Sun Salutation - Breaking it down, building it up.
The Sun salutation sequence known as Surya Namaskara is a dynamic series of yoga postures which when combined with breath, awareness and concentration forms a powerful matrix of rhythm, form and energy. Although not referred to in the classical yogic literature it has come to be one of the most central parts to a complete practice.
There has always been great reverence for the Sun and sun worship goes back a long way. As one of the key sources of life on this planet, everything is affected by its power and force. The 24 postures that make up the sequence relate to the different phases of the sun as it moves through its daily transit reminding us of the continual flux and flow of energy which touches us on many levels and connects us to a much larger cosmic rhythm.
Surya Namaskara is a complete yogic workout as it contains asana (postures) pranayama when breathing consciously with movements and also becomes a moving meditation when focusing on the different energy centres related to each posture.
It is straightforward to learn, easy to remember and there are modified versions of it that make it accessible to everybody no matter their shape size, ability or age. You can even do it in a chair!
For those looking to challenge themselves try it moving more slowly, holding postures for 5 controlled breaths, taking high lunge options and integrating the plank pose instead of the 8- point salute. It can be done faster keeping breath integration intact which will raise your heart-rate and engage the whole body/mind. This sequence can also include chakra awareness developing our connection with the psychic or subtle body. We explore this in the monthly masterclass if your keen to go deeper with it.
How to learn the sequence?
Breaking it down and building it up. This approach works well to integrate all the different facets of the practice. Physical alignment in each position, breath integration, concentration on a specific area, closing the eyes and internalizing the practice and many more layers and dimensions. You will never get bored with this baby.
Here's my tips for getting going
Just start with a few postures a day and build up to full rounds - that's 24 postures linked together. No expectations of where you should be at. Take your time - you have your whole life remember.
Think about and experiment with what the body needs to prepare well for the sequence. Something for spinal movement, standing practices to activate the larger muscle groups. Cobra (Bhujangasana) to develop spinal strength and flexibility.
Take time to explore the Pawan muktasana series (free flow of energy) a brilliant set of practices to address tension, open and mobilize the joints and build core stability and strength. These can be found in the text: Asana, pranayama, mudra bandha by Swami Satyananda.
Spend time exploring each individual posture. Discover what restricts you in each one, explore the alignment or mis-alignment and remember no one has a perfect body. Its an enquiry.
Once you discover where the sticky parts are or where your tensions sit in the body pause there and consciously use the breath - direct it into that part until it softens.
Keep in mind there are many factors at play that can inhibit range of movement or flexibility for example, the very shape of the bones and sockets they sit in. Compression, tension, instability, weakness - these are all different things going on in your body. You will discover which one/s it is for your body and this can also change, nothing is fixed.
Break the whole sequence up into smaller bite-sized chunks. For example, the first 3 postures link well as a standing flow, unfolding from hand to foot pose and extending upwards stretching the torso in raised arms pose and exhaling back into prayer pose.
Mini flows work well to consolidate the individual postures, spending more time exploring the details related to alignment and focusing on specific areas that are tighter or weak. They also give the you the time to integrate the breathing pattern for each asana. Mini flows form an ideal warm up by consolidating components of each asana before putting it altogether
The sequence puts the spine through most of its major movement patterns (extension, flexion & working with the primary curves) so important for our postural health and daily movement.
Energy Systems (Ida - Mental/Lunar force & Pingala - Physical - Solar force)
Stagnation and lowered energy can easily creep in during the cold winter months when we exercise less and are more prone to colds and infections. Surya Namaskara activates prana or our vital energy system also referred to as Pingala nadi.
When pranic levels and the general flow of prana in the body is enhanced we feel better. We experience good health and are likely to be less prone to infections and colds. When we feel tired or low in energy or frazzled and fragmented this practice works with this energy present in the nervous system and re-balances it out. The regulation of Ida (Mental Energy) and Pingala (Vital Energy) is one of the major benefits of regular practice.
With a steady approach, taking it at your own pace and building up gradually you
will certainly make progress, perhaps without even realizing until one day you are Sun Saluting with ease appreciating the journey you just made. Happy Salutations! Hari Aum Pragyadhara