Surya namaskar, or sun salutations, are a series of movements that are ideally synchronized with your breath. That means that each movement begins as an inhale or exhale begins, and it ends when that same breath phase ends.
As an example of this, try inhaling and exhaling smoothly and slowly. Repeat a few times. Focus on feeling the muscles that activate in order to create your inhales, and the tension changes that create your exhales.
When you are ready, at the beginning of an inhale start to lift your arms. Try to match the movement of your arms to your inhale so that your arms reach the top and stop just as your inhale does. Then as you exhale lower your arms. Match the speed of your arms to your exhale so that they arrive at your sides just as your exhale ends.
As another example, starting with your arms up, as you exhale, bend forwards.
You can finish with your hands on your legs, or if you can reach it, the floor. Try to finish your forward bend at the same time as your exhale finishes. Then as you inhale, stand up and reach your arms up as you do so.
Here again, match the movement of your arms to your breath so that they finish together.
Now, what if you can’t breath slowly and smoothly, or find yourself rushing the movement so that it ends as your breath ends? I’d suggest forget the breath and focus on moving slowly and smoothly.
Or another option is to break-down your movements further.
As an example, to lift your arms:
So now, instead of lifting your arms on one inhale, you use two inhales with an exhale inbetween.
If bending forwards from here:
So now, instead of a single exhale to bend forwards you use two exhales separated by an inhale during which you hold the position you are in.
Now lets say that you are bent forwards. Bending your knees if you have to, place your palms on the floor and shift your weight forwards. This is ideally done with a single inhale but again, if you have trouble with breathing slowly, inhale your hands to the floor, then exhale, then on the next inhale shift your weight forwards.
To return to your feet, reverse the process:
We’re actually going over the steps of surya namaskar, so if you want, go back and review what we’ve done so far.
You'll actually be better off reviewing the movements now so that they stick a bit easier. .
Repeat the movements a few times to get a feel for them. If you focus on just a few movements at a time, say lifting and lowering your arms, then you may find that you can focus on enjoying the movements themselves. And you may find that you remember them rather easily.
But even if you forget something, not to worry, we’ll finish with some tips on how to self check your surya namaskar steps.
I'll continue to divide the movements into two parts. If you can have no problem breathing slowly and smoothly then do each movement with a single inhale or exhale.
So back to bending forwards with your weight forwards towards your hands. From here you ideally step back and lower down into a push up position called chaturanga dandasana with a single exhale. However, instead of that pose, you can make it easier on yourself by stepping back to downward facing dog instead.
To break the movement down:
Thus you end up in downward dog.
If breath work isn't a problem, then simply step your feet back for the first half of your exhale then push your hips back and up for the second half of your exhale.
Reverse the steps to return to the weighted hand position as follows:
From here (bent forwards with weight towards your hands):
Then inhale half way up, take an exhale, then inhale the rest of the way up.
Exhale your hands to half way, inhale for a rest, then exhale your hands all the way down.
Now for the part of Surya Namaskar A that we skipped: chaturanga, upward dog, then to downward dog. Lets start in the hands on the floor position.
Lets say that you aren't comfortable with the push up position called Chaturanga Dandasana. You can substitute plank instead.
From here, you can return to the "hands on the floor position" or return to standing.
Practice these movements till you get comfortable with them (rest when you need to, and if you don’t have any trouble with breathing slowly and smoothly while moving, then skip the doubled breaths and try to do each full movement with one breath.
From here the only step missing is back to chaturanga. In a forward bend with your weight over your hands, first step your feet back with an exhale, hold for an inhale, then bend your elbows to sink down with an exhale. Then do upward dog and downward dog, and the following movements as previously described.
So normally a surya namaskar a has 10 steps. With doubled breaths, it’s a bit more than that. An inhale is now an inhale plus an extra exhale and an inhale. An exhale is now an exhale plus an extra inhale and exhale. So instead of 10 steps we now have 30. What I’d suggest is practice the individual movements with the goal of reducing the need for the extra breaths. Once you can do that then you can count movements and use that count to make sure that you are doing the surya namaska steps in the correct order without any missing steps or any extra steps.
To that end it helps to remember that there are 10 movements in all and that odd numbered movements are done with an exhale, and even numbered ones with an inhale.
So movement 1 is lifting the arms while inhaling. Movement 2 is bending forwards while exhaling. Movement 3 is shifting your weight towards your hands with an inhale.
Movement 4 is stepping back into crocodile with an exhale. Movement 5 is upward dog, done with an inhale. Movement 6 is downward dog, done with an exhale.
Normally downward dog is held for 5 inhales and exhales.
After the last exhale, for movement 7, inhale your feet forwards, with your weight towards your hands. For movement 8, bend forwards with an exhale. Movement 9 is standing and lifting your arms. Movement 10 is lowering your arms by your sides.
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