The sun salutations (Sun Salutation A or Surya Namaskara A) is a series of movements designed to realign, balance and strengthen the body. It is therapy, a complete workout and one of the best things you can do for yourself.
This writeup will focus primarily on the blow-by-blow performance of the movements. I am not even remotely qualified to explain the larger mental and psychic benefits of the practice. However, during the times that I have consistently done these as part of a longer series, I have noticed increasing calm amid the squalls of daily life. Advanced practioners confirm that the physical action of yoga is a simple yet necessary vehicle to attain a more pure consciousness.
I don't doubt it, but let me get one thing clear right now: I am just a guy who wants to be able to touch his toes. I am not a doctor or a yoga teacher. I merely present the following as something useful to anyone who wants it. The value is in doing it yourself.
- When -- Morning sun salutations are a great way to wake up and work out the kinks. Evening practice helps to unwind after a long day, and some of the poses -- now that the body is warmed up -- are a bit easier to get.
- Where -- Any space that can accomodate your own unique dimensions of da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is good. The floor should be level and the area uncluttered. As the generation of heat is a component in the movements, try not to pick a place that is too drafty. An enclosed porch is ideal, but I've also practiced in my kitchen, garage and living room. Pick your favorite spot.
- Wear -- Although the idea of nude yoga sounds exciting, the reality is uncomfortable. Both boys and girls should wear whatever they need to keep certain parts from flopping. Naked feet, however, are a necessity.
- Medical -- Common Sense Disclaimer: If for any reason you might have an inkling of a feeling of a thought that you might not be able to bend or stretch, please check with your doctor before trying any of these poses.
- Accessories -- Cripes!! It seems nothing can be done these days without some sort of doo-dad or whatnot. Blocks and straps are not necessary at all, although a mat can be useful.
- Breathing -- Inhale, exhale. Right? No. In order to generated and stoke body heat during the movements, attempt to do ujjayi breathing. Along with the contraction of the knees, this will help raise the body temperature and allow the body to become more supple as you move through the series.
- Gaze -- There are specific places on which to focus during the series in order to strengthen concentration. Do your best.
- Locks -- Internal locks or bandhas further continue to fire the body's furnace as well as act upon the various chakras. I'm not totally comfy with the whole chakra business, but I try holding the bandhas anyway since I'm always ready for a surprise.
OK, here we go.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)-- Stand straight, big toes together. If you are using a mat, stand with those toes at the edge. Shoulders back. Neck relaxed. Hands at the sides. Pull up your knees -- not locking them, but tensing your quadriceps to help keep your knee in line. (This is extremely therapeutic to runners and cyclists.) Fix your gaze at a point straight ahead.
If you are working on your ujjayi breathing, start dialing in now.
If you are working on your bandhas, hold the root lock now.
Inhale, raise hands straight up, touching your palms together as if you are praying. Tilt your head back, keeping the neck relaxed. Gaze through your hands. Push arms up using shoulders (try touching your face with your shoulders). This can be considered a strength move.
Exhale, pushing the breath with the diaphram, keeping the friction in the windpipe. Bring head forward, bend at the waist, keeping arms straight alongside head. Keep your knees lifted. This is the first big test.
If you can get past 90°, terrific. Try to touch the floor, pressing your fingers flat beside your feet. Continue to pull up on your knees.
Can't get that far? Don't worry. If you are able to get past your knees, simply bend them to bring your hands to the floor. Otherwise, place hands on your knees or thighs. You'll get to the floor with patience and practice. Gaze is at the feet.
Inhale. Keep hands on floor or legs. Lift head, expand chest to lengthen and stretch spine. This is a good spot to work on the bandhas.
Exhale. Step back in to a beginning push-up position (Four-Limbed Stick Pose/Chaturanga Dandasana). Do not sag -- tightness and strength is everything in this pose, and lack of concentration can get you injured. (A yoga injury? Yes, it does happen.)
Quads remain flexed. Concentrating on the uddiyan bandha (or at least pulling in your gut) will help keep the back straight. Keeping your elbows at your side and pulling down on them with your back muscles will take the pressure off your shoulders and chest and keep the body in line. Lift your chin and focus your gaze.
Face Up Dog Pose/Urdhva Muka Svanasana -- Inhale. Straighten arms, expand chest, raise gaze upward. Maintain tight stomach/uddiyan bandha in order to keep lower back from sagging. Do not allow shoulder to climb toward your ears. Toes are pointed backwards with tops of feet on floor.
If you are not yet strong enough to support your weight or have an extremely tight back or feet, rest your lower body on your knees.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose/Adho Muka Svanasana -- Exhale. Press back with arms while lifting your tush toward the ceiling and bringing head down. Legs remain straight. Spread your fingers and push palms in to the floor using shoulder strength. Align ears with shoulders, allowing neck to stay neutral. Try to flatten your feet against the floor by pushing down on your heel. (It may take several months or years to get your heels to the floor.) Gaze up toward your belly button.
Knees still tensed? Bandhas locked? Are you belly/ujjayi breathing? Good, good and good. Take five breaths in this position.
Inhale. Walk your feet up toward your hands. Bring your big toes together. Come as close as you can to the point you did before. You may find that you can get a little deeper in the pose now. Look up, expanding the chest and straightening the back.
Exhale. Press palms to floor if possible, or inch down legs if not. Knees and breath. Lock 'em if you got 'em. Gaze is at your belly again.
Inhale. Bring arms out and alongside head, palms together. Keeping back lengthened and in a line from fingertips to coccyx, gently return to a standing position. Allow head to come back to focus through hands.
Return to Mountain Pose. Exhale. Bring arms down to sides, neck aligned with spine, shoulders relaxed. Gaze is straight ahead with perhaps a slightly different perspective.
Though the poses appear simple, there's a lot to keep track of while doing them. Concentrate on them in the following order; as you become comfortable with one, begin another:
- Pose -- the actual physical performance of the movement, hands, feet and knees in the right places
- Breath -- along with the constant contraction of the knees, this will help raise the body temperature and allow the body to become more supple as you move from pose to pose
- Gaze -- keeps your mind from wandering
- Locks -- more muscular/mental attention to pay
At first do three rounds of sun salutations. There is no need to hurry or compete, but try to practice at least four times a week. Proceed at your own pace -- inch by inch, breath by breath. As you feel comfortable, add one or two a week.
Once you are comfortable with the poses and can run through them confidently, you may want to proceed to a more strenuous series. However, if you feel this is enough, then good for you.
I am both proud and grateful that this is a nodeshell rescue and my 100th writeup.