Yoga practice seems to always (rightly) focus on the Sun Salutation sequences. They are an appropriate way to warm up as they generate inner heat, and loosen muscles and primary joints. In addition to their benefits for the individual, they bring unity to group classes, encouraging us to sub-consciously breathe and move as one force. The energy generated by the ritual engenders a relaxed atmosphere while heightening focus and promoting self consciousness and awareness.
The ‘Sun Salutation’ term comes from the Sanskrit, Surya Namaskara, which translates as ‘bowing to the inner sun’. The sun, in most ancient mythology, is sacred and revered by the gods. As we partake in Surya Namaskara, we bow not only to the cosmic sun, but to our inner sun, our heart. Releasing our head below our heart permits our ‘inner sun’ and true wisdom to reign over the logic of our brain.
Although the Sun Salutations prepare us for practice, and help us align with our true self, our most valuable moments are often found in the shorter, more challenging series of asanas (‘postures’). Yoga teachers craft classes to function as a story, with a beginning, middle and end. The shorter sequences follow the introductory chapters, generating cliff hangers, red herrings and denouements to keep us reading.
My favourite sequence at the moment is comprised of four asanas.
- Vrksasana – Tree Pose
- Virabhadrasana III – Warrior III Pose
- Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B – Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose
- Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – Half Lotus Intense Stretch Pose
I begin standing, find a focus point and gradually draw my left leg into position for Tree Pose. The ball of the foot either stays against the ankle, on the floor tilted against the calf, or tucked into the side of the groin. Avoid placing the foot anywhere near the knee.
Press the foot and inner leg tightly against one another, ensuring the foot stays securely in position. From their place on the hips, draw the hands into prayer pose against the sternum; maintain balance by focussing on the breath and a point in front of you. Push the arms and hands up towards the sky while ensuring the tailbone stays tucked under, the shoulders down the back and the left foot firmly rooted into the ground. Hold for 3-5 breaths, continuing to find length in the spine and space in the left hip.
To transfer into Warrior III, bring the hands back to heart’s center and the knee straight in front of you. Imagining yourself as a set of scales, with the fulcrum at your tailbone, gradually tip forward, straightening your left leg behind you.
Try to create a straight line from the tip of your hand to the sole of your left foot. Once balanced, extend the arms in front, keeping them raised above the heart with the chest pressing down towards the floor, and hold for 3-5 breaths.
Reverse the sequence of movements to finish standing once again with hands at heart’s center and the knee raised.
To start the transition into Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose, pull the left knee towards the chest and leave the right hand on the right hip. If this is enough, concentrate on maintaining the balance and then push the left knee out to the side allowing the hip to open. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
If this seems manageable, extend the left leg out in front as far as possible, whilst holding the foot with the left hand. Forward fold over the leg on an exhale, inhale to lift, and then gradually move the leg out to the side. As a finishing touch, the head can be turned to look in the opposite direction. Unfold from the pose and come to rest in our ‘neutral’ pose: hands at heart’s center, knee lifted and eyes focus straight in front.
For the final pose, Standing Half Lotus, allow the knee to fall away to the side and place the left foot in the groove between the leg and groin on the left hand side. Bend the standing leg to create a shelf for the foot and place the right arm behind the back. On an exhale, fold over forward and place the left hand on the floor. Hold for 3-5 breaths and make a controlled exit from the pose.
Repeat on the other side and marvel at the differences between each side of the body. One leg is sure to be stronger or more flexible than the other and one hip more open, but that is the joy of being human. Remember that every practice is unique, some poses take a lot of patience and adaptations can always be made to suit a certain anatomy. Please do not hesitate to email or comment with questions or suggestions.