Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here comes the sun!

Pigeon Pose
A good friend and fellow yoga instructor once exclaimed, "A day without pigeon is like a day without sunshine!"  The enthusiasm she felt for eka pada rajakapotasana in that moment expresses concisely how I feel about Surya Namaskar, which coincidentally translates to "Salute to the Sun" or "Sun Salutation."  With the Summer Solstice on the horizon and many yoga studios and practitioners busy preparing events and workshops featuring 108 Sun Salutations, I wanted to pay homage to this sequence of poses that comforts me, grounds me, connects me to my breath, and keeps me coming back to my mat day after day.

Sun Salutation A
Surya Namaskar is a series of poses linked together with the breath.  Like a circle, Surya Namaskar starts and ends in the same pose, symbolic of the earth orbiting the Sun.

As with the institution of Yoga itself, there is more than one opinion on the origin and age of Surya Namaskar.  Some experts believe that the sequence dates back to Vedic times aging it more than 2500 years, while others believe that it was created during the early 20th century making it less than 100 years old.  Traditionally practiced at dawn facing the rising sun, Surya Namaskar originated as a series of prostrations illustrating reverence to the sun--the great sustainer of life.

There are many versions of Surya Namaskar like there are many styles of yoga, but I am partial to the one I learned when I was a new born yogi, much like I am partial to the same flavor of ice cream I've been enjoying for over 40 years.  And just as vanilla is the foundation for many other flavors, sun salutations are the foundation of many vinyasa practices. You can add cookies, you can add nuts, you can even add caramel, chocolate chips, and mint flavor, but at the heart of the ice cream is vanilla.

After a long, cold, lonely winter nothing feels as good as the warmth of the sun, except maybe practicing Surya Namaskar while basking in it's glow.  In 1969, George Harrison penned a song that said it best, "Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it comes!"  So on June 21st, join in on the celebration of the Summer Solstice with yogis around the world and help us all Salute the Sun!


1.  Begin by coming into Tadasana (Mountain).  Ground down through your feet evenly distributing your weight throughout the corners of each foot.  Engage your quadriceps and core muscles, and bring your pelvis into a neutral position. Lengthen through the spine and out through the crown of your head.  Shoulders should be relaxed and down while your chin is in a neutral position, parallel to the floor.  Bring your palms to face forward into Samasthiti pose and take a few breaths to prepare.

2.   EXHALE: Bring the palms of your hands together at heart center in Anjali Mudra, prayer position.
3.   INHALE:  Bring the palms together overhead, look up in Upward Prayer pose.
4.   EXHALE: Fold forward with a flat back hinging from the hips for Uttanasana.
5.   INHALE:  Come half-way out for Ardha Uttanasana.
6.   EXHALE: Fold back down.
7.   INHALE:  Bend your knees and plant your hands.  Step or jump into Plank.
8.   EXHALE: Shift your weight forward onto the toes. Lower down, elbows brush the side of body, coming into a ninety-degree angle.  Release to the floor for Cobra or hover about 6"above the mat for Upward Dog.
9.   INHALE:  Press into the palms of your hands lifting the head and shoulders off the mat for Cobra (Bhujangasana).
10. EXHALE: Tuck the toes and push back into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
11. INHALE:  Step or jump to the front of your mat.
12. EXHALE: Fold Forward (Uttanasana)
13. INHALE:  Come half way out, Ardha Uttanasana.
14. EXHALE: Fold back down.  (Uttanasna)
15. INHALE:  Ground down through the feet, engage your core muscles, and rise up. Bring hands over head in Upward Prayer Position.  Add a backbend if you want.
16. EXHALE: Hands back to heart center in Anjali Mudra, prayer position.