Week 1 – Meeting the Posture
Sun Salutation or the Sanskrit: Surya Namaskar
As we continue our yoga journey together this month we will focus on sun salutations….don’t let this scare you away if jumping around your mat is outside your practice, we will go over lots of variations to make this accessible for everyone, in week 1 we will look at 4 options, including one using a chair, so that you can find the version that works for you. Also feel free to shake it up during the month and choose the version that works for your body each day, even if you are working on the jumps there may be some days where you just need to take it a little easier, always honor what your body is asking for. You will notice more enjoyment and progress from your practice if you learn to listen to your body instead of always pushing it to the limit.
The goal you set this month is up to you, maybe you want to work up to more rounds, or maybe you want to improve one particular variation, or maybe your goal is to challenge yourself to try a more difficult variation by the end of the month. Instead of taking a photo this month try taking a video of yourself doing one round of the variation you choose so you can see if and where things need work. My goal is 10 rounds a day of Sun A with the jumps and chaturanga, upper body strength has always been where I lack so looking forward to working on this throughout the month. Each Friday in our practice together we will do 5 rounds of whichever variation you choose, I will demo the modified sun A during that practice with you. Here is my week 1 video to compare back to at the end of the month….
So now what are we doing all month? Ok so here is the plan for the challenge….
Day 1 – Take a video of yourself in the pose, (that is mine ^^ up there) you can share or not, totally up to you, but this will help you get a visual of yourself in the posture so you can see what the shapes look like in your body and where you might need to adjust it. Remember we have a hard time really knowing where we are in space so the video lets you have the view of the teacher, and now we can start to dissect the pose and find the best version of this shape in your body. After you’ve practiced the pose, and checked out your video, jot down your goals for the pose along with anything else that comes up, was it hard/easy, did you love/hate it, no rules here just a quick jot of whatever comes up.
Everyday for the rest of the month commit to practicing this pose. The good news is sun salutations can be a full yoga practice, be sure to give yourself a little warm up and stretch, remember to be nice to the body and to listen. Commit to a number of rounds to practice each day maybe it is 1, 5, or 10 any amount is fine as long as you stay consistent with your practice. Allow for a moment of pause before jumping back into your day – think mini savasana – settle the body – and that’s it!! Now pat yourself on the back for committing to your practice today! I encourage you to take the time to jot a note everyday and track your journey but that may not work for you, and that’s ok, make this your journey.
In the week one video I show four different options of variations you can choose from during the month, you can pick just one, or mix them up depending on the day and the goals you set for yourself this month.
My goal here is less about getting better at the pose and more about the journey of the pose throughout the 30 days. No doubt we will improve a posture by practicing everyday, but the practice of yoga is less about the shapes we make in the body and more about what comes up during those shapes. I encourage you to take this time to connect to your body, your mind and your practice in a deeper or at least different way. I am looking forward to taking this journey along with you.
Here is today’s mini practice introducing this month’s challenge….don’t forget to join the Facebook Group if you want to catch these classes live!
Week 2 – Why Should I?
So… we know that yoga is good for us, and we know that we usually feel better after spending some time on the mat, but do you know why? If we are going to spend time every month practicing a posture let’s take a minute and start to get to know it a little better…..
A little different than our past months, this month rather than practicing a single posture, we are working on a set of postures commonly known as Sun Salutations. So many versions of sun salutations exist, in week one we looked at 4 different versions for you to practice, however feel free to incorporate any version you feel drawn to. This month is really about accountability and showing up each day to our mats, sun salutations are a great way to get a full practice in without having to think about how to put a home practice together.
Sun Salutations are a series of poses linked together to form a flow traditionally practiced at sunrise to worship the sun as the name may suggest. They are commonly used as part of class warm ups, as a complete yoga practice, or intertwined into yoga routines in many vinyasa classes. Whether you know it or not you have likely done many versions of these during yoga classes. Linking breath to movement sun salutations really help us develop the connection of mind – body – breath that our physical asana practice is all about.
There are many benefits associated with Sun Salutations:
- Increased energy and circulation. Linking breath to movement increases circulation to all parts of the body.
- Strengthens muscles and improved flexibility. These poses focus on many different areas of the body and the continuous movements helps relieve stiffness and improve range of motion.
- Boosts metabolism. The constant movement, especially if done in the morning, can help boost metabolism and burn more fat than practicing isolated poses.
- Calms the mind. Sun Salutations become a moving meditation taking you out of your head and helping to relieve anxiety and stress and bringing you into the present moment.
- Improved stamina. A regular practice of several rounds can become a great cardio workout in addition to the other benefits above, and completion of the rounds will leave you feeling great. If you ever try your hand at 108 rounds it will definitely show you what you are capable of in both body and mind!
Check out our week 2 mini practice below…pick your variation, go at your own pace, and join me for 5 rounds together…see you on the mat!
Week 3 – Pitfalls and Modifications
As much benefit as we can gain from our yoga practice, we have just as much chance to injure ourselves if we are not being mindful of the body in the poses. We can push our flexibility to improve and gain strength in more difficult poses, but we do all have some structural limitations and our bodies are not built to move in some ways. This is why our teachers give so many alignment cues for poses to help us with a few things: finding our body in space; learning to manipulate the body safely while maintaining alignment; and helping us to adapt the pose for our body and our practice level in that moment. Very often in class I speak about knowing the direction we are headed even if we arent there yet, the directions let us guide our body safely towards the way we want to go while allowing for the time needed to travel there.
Honoring our bodies is the number one most important thing to remember when you show up to the mat. Our ego getting the best of us is often what leads to injury, we see another student or the teacher taking a pose further than we should and we want to do it to. I think we all go through this in yoga, becoming aware of this ego takeover can allow you to start to drop the ego and focus on your own practice. For a long time I refused props in class not wanting to be the fat girl in class and need help, wanting to show everyone that I can do it! Man am I glad I realized that props are amazing and that no one else cares what I am doing, if anything they are thinking similar thoughts…look at that person I wish I was like them…chasing that ego around the room totally focused on themselves just like I was. (This is true in life off the mat too btw!)
It is easy to find ourselves stuck in a rut of bad habits in our practice if we never take the time to really learn the foundations of the poses, if we just look at the shapes people are making with their bodies we miss out on what the body is actually supposed to be doing. When we have these foundations and alignment cues we can make the pose work for us rather than trying to force our body into a shape we think it should be in, this is often how we end up injured or maybe just not enjoying the practice because we think we cant do it. This is true for sun salutations just as much as in single poses…
In week 1 we went over several variations making sun salutations accessible for every body at every level. Sun salutations can be practiced seated in chair, using a chair to assist you, with or without down dog, and with or without jumps…no matter where you are in your practice, and even where you are each day you can find the variation that works for you.
Together each week we are practicing a modified version of Sun Salutation A, let’s take it pose by pose and talk about some of the things we want to watch out for and keep in mind as we move through the flow.
- Mountain Pose or Tadasana – active body here mountains are strong and so are you
- Upward salute or Urdhva Hastasana – lift the gaze and the arms toward to sun
- Forward fold or Uttanasana – keep a bend in the knee if needed – this can be helpful if you have tight hamstrings and can also help lengthen the spine as you fold; keep a flat back and think more about heart to knee than head to knee – this can help keep us from rounding at the low back; use blocks to bring the ground closer if you can’t touch your toes or the ground.
- Half-lift or Ardha Uttanasana – flat back, don’t press back on the knees with the hands, keep hands above or below the knees or on blocks, engage the core to support the upper body.
- Step back low lunge to plank (dandasana) – in the modified version we are practicing together we step back moving through low lunge to plank you can hold plank for a breath or drop right to the knees to help support the upper body in this pose if needed; after a breath we all take the knees-chest-chin variation instead of low plank or Chaturanga Dandasana, the knees-chest-chin modification helps maintain control of the upper body while building strength to work up to Chaturanga Dandasana.
- Cobra or bhujanga – take the baby version if deep backbends are not in your practice, keep the elbows close to the rib cage pointing back, tops of the feet on the floor.
- Downward facing dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana – as we press back to down dog move through table top pausing on the knees for a moment to assist you once there hold for 5 breaths; keep a bend in the knees if more comfortable on the legs and low back, remember its ok if the heels don’t touch the mat – press down toward the earth touching or not. From down dog, we lift the same leg that was forward in low lunge when we started and step through back to low lunge – if this is too challenging you can step forward to the top of the mat returning to forward fold.
- Low lunge – step back foot up to forward fold – half lift – and finally upward salute – repeat stepping back with the opposite foot completing one full round, to end hands come to prayer at the heart.
Follow along in the video below for our week three mini practice for five rounds of the above variation – or take any variation that works for you.
Week 4 – The Challenge Doesn’t End Here
Just because our month is coming to a close doesn’t mean we have to give up on our selected pose. Especially with sun salutations…these make a great daily practice and would be a wonderful addition to your home routine. The motivation for choosing sun salutations this month was the fall equinox and the tradition of doing 108 sun salutations on the equinox, so I thought it would be nice to talk about the why behind that tradition and tell you a little about my experience participating in that tradition. 108 sun salutations is not just practiced on the fall equinox, but typically practiced for each change of season: the spring and fall equinox; and the winter and summer solstice; and also for the new year. Even if you don’t practice these daily, maybe you can join in on the tradition of 108 to mark the change of season.
So we know when we practice 108, but not why, so let’s talk about some of the reasons why 108 is important and why we choose to go after 108 sun salutations to mark certain events in our lives.
- The number 108 is significant in many circles and traditions like yoga, astronomy and more. For instance in yoga there are 108 Upanishads and 108 Tantras; in the sister since of ayurveda there are 108 sacred points on the body; malas have 108 beads which are used to count during meditation; in numerology 108 equals 9 and symbolizes universal love and awakening; in astronomy the distance between the sun and earth is about 108 times the sun’s diameter. These are just a few examples of the significance of 108 throughout history.
- We have already talked about the physical benefits of doing sun salutations, now just multiply that by 108, we are creating some serious heat in the body and moving some serious energy, you will finish this practice feeling alive!
- When we embark on something as intense as 108 sun salutations we learn a lot about ourselves and about surrender, there is no way to complete this without surrendering to ourselves, our mind will have us questioning why we are doing this and at a certain point the flow takes over and we just surrender to the movements, I found myself even moving through many rounds with my eyes closed just allowing it to happen, we tap into a deeper part of ourselves and learn along the way.
- As we move through 108, or whatever number we complete – remember to always listen to your body as you go, we learn a lot along the way, we learn: we are stronger than we think, whether you finish 5 – 50 – or all 108, you will learn that you are capable of way more than you know; you are not your thoughts! we get stuck in negative energy and negative thought patterns and this moving meditation will help break up both; you can shift your entire outlook, by the end of the practice you may notice a boost in your confidence and feeling like you can take on anything; you will end the practice feeling energized – complete round 108 with a smile and give yourself a pat on the back for all you’ve accomplished!
This year for the fall equinox I took on the practice of 108 for the third time, each time is a new experience and each time has taught me new lessons. It is a vulnerable feeling to step onto your mat knowing what you are about to take on, can you move through all 108, are you really capable of such a feat, even if you’ve done it before each time is new and stands alone. At the start of each round I repeated the words to myself – I am showing up! Showing up for me, for the process, for life, for the good and bad and everything in between…and I met each child’s pose between the rounds telling myself – I am a badass! I faced my fears and doubts and pushed through each round to that sweet child’s pose, round two is without a doubt the most challenging, our body starts to get a little tired and our mind says its ok to skip one, just pause for a moment there are 108, its ok to miss one or just slow down a little, and I pushed past telling my body to keep going, separating out that voice from the truth, knowing that I had more in the tank and I wasn’t done yet, and then suddenly its the end of round 3 and then the end of round 4 and you are smiling as you move through number 108 feeling such a sense of satisfaction and joy. (I just want to point out that it is important to know your body and to listen to it, if you need a break take a break there is no harm in stopping when our body needs it, but if we are just listening to that voice that always tells us no we can push past that voice.)
Have you taken on the challenge of 108? Drop a comment below I would love to hear about it!
Don’t let the end of month be the end of your practice, even if you don’t take on 108 you can practice one of the many variations of sun salutations everyday! Below is our last practice together for the month, but you can come back to it any time!