Unless you are a yin-ish yogi who has never taken a flow-based class (i.e. Vinyasa, Power, Ashtanga), you are probably familiar with the 12-step sequencing of the sun salutation (Surya Namaskar), even if you didn’t know it by name. If you’ve ever heard that fateful word: “chaturanga”, you are in the middle of a sun salutation.
For many instructors, the sun salutation sequence is used as the backbone to their asana sequencing. Often times instructors use this 12 step sequence to help them flow into new poses (two times - one on each side) outside the sun salutation format. For example, in many classes -- after a few unadulterated sun salutations -- you will find yourself in down dog again. The teacher will instruct you to look forward and bring your right foot on the inside of your right hand, and then rise up into Warrior I. Of course, you would then repeat on the left side after flowing through another sun salutation.
So you are familiar with the sun salutation sequence. What’s next? I have a few tips that will hopefully improve your posture, alignment, timing, flexibility, prevent injury, and more. The goal here is progress and not perfection. So have fun!
Before class, prepare mentally: From years of practicing yoga, I have noticed a distinctive pattern: if I am running late, rushing to the studio, or put my mat down right as the teacher begins class, my practice suffers immensely. Specifically, I cannot balance in any pose for the life of me. I feel anxious -- not relaxed or focused at all. I make sure now to come to class early, and lie in corpse pose or do some simple stretches. This helps keeps me focused throughout the entire class.
Practice at sunrise or sunset: If you are lucky enough to practice outside on those perfectly sunny yet mild spring days, practice at sunrise (facing east) or sunset (facing west). Yogic tradition dictates that you should face the sun during Surya Namaskar.
Reach for 108: If you are practicing by yourself -- outside, inside, wherever … try to do 108 sun salutations. Why? Because it’s a holy number in both Hinduism and Buddhism, and is used for meditative purposes. Many practitioners believe sun salutations must be done 108 times. I’ve tried it and it’s hard, but will certainly build endurance and core/upper body strength very effectively.
Remember to breathe: Obviously, connecting the movements with the breath is absolutely essential, so do not lose sight of this. Fluent breath will lead to fluent, graceful movements. Jerky movements or going too fast is not a “flow” nor does it look powerful. Breathe deeply; it is just as important (if not more) to follow the path of the breath than the sequence of your movements.
Don’t forget Savasana: Succumbing into Corpse Pose after any yoga practice is crucial. Make sure you feel fully relaxed before rolling up your mat.