Surya = Sun Namaskara = Greeting or salutation. Surya means the sun and namaskara is a greeting of honor and respect to the divinity within each of us. The practice of the sun salutations is a dynamic flow of breath and movement that has many benefits. It is said that this yoga asana will awaken and tone every area of your body. Generally the sun salutations are the warm up component of a yoga practice – generating heat, rhythm and blood flow, as well as allowing the attention of the practitioner to draw inward and still on the flow of the breath.
I will be modifying the sequences of Surynamaskara A & B in these video clips in order to give you the alignment and foundation so that when we advance to the full expression of Surynamaskara A & B you will be well grounded in the biomechanics of the movements in order to fully reap the benefits of these age old salutations. To begin, we will stand in Tadasana, or mountain pose. In this pose you will begin to explore what it feels like to “awaken” your legs, to “deepen” your foundation, and to “enliven” your core. The foundation is where it all begins, and so allow yourself to really feel into your roots. Lift off the heel of your right foot, pressing down deeply into the roots of your right toes. Explore the whole ridge of those roots as you move your weight around on this new base. Then, as if you were moving in slow motion, lower your heel and as you do, lift the right kneecap up by hugging your thigh muscle around your thigh bone, drawing the energy right up the front of your leg from your foot. As you sink your heel down into the earth you will feel around the whole periphery of the heel in a new way, a deep, secure contact. This will more than likely leave you feeling very differently in your right leg as opposed to your left. Acknowledge that awareness – you are now “living” in your right leg. Repeat this procedure to the opposite side.
Once you have established your foundation you are ready to allow for the rest of your being to grow and elongate. With both legs now active, draw your attention to your pelvic floor and tilt your pubic bone back into your body, towards your navel. This will give you the sense that you are gently “tucking down” your tail. Do this without clenching your buttocks, as may be the tendency – it is much more subtle than that, and will bring awareness into an area you may have herd referred to as “moola bandha”. This is the root lock, an important awareness to begin to cultivate, which we will discuss in another installment.
From here we will allow the body to expand upward toward the light, by bringing the arms up on an inhale. There is an important awareness here too, for as the arms lift it will be most people’s tendency to do the lifting with the top of the shoulders – the area that on most bodies is already overworked and tight. Lets help the tight shoulders out by externally rotating the arms before they rise, by turning the palms outward. Then keeping an active inner elbow by spreading the “eye” of the elbow open, raise your arms overhead. There is no need to bring the hands together, parallel is fine.
From here you will bend forward exhaling and hinging at the hips, keeping the arms out to the side in order not to strain the lower back. It will look like a swan dive as you move through toward your legs. Come as far as you can keeping the back flat. For most, the hamstrings at the back of the legs will be the inhibitor to forward movement. When they are tight one will try to keep moving forward by letting the back round and overstretching the ligaments at the back of the body around the lower spine. This may lead to chronic lower back pain. Give your back a break and lower only as far as you can with a flat back, when you reach your limit there, bend your knees and continue.
You will find yourself in a full forward fold (utanasana) either way, with your knees bent or not. You will then extend your spine coming into front extension, fingers either on the floor or on your shins or knees, back flat. There is an inhale here, followed by exhaling and taking your hands to the floor beside your feet and taking your left leg back and then your right to upper plank position.
Keeping the body like a plank (your heels pushing back) from the heels to the top of the head you will then lower yourself down to your may. If one is unable to lower without buckling at the waist, then lower the knees down to modify. You will develop more core and arm strength this way then by doing it improperly. Once down bring the arms forward for cobra push-up. Place the arms parallel in front of you with the elbows bent and just in front of the shoulders – similar to a sphinx. Then with lots of intention but little visible movement you will pull your ribs along the floor toward your hands, and (secretly) pull your hands toward your ribs (don’t actually let them move), creating a dynamic movement that will feel delicious in your core body. This movement is an inhale, but take a breath or two here and really enjoy the feeling.
From there you will bring your hands back under your shoulders and press up and back to downward dog. Of course you can refer to the previous group of videos to learn all about the technique for downward dog. After three to five breaths in downward dog you will step back up to your hands on an inhale into the extension position. On an exhale release into a forward fold, and on the next inhale press down into your roots and with active legs raise your torso back up to standing, arms out to the sides and then up overhead. On the exhale lower the arms back along side and then back into namaste position in front of your heart.
By coordinating the breath to movement you may experience the cardio aspect of the sun salutations, and the serpentine quality of these lovely movements. The sun salutes are meant to generate heat and limber the body up for standing and other asanas. That is not meant to say that you want to rush through them, but by all means allow your practice of them to be active.