In last week’s Lifestyle blog we talked about how the sun regulates, connects and sustains life on earth. In this post we’ll look at how we can pay tribute to the sun within a yoga practice. The “Sun Salutation A” sequence represents a humble salute to our primary source of light. It gives us the opportunity to express gratitude to the sun, without which we would not exist.
From millions of miles away, this enormous star at the center of our solar system touches us all and links us all together. There is an inherent response when looking at the sun in which we enter into a brief period of thoughtlessness, which yogis would identify as meditation. In this state, there are no future plans or worries, there is no past grief or regret, there is only the now.
The now, is what we strive to focus on during a yoga practice. The goal is to turn the mind off and tune in to the body. We use the breath to bring us in to the present moment. Then by linking the breath with the movements there is an increased capacity for mental clarity anchored by deep conscious breath.
The Sun Salutation A described below is made up of 12 yoga poses performed in a single, graceful flow. This sequence is practiced multiple times in a typical western practice, either performed as an isolated morning practice, or near the beginning of a full spectrum practice. The sequence is coordinated with the breath and works to stretch the tissues and build heat within the body. As we inhale, the body extends or stretches and as we exhale, the body contracts or folds.
It is important to note that there are multiple variations of Sun Salutations. The one below is the most basic and widely practiced:
1. Stand upright with your arms next to your body and your feet together or slightly apart. Try to distribute your weight evenly through all 4 corners of each foot and stand tall and strong like a mountain. Tuck in your tailbone slightly in order to create added space within the lower spine. Engage your core and as best as you can, place the back of your head over the back of your pelvis.
2. Inhale as you reach your arms up towards the sky, looking up if that feels good to you and maybe even bending backwards somewhat. Reach your fingertips towards the sky as you lift out of the waist while continuing to stand strong in your feet, legs, hips and core.
3. Exhale as you fold your body forward, hinging at the hips. Bring your fingertips or hands to the floor bending in the knees if needed. Try to maintain a nice long spine. Feeling as though you are rounded through the spine is a good indication that you need to bend at the knees. This will assist in releasing the back.
4. Inhale as you place your hands onto your shins and push up into a halfway lift with a long straight spine. Your torso should be parallel to the ground. Shine the sternum forward here to encourage a nice open chest. In order to protect the integrity of your spine, ensure you continue to engage the abdominal muscles.
5. Exhale as you step one foot back into a plank pose following with the other foot. From your feet or your knees reach the crown of your head forward and slowly lower your body down to the ground.
6. With your hands directly below the shoulders and the tops of your feet now resting on the floor, inhale as you push your chest off the floor. Make sure to tuck your shoulders away from your ears in order to turn your upper back muscles on.
7. From here, exhale as you tuck your toes and send your hips up and back into Downward Facing Dog. Imagine creating an upside down ‘V’ with your body, although your knees can be bent slightly in order to flatten your back. Push your fingertips firmly into the floor to remove some weight from your wrists and send your chest towards your thighs. Let your head hang from your neck and send your gaze towards your thighs or a place you find most natural.
8. Look between your hands and on your next inhale step your legs betweenyour hands, finding yourself in a half-way lift position.
9. Exhale to forward fold.
10. With a strong core, flat back, and perhaps a slight bend in the knees, inhale as you reach the arms up towards the sky.
11. Exhale and bring your hands to your heart center in Mountain pose.
By Erica Matechuk – Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200)