12 Simple Yoga Poses for Surya Namaskar Sun Salutation
What is a Pose or Asana?
Asana is the art of manipulating the body to alter the pranic (vital energy) flow at the interface between the body and mind. When that flow is stagnant, asana invigorates us, dispelling sloth and heaviness. When that flow is disturbed and we are tense and agitated, asana teaches us to relax and center ourselves. In short, asana enhances sattva and directs the life-force into the realm of stillness, stability, and equilibrium—the realm of the meditative mind.
Asana thus trains the mind for meditation, and this is why regular practice is important—like all forms of training it is not a one-shot deal. Asana before sitting for meditation can also prepare us for that session, and may make the difference between a deeply satisfying meditation and a struggle with a stiff, tense body, erratic breath, and a drowsy or racing mind. The following series of asanas is a quick but effective sequence for bringing the body and mind into balance in preparation for meditation.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) and Meditation
There’s no better quick fix for sluggishness, erratic energy, stiffness, or a bad attitude than the sun salutation. Traditionally done at the beginning of asana practice, the sun salutation stretches and strengthens all the major muscle groups, flexes the spine forward and backward, activates the navel center (solar plexus), stimulates circulation and warms the body, coordinates body, mind, and breath, and awakens a sense of joy and gratitude. It’s the original 12-step program.
There are many versions of the sun salutation; the one we’ll do is not as difficult as some, but most beginners will find it challenging and should modify the postures so they can enjoy the smooth flow of body and breathe rather than struggle with tight hamstrings and problem lower backs.
Begin in tadasana (the mountain pose). Bring the hands, palms together, to the heart in a gesture of respect and devotion. Close the eyes and tune in to the breath.
Inhale and sweep the arms out to the side and overhead as you lift the heart and look up. (A variation is to bring the arms straight up the front if you are strong and not tense in the shoulders.)
Standing forward bend- Exhale and sweep the arms out to the side as you pull the pelvis back and fold the torso forward. Keep the spine long and straight as you come forward. Bend the knees, rather than round the back, if your legs are tight and/or your lower back is weak. Release the head toward the floor, and place the hands on the floor, fingers in line with the feet. Lift the sit bones by contracting the abdominal muscles.
Lunge or monkey pose. On an inhalation, step the right foot back as far as you can, lowering the top of the foot and the leg to the floor. Maintain the left knee directly over the left foot, shin perpendicular to the floor, and release the right thigh and pelvis toward the floor. The hands remain on the floor in line with the left foot. Lift the chest and press the spine toward the front of the body. (The more flexible may stretch the arms overhead as the pelvis descends, and arch the upper back.)
Down-facing plank pose, or push-up: Turn the right toes under, and without lifting the pelvis, step the left foot back to the right. The body is straight and firm from the top of the head to the heels. Keep the spine long. Don’t sag in the pelvis, or lift it. If your shoulders are weak, bend the knees to the floor, but keep the pelvis in line with the spine.
Cat arch – Exhale and bend the knees and elbows, and lower the knees, chest, and forehead to the floor. Keep the pelvis up, the spine arched, and the elbows close to the waist.
Cobra – On an inhalation, press through the hands to glide the torso forward, and lower the pelvis and chest flat to the floor. Don’t move the hands. Extend the spine to lift the head and chest. Press the elbows to the sides and the shoulder blades in and down toward the waist. Use the strength of the back to lift the chest rather than pushing up with the hands.
Down-facing dog pose. Exhale and lower the chest, turn under the toes, and press the hands into the floor to lengthen the spine and open the shoulders as you lift the pelvis. Straighten the arms and come onto the toes. Keep the face near the floor, the spine long, neck relaxed shoulders broad and pulled away from the ears. Bend the knees if the lower back and/or backs of the legs are tight. Gradually lower the heels to the floor and straighten the legs without collapsing into the shoulders. Hold for several breaths.
Lunge. With an inhalation step the right foot forward between the hands, toes in line with the fingertips. Make a right angle with the right shin and the floor. Lower the top of the left foot and thigh to the floor, lift the head and chest, and arch the spine.
Standing forward bend- Exhale and tilt the torso forward as you lift the pelvis and straighten the right leg to bring the left foot forward beside the right. Keep the hands on the floor, fingers beside the toes, neck long, and head down. Lift the sit bones, and lengthen the back of the legs. Bend the knees if the hamstrings are tight or if the lower back is stressed.
Inhale and open the arms out to the side as you lengthen the spine out and up. Bring the arms overhead and lift the chest, looking up as you finish the inhalation.
Exhale and lower the arms, bring the face forward and the hands to the center of the chest, ending as you began.
Repeat the sequence three times, or more, as time and need dictate. Practice stepping back with the left foot first on alternate rounds. When you begin to feel warmed up, you may want to hold the positions for several breaths in order to fully experience the posture and further the stretch.
Keep you meditated, keep you peaceful!
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