Friday, 28 October 2016

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) is a vinyasa flow which means it is practiced on the breath.  We move into each pose on an inhalation or an exhalation.

Many beginner yoga classes feature sun salutions, either as a warm up or as the building blocks for an entire vinyasa flow class.

All the basic yoga poses we have done during this introduction to yoga are part of a Sun Salutation.  During the past few weeks we have been feeling out each of the poses, holding each one for a few breaths (or longer), thinking about our alignment, and finding what feels good.  Now that we are comfortable with each of the postures we can start to put them together in a flow.  Let your focus be on breathing evenly, in and out through the nose, rather than worrying about what to do on the inhale, and what to do on the exhale.  As you become more familiar with the poses and the sequence this will come more naturally.

I have included a full posture break down in case you need a refresher.  If you keep scrolling down you will see instructions on how to sequence the poses and a video!

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara): Posture Break Down

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Improves posture
Strengthens thighs, knees and ankles
Firms abdomen and buttocks
Relieves sciatica
Reduces flat feet

*Should not be practiced if you suffer from headache, insomnia or low blood pressure.

Stand with your feet hip width apart with the OUTSIDES of your feet parallel to each other - this may feel somewhat pigeon toed.

Shift your weight back and forth, slowly, from the balls of your feet to your heels to find an even distribution of weight.  Spread your toes.  Lift through your thighs.  Tuck the tail bone.  Engage your core by drawing the navel to the spine.  Take the shoulders back and down.  Lift tall from the crown.  Breath in through the nose and out through the nose.  Find the spaces between your vertebrae.  Lift tall.  Feel the energy running through your fingertips.  Your whole body is strong and light and grounded.  Your core is strong.  Stay here for a few breaths to become centered.

Upward Salute (Urdvha Hastasana)

Stretches the belly
Improves digestion
Stretches the shoulders and armpits
Helps relieve mild anxiety

*Should not be practiced if you suffer from neck or shoulder pain

From Mountain Pose turn the palms out, inhale, and raise the arms to the sky.  Extend the elbows fully.  Keep the arms strong and energised, reaching through the pinkies.  Avoid hunching by dropping the shoulders down and finding space between the shoulders and the ear lobes.  If it's comfortable, take the head back and look towards the thumbs.

To release, exhale and bring the arms down, returning to Mountain Pose.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
Stimulates the liver and kidneys
Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
Strengthens the thighs and knees
Improves digestion
Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
Reduces fatigue and anxiety
Relieves heachache and insomnia

*Should be practiced with modifications in case of back injury

From Upward Salute, on the exhale, fold forwards from the HIPS.  Place hands on the floor (or shins, or knees or hold your hands on your elbows and hang or wherever is comfortable).  With each inhale, lengthen the spine.  With each exhale, release more into the forward bend.

Experiment in the posture.  Find what feels good to you.  Try bending your knees a bit, one and then other other, to warm up the hamstrings more.  Shake your head, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no to relax the neck and loosen the spine.  Where are your hands?  On the floor, or your shins, or on blocks?  Find what feels good.

To release, place the hands on the hips, tuck the tail bone and come to standing with a long, strong spine.

Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana)

Strengthens the back and stretches the torso

*Should be practiced with modifications in case of neck injury.

From Forward Fold, keeping your fingertips on the floor, inhale and lift through the chest, lengthening the spine.  On the exhale, return to Forward Fold.

Again, find what feels good to you here.  Most days I practice forward fold and half forward fold with slightly bent knees because that's what feels good to me.

Low Lunge(Anjaneyasana)

Stretches the iliopsoas, the rectus femoris muscle and the sartorius muscle
Therapeutic for sciatica

*Should not be practiced in case of heart condition

From Forward Fold take a big step back with your right foot so your left knee forms a right angle.  Drop the right knee down and place the top of the right foot on the floor.  Slide the leg back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of the right thigh and groin. Keep the hips forward. On an inhale take the arms up and, if it's comfortable, look towards the sky.

To release from the pose, exhale and bring the hands back to the floor and lift the right knee.  Step the right leg forward and come back to Forward Fold, or step the left leg back and come into Downward Facing Dog.

Repeat on the other side.

High Lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana)

Strengthens the arms and legs
Stretches the groin

*Should not be practiced in case of serious knee injuries.  In case of neck problems look down instead of straight ahead.

From Forward Fold take a big step back with your right leg placing the ball of your foot on the mat.  Your left knee should form a right angle.  Stretch through the heel of the extended leg, keeping the front thigh strong.  Inhale and lengthen the spine and on the exhale soften the torso towards the front thigh.

If you wish, inhale and take the arms up, and on the exhale return hands to the floor.

To release from the pose, step the right leg forward and come back to Forward Fold, or step the left leg back and come into Downward Facing Dog.

Repeat on the other side.

Extended Child's Pose (Balasana)

A gentle stretch for the hips, thighs and ankles
Calms the brain
Helps to relieve stress and fatigue
Relieves back and neck pain when head and torso are supported.

*Should not be done in case of diarrhoea, pregnancy or knee injury

Begin by kneeling on your mat with your big toes touching and your knees at hip width.  Inhale and lengthen the spine, exhale and bring your torso down to rest on your thighs.  Extend your arms in front of you.  Draw the tail bone down and lengthen the spine.  Broaden the shoulders.

Child's Pose is a beautiful resting pose that can precede or follow any pose.  If you are in class and things are getting too much for you, come back to Child's Pose. 

If this pose isn't comfortable for you, don't be afraid to use props.  A cushion, bolster or rolled up blanket or towel between the thighs and the calves or under the torso feels nice.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)

Calms the brain
Helps to relieve stress and mild depression
Energises the body
Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
Strengthens the arms and legs
Improves digestion

*Should not be practiced in case of carpel tunnel syndrome, late term pregnancy or diarrhea.  In case of insomnia or high blood pressure should be practiced with modifications.

Start in extended Child's Pose - this will set up good alignment for where your hands and feet need to be on the mat. Coming onto all fours, start to feel where the weight is through your hands.  Spread your fingers and broaden your palms. Tuck the toes, and lift the tail bone towards the sky.

To begin with, keep the heels off the floor and knees bent.  Slowly stretch one heel towards the mat, then the other one, warming up the hamstrings.  Find what is comfortable for you, working towards having straight legs and heels on the floor.

Keep the sitting bones directed towards the sky, the navel drawn in and the shoulders broad.  Arms and legs are strong and engaged.

To release from the pose exhale and take the knees back to the mat, returning to Child's Pose.

Plank Pose (Adho Mukha Dandasana)

Strengthens the arms, wrists and spine
Tones the abdomen

*Should not be done in case of carpel tunnel syndrome

From Downward Facing Dog inhale and shift your weight forward, bringing your shoulders over your wrists.  Spread the shoulder blades down and out and draw the collar bones away from the sternum.  Keep the upper arms and thighs engaged and strong.  Draw the navel towards the spine and keep the core engaged being sure not to let your hips or chest sink. Lengthen the spine, drawing the crown of the head forward.  Look down.

If this pose is too strong for you, drop your knees to the floor.

To release from Plank Pose, exhale and lift back into Downward Facing Dog, or drop the knees down and exhale into Child's Pose.

Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

Strengthens the arms and wrists
Tones the abdomen

*Should not be practiced in case of carpel tunnel syndrome or pregnancy

From Plank pose, exhale and lower your body down until it's a few inches from the floor.  Keep the elbows tucked in and the shoulders broad.  The core should be engaged and thighs remain active.  As in plank pose, do not let the back sway and sink. 

If this pose is too strong for you, keep the knees on the floor.

To release from this pose, gently lay your body on the mat.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Helps to relieve stress and fatigue
Strengthens the spine
Stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen
Firms the buttocks
Stimulates abdominal organs

*Should not be practiced in case of back injury, carpel tunnel syndrome, headache or pregnancy

Start with your belly on the floor.  Stretch your legs behind you with your heels towards the sky.  Place your hands underneath your shoulders and spread the fingers.  Tuck the elbows in.

Engage the legs by pressing the thighs and the tops of the feet into the mat.

Inhale and lift your chest slightly off the mat, coming only so far that you can hold it without using your hands to press yourself up.  Lift your hands off the mat to check.  Keep the shoulders back and down, chest forward, gaze forward and down.  Keep the legs active but the buttocks soft.

Hold here for a few breaths and on an exhale release back to the floor.

Putting It All Together

Start your sun salutation in Mountain Pose.  Lift the hands over head to Upward Salute.  Bring the hands down and fold at the hips coming to Forward Fold.  Lift the chest, Half Forward Fold, and release back to Forward Fold.  Step the right leg back and come into  Lunge (low or high). Bring the hands over head if you wish, then release them back to the floor.  Step the left leg back, Downward Facing Dog. Shift the weight forward and come into Plank Pose (with the knees on the floor if you prefer).  Bend the elbows and lower the body to Four Limbed Staff Pose.  Come to lay the belly on the floor and gently lift the chest, Cobra Pose. Sit the bottom back on the heels, Extended Child's Pose.  Tuck the toes and lift into Downward Facing Dog.  Step the right leg forward and come back into Lunge (low or high). Step the left leg forward, Forward Fold.  Take the arms over head and stand in Upward Salute, then take the arms back to the sides in Mountain Pose.

Repeat on the other side (stepping the left leg back first).

As the flow becomes more natural you can start to do the sequence on the breath.  As a general rule, inhale on postures that lift or open like Upward Salute and Cobra Pose.  Exhale on folding or lowering postures like Forward Fold or Four Limbed Staff Pose.  

Start in mountain pose.  
Inhale, Upward Salute
Exhale, Forward Fold
Inhale, Half Forward Fold,
Exhale, Forward Fold
Inhale, step Back
Exhale, hold Lunge
Inhale, arms over head (Lunge)
Exhale, hands down to the floor (Lunge)
Inhale, Downward Facing Dog
Exhale, hold Downward Facing Dog 
Inhale, Plank Pose
Exhale, Four Limbed Staff Pose
Inhale, Cobra Pose
Exhale, Extended Child's pose
Inhale, Downward Facing Dog
Exhale, hold Downward Facing Dog
Inhale, step forward
Exhale, hold Lunge
Inhale, arms over head (Lunge)
Exhale, hands down (Lunge)
Inhale, step forward, Forward Fold
Exhale, hold Forward Fold
Inhale, Upward Salute
Exhale, Mountain Pose.

Let's See it in Action

You guys, I made you a video.  There are probably a gazillion videos of Sun Salutations on You Tube - each of them a little different.  But today you don't have to go looking for one because, ta da!  There's one right here that I made especially for you.

I go through the sequence on my right side and then on my left side.  On my right side I take the low option with Low Lunge and keep my knees down for Plank Pose and Four Limbed Staff Pose.  When I repeat the sequence on the left side I do High Lung and High Plank Pose.  I have done this so that you can see both alternatives, but you should do a balanced practice - whatever you do on the right hand side, repeat on the left.  I encourage you to try it all!  You can always take the knees down if it feels too strong.

You might prefer to hold poses like Downward Facing Dog or Child's Pose or Cobra for a bit longer.  Play around, see what your body needs, be gentle with yourself.  This is your time.

And if you have questions or need more guidance, please contact me!

You can find the video here.

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