When some of you asks me what they can do at home to improve their strength, flexibility or both, I usually recommend to develop a Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar self practise, which can give you a full work out and at the same time full body stretch. I think that we can be flexible with our personal deadlines and reaching our goal. However this flexibility needs to be accompanied by discipline so that we can actually achieve. A daily sun salute is a great habit to adopt.
There are many sun salutation variations, and you can develop your own. You can also decide how long you stay in each pose, taking care of stacking the joints correctly and keeping the integrity of the pose. Remember to accompany your movement with your breathing.
Step-by-step Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskar
1 – Tadasana – Mountain Pose. Stand at the top of your mat: feet together, toes spread, knees soft but tights engaged. Your tail bone is down and your back is straight. Shoulders back and down. Arms either side of your body with your palms engaged and facing your legs. Keep your neck long and your chin slightly tacked in. Inhale deeply feeling grounded and as you exhale bring your hands to your heart centre into prayer position or Namaste for Samastiti.
2-Inhale stretch your arms up and slightly bend onto baby back bend, imagine a beautiful sun shinning above your head. As you exhale fold forwards to Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), bowing to the earth, while stretching the hamstrings, calf muscles, and lower back.
3- Inhale, keeping the hands down, either in your shins or on the floor, lift the chest flattening your back. Exhale fold forwards and step the right foot and then the left foot back into Plank.
4- Whilst in Plank, inhale, check that your wrists are under your shoulders, your hip in down and your legs are strong pushing away towards your heels. Your gaze is down and forwards, keeping your neck long with no creases.
5-Exhale and lower to Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) with legs straight or knees on the ground to strengthen the arms and trapezius, drawing the belly back as you lower.
6 – Lower the pelvis, tuck the toes, and inhale as you lift the chest and legs in Upward Facing Dog (Ardo Muka Svanasana) or cobra for a gentler option, strengthening the lower back.
7 – Exhale and lower the chest pushing onto Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), lengthening the hamstrings, calves, and torso, while strengthening the upper body. Point your hips towards the ceiling, stomach in, chest moving towards your legs, all fingers stretched on the floor.
8 – After five breaths inhale and step the right foot forward then the left into forward fold, flatten your back lifting your head as you inhale. Exhale fold forwards. Then inhale and lift the arms and chest up towards the sky, link up, keeping your stomach engaged and stretching your back for five breaths.
9- Exhale and release your arms back onto Tadasana.
Take a moment. Notice the flow of energy (prana) moving within as you stand vibrantly steady; the body enlivened, the mind steadied.
See if you can repeat this for five rounds or 15 to 30 minutes. This can be the beginning of your practice or a full practice in and of itself. Incorporating Sun Salutations regularly can allow your practice to become a slow dance of conscious movement dedicated to energised presence.