or surya namaskar, without the whining or complaints that have typically accompanied anything related to healthy habits.

My children, niece, and husband are yoga rookies. I have practiced yoga on and off for several years and more consistently in recent years after going through the Yoga Instructors’ Certificate Course offered by Yoga Bharati in the Bay Area. I have even taught a few yoga classes, but my previous attempts to teach my family have always been unproductive. During the last days of 2008, however, thanks to travel-free holidays, my family actually mastered the surya namaskar sequence. Their enthusiastic response to performing and practicing surya namaskar made me wonder about my brood’s change of heart.

The driving force was the Surya Namaskar Yagna (SNY) or Sun Salutation marathon organized by Yoga Bharati. A leader in the yoga awareness movement, Yoga Bharati organizes a SNY every year to encourage everyone to add yoga to their list of New Year resolutions and start the new year on a healthy note. The SNY is a wonderful incentive for people to experiment with and practice sun salutations.

Surya Namaskar (SN) is an integrated yogic exercise set performed in a specified sequence and consists of a series of 10 or 12 poses linked by a continuous flowing motion synchronized with the breath. The sequence can be performed slowly as an asana or briskly as an aerobic/cardio workout.

For people with limited time, the SN can be used to exercise every muscle and joint while stimulating the body. For the spiritually inclined, SN is performed to give reverence to the internal sun, the creative force that radiates inside the body, and the external sun, which shines outside the body.

All yogis know that yoga is not something they can pick up on the fly. A good yoga routine requires time and practice, perseverance, and most importantly a commitment to integrate it into their hectic daily lives. SN and a 10-minute commitment per day is an ideal “starter kit” for a yoga routine.

My children and niece initially agreed to learn the SN sequence because I bribed them with unconditional Nintendo DS/Wii play time. They probably knew that the best way to appease their nagging mother was to join her, particularly when conciliation brought such reward.

As I began teaching them the sequence of asanas, I was surprised to find that they were actually having fun. They were ready to practice the exercises several times and refused to give up until they had mastered each pose. They were very willing to practice daily and accept the challenge of signing up for the sun salutation marathon and committing to a month of practice. When I asked why they were so keen to practice the sun salutations and participate in the marathon, I received the following responses from the group: “It makes me feel stronger;” “It is fun to practice together;” “It will make me healthy;” “It is relaxing;” “It makes my headache go away;” “It helps me concentrate.”

I was surprised to find that the promised Nintendo time was not on their list! My younger son was also able to explain why it made his headaches disappear: “It increases the blood flow to my brain,” and used the downward facing “dog pose” as an example.

Participation in the SNY made the exercises part of the children’s daily routine along with their schoolwork, music/piano practice, and other activities. They made it a point to finish their SN practice before supper every evening. I am extremely proud that my children (as well as my husband) were diligent about practicing every day. They had set their goal at 12 sequences per day and if for some reason they missed a day of practice, they compensated for it the following day. Watching them flow through the sequence with stamina and agility has been quite impressive. After less than a week of practice, they had mastered the sequence and flow and were sprinting through the 12 repetitions, causing me to remind them that they were working on a marathon and not a sprint and that the sequence has to be practiced slowly and gracefully.

Although the sun salutation marathon has officially ended, I am hoping that it marked the beginning of a healthy and sun-filled year. I am trying to convince my family that they should continue their practice of SN each day because I believe strongly in its value and benefits and I am passionate about ensuring that the people around me also experience the life-changing effects of this wonderful yoga asana practice.

Vidhya Gopalakrishnan lives in West San Jose and works for a pharmaceutical company. She teaches yoga at the local community center. She can be reached at vidhya_1 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Medical disclaimer: This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only and the information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Please consult with your doctor, licensed physician or other qualified health provider for personal medical advice and medical conditions.