Yoga Tutorial: Sun Salutation A
Surya Namaskar A | Sun Salutation A
For many yogis, the traditional Ashtanga based Surya Namaskar A or Sun Salutation A is a sequence that comprises some part of the daily practice. It may be the main part of a practice or it may be the start to a longer, more intense yoga session. Whatever it is that you do with the Sun Salutation, know that you are doing the body good!
As a student and budding teacher of yoga, I incorporate Sun Salutation A into my independent practice as well as almost every class that I teach. Sun Salutation A is a sequence of specific postures meant to strengthen, lengthen and purify the body and it can be modified to suit any person. Chair yoga, prenatal yoga, kids yoga and many other styles of yoga can all incorporate some or all of the postures that make up the sun salutation.
Sun Salutations pair pranayama (breath) with movement. Every INHALE and EXHALE are paired with a corresponding asana (posture) or vinyasa (movement). This can be tricky to coordinate at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn to combine the elements of pranayama and asana together to achieve a truly transformative yoga practice. Remember, as with any new endeavour, its important to practice patience and self forgiveness. Yoga is a lifelong journey, enjoy the ride!
Here is a detailed breakdown:
1) Samastithi, Tadasana, mountain pose
Begin by standing towards the front of your mat with your feet hip width apart and parallel, toes pointing towards the front of the mat. Broaden across the collar bones, pull the shoulders down and back, fingertips energizing towards the ground. Crown of the head reaches tall to the ceiling, feet root firmly below you. Engage the core and tuck the tail bone under, posteriorly tilting the pelvis. Lift the knee caps.
2) Urdhva Hastasana, overhead salute
INHALE, extend the arms overhead, gazing up towards the thumbs, perhaps moving through a slight back bend if that is in your daily practice.
3) Uttanasana, forward fold
EXHALE, swan dive or gently fold forward, hinging at the hips (bending the knees if needed) reach towards the ground to find a deep lengthening sensation through the back of the body (hamstrings & lower back). Feel free to bend the knees as much as needed to ease the sensation in the back of the legs and lower back, eventually working to lengthen the hamstrings and straighten the knees.
4) Ardha Uttanasana, half lift
INHALE, lengthen through the legs and spine, look forward slightly. Pull the shoulders far away from the ears, shoulder blades pull onto your back. You can place the hands onto your shins or leave the fingertips on your mat.
5) Chaturanga Dandasana, four limbed staff pose
EXHALE, place the hands firmly down on the mat and step or hop back to a high plank position with the arms extended (like the top of a push up). Lower down so that the elbows skim the sides of your ribcage, pausing when the shoulders are in line with the elbows.
MODIFICATION: If you are a beginner, or you are not yet strong enough in the arms and shoulders, step back from 4 and then lower the knees to the mat, untuck your toes and then lower slowly onto your belly, keeping your hands planted on the mat. Eventually you can work towards hopping back from 4 to 5, and maybe also trying to lower from high plank to Chaturanga, but for now allow your body to get acquainted to this sequence! Practice and all will come!
6) Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, upward facing dog
INHALE, from Chaturanga come forward, untuck the toes so that the tops of your feet are on the mat now, extend the arms and arch the back. Ensure that your shoulders are far away from the ears and that you are broadening across the collarbones. Lengthen through the crown of the head, and you may choose to look upward slightly if this is comfortable for you.
NOTE: Upward facing dog has four points of contact with the ground; two hands firmly rooted and the tops of your two feet. Your knees and thighs and hips are hovering off of the ground. This asana can be quite straining on the wrists, so make sure that you warm them up or take a modified version of the posture.
MODIFICATION: Bhujangasana, cobra pose. You may have lowered fully onto your belly from the high plank position. If this is the case, press into the palms (hands should be under the shoulders) with your elbows pointing towards the back of the mat. Lift through a slight back bend called cobra pose. The key is to lift through the crown of the head, keep the shoulders back, and lift from the lower back with minimal weight in the hands.
7) Adho Mukha Svanasana, downward facing dog
EXHALE, press through the palms and send the hips up and back. Feet are about hip width apart. It is important to protect the wrists by pressing the fingers and palms firmly into the mat and pressing your chest through towards the thighs. This takes direct weight and strain off of the wrists. Also, by pressing the chest through, you open the shoulders and chest, improving posture and loosening tight shoulders. Keep the neck in a neutral position by gazing towards the thighs or the navel. You can maintain a bend in the knees and keep the heels lifted if that is more comfortable for tight hamstrings. Eventually, you may progress to moving the heels closer to the mat and straightening the legs. Generally in Ashtanga practice, this posture is held for 5 cycles of breath.
MODIFICATION: If coming from cobra pose, exhale and lower back to your belly. Press into the hands and set up for downward facing dog as explained above. If this is uncomfortable or unattainable, you may choose to rest in child’s pose.
8) Ardha Uttanasana, half lift
INHALE, look between the hands and step one foot at a time to the top of the mat between the hands. This is the same position as explained in 4. You may choose to hop from downward facing dog into this posture.
9) Uttanasana, forward fold
EXHALE, hinge at the hips and bend the knees if needed. This is the same posture as outlined in step 3.
10) Urdhva Hastasana, overhead salute
INHALE, bend the knees deeply, sweep the arms out to the sides or to the front as you gently come back up to a standing position, with the arms overhead, perhaps with a slight back bend.
11) Samastithi, Tadasana, mountain pose
EXHALE, press the palms together and bring them down to heart center before realigning in the starting asana once again.
Stay tuned for the video tutorial!
There you have it! Enjoy yourself, be patient and listen to your body. Even the most experienced yogis get frustrated and grow impatient with their practice. It is important to remember that a yoga practice is completely individual. An asana that comes easily to one person may be completely inaccessible to another. Realize that although you may never achieve a full expression of a posture, you are reaping many benefits along the way! You may not realize it but if you are practicing daily you are becoming stronger, more resilient and moving closer to achieving a state of mental clarity and a sense of enlightenment every time you come to your mat
Enjoy the journey, smile, laugh, joke, cry along the way; but don’t forget to show gratitude toward yourself for starting on this yoga journey in the first place!