Friday, February 8, 2008

Focus Pose - Suyra Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)

It is the beginning of the month and time to return to the Primary Series breakdown. We started by coming into Tadasnana (Mountain Pose) and began with our Opening Invocation, recalling this chant is a prayer of thanks to the many teachers who have come before us. Now it is time to move into Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A). This is actually a series of poses linked together to generate the "sun salutation" or also known as a "vinyasa" when just part of the salutation is completed.

There are actually many different styles of the Sun Salutation. The three I am familiar with are a Hatha style, an Iyengar style and our familiar Ashtanga Style. We will, of course, be focusing on the Ashtanga style. We will focus more on the dynamics of the Sun Salutation and break down the individual asana as we move into the rest of the standing sequence.

To begin, start in Tadasana (see right).

Inhale - sweep arms out and up and let the palms touch overhead. If the room is crowded, sweep the arms forward and up. Or inhale palms together up through the heart, past the face and overhead. Dristi - hands.

In one variation, a slight backbend - an upward lifting movement from the ribs, shoulder blades and shoulders - is encouraged. The other variation is to remain straight, with only the head tilting back to look at the palms. Often it is a matter of what is more comfortable for the student.
Over time you may find one suits you better than the other. If adding the backbend, it is important to remember to lift through the sternum to avoid crunching into the lower back.

Exhale - come into a Forward Fold (see right - this is what we are moving towards. Note the length of the spine and she's not rounding her shoulders). No matter if your hands are on the knees, shins, ankles or floor, the back remains long and shoulders blades are broad. Try not to round the shoulders toward the ears. A little bend in the knees always acceptable. Drishti - nose.

Inhale - all varations: look up toward the horizon. IF your hands touch the floor, you can either come up to the finger tips OR for the more traditional form, palms remain on the floor. Drishti - horizon.

Exhale - Walk, lunge or jump back to a plank position, elbows remain by ribcage and lower yourself to the floor. Level 1: come into plank, bring knees to floor and lower down. Level 2: straight legs come all the way to the floor. Level 3: straight legs, lowering to 1" from the floor. Drishti - nose/floor.
It is important to remember while in plank, the hands must remain below the shoulders** and the feet flexed and strong. I teach to have the feet hip distance apart so as one moves into Ardo Muka Savasana the feet are in place and the foundation remains strong. In all levels, the abdomen is gently engaged to support the lower back.

(If the observant reader will note - she is slightly hyperextending her elbows in this posture)

**There is a variation on this where the arms make a 90* bend and the wrists are actually behind the shoulders. This is an advanced posture to be done as one gains proficiency in the practice.

Inhale - Move into Cobra or Up-Dog (see below) position. This is a small backbend! Keep the ribcage moving forward through the arms, the sternum is lifting upward, shoulders are opening and broad, shoulder blades moving down the spine. This motion applies if you are in a cobra position (Level 1) or a full up-dog (Level 3). Drishti - nose or ceiling.

Let’s talk about the feet for a moment: (all levels) the tops of the feet should be pressing into the mat, the toes point to the back of the room. Heels should be moving toward the ceiling and not "slopping" inward or outward. Thighs, knees and calves are active and engaged.
When we move into our down dog, you may "roll over" the toes if your feet permit, flex both feet at the same time to bring soles and toes back to the mat, or flip one at a time. Again, this is personal preference. The important thing is to work toward the roll over and be consistent.
Exhale - lift up through the hips. Press the thighs toward the back of the room. Keep the hips lifting. Hands are pressing fully and firmly into the mat. Heels are sinking toward the floor. It’s okay if they don’t touch, but don’t stand on your tippy-toes. However, DO NOT MOVE THE HANDS AND FEET. I cannot stress this enough. The hands and feet are our foundation, which was set when we moved into plank position. This foundation, if set correctly, gives us the correct alignment for the entire salutation.

Shoulders remain open - try not to let the shoulder crunch into the ears. Open the inside of the elbows toward the ceiling like you are going to catch raindrops. Dristi - Level 1 = toes; Level 2 = knees, Level 3 = belly button. HOLD FOR 5 BREATHS.

Puppy-pose modification

Inhale - Look up between the hands (very important! LOOK at where you are going!) and either walk, lunge or spring the feet forward, bringing toes together, knees together, thighs together. Straighten the legs and look up. Dristi - horizon.

Exhale - Forward fold as before. Dristi - nose or knees.
Inhale - Sweep the arms along side (if room in class) and overhead. Look back up at those palms adding the optional back bend. Dristi - palms.

Exhale - brings us back to Tadasana or "Samasthti".

I have omitted mulha bandha and uddyana bandha for the moment. I will discuss these when we move into the individual asana rather than in the whole the flow of Surya Namaskar A & B.

Try reading slowly through this sequence again, and visualize each movement as you would do it standing. Now take this to your mat - try this following exercise (as modified from a David Swenson workshop):

Do one Sun Salutation as done in class - each movement = one breath
Do one Sun Salutation V.e.r.y. S.l.o.w.
Do one Sun Salutation very fast! As fast as you can!
Do one Sun Salutation in two breaths (one exhale, one inhale)
Do one Sun Salutation with your eyes closed.
Do one Sun Salutation as done in class - each movement = one breath.
Check in with yourself - how did you feel moving through each variation and after the sequence was completed as a whole? Find anything interesting?
(All photo's are from, pose finder)

1 comment:

Brenda Plakans said...

I hope your students have been getting alot out of your thorough explanations. Keep it up!

I've listed you as a fave blog this week, on the prompting of YogaMama who is generating a sort of yogic chain letter. Now you have to list 10 of your faves!

Hope you found the wayward tupperware lid from the sourdough experiment...