On Friday night I found out that this month is… Asana Month! Last month was intensive study on the yamas and niyamas, and this month will be intensive study on poses. Really excited about this, but on the other hand, I do wish this month was something more bookish that could be easily done in a plane, train, or automobile. F and I have a LOT of travel going on in May, which will make time on the mat more difficult to come by. I predict much grumping and whining in my future (but then, that’s pretty much the norm).
After group sharing on Friday, N gave us a handout that covered general guidelines for asana practice (I’ll come back to this in a later post), guidelines for sequencing a yoga class, and notes on each type of yoga posture: sun salutations, backbends, standing postures, twists, etc. On Friday night, we went through sun salutations in detail, papers and notebooks open next to our mats, practicing and taking notes and practicing some more. I felt so pumped up – yes, this is exactly what I want to be doing! It was really exciting, doing poses and talking through them and asking questions about nitpicky details of alignment.
I’ve been doing sun salutations for over eight years (longer if you count Paul and Caroline teaching me a sun salutation after our college production of Children of Eden). Sun salutations always follow the same basic format – reaching up, folding forward, stepping/jumping back, backbend, downward-facing dog, stepping up, and rising back up – but there are variations in how some teachers teach sun salutations. It seems like something so basic to most people’s yoga practice, but I’ve always wondered about those variations. (For those who aren’t familiar with sun salutations, here’s the Wikipedia page about sun salutations, and I’ve linked a few videos below.)
N & J recommend teaching the “classic” form of sun salutation for a beginner class. This form takes out some of the more difficult elements. Instead of jumping or hopping back, you step one leg back into a lunge, hold for a few breaths, then step the other foot back to plank position. You then lower gently down to the belly (rather than doing a chaturanga push up), and take Sphinx or Cobra pose (rather than upward-facing dog). Press back to down-dog as usual, then step one foot forward to do the lunge on the other side, before stepping both feet up to the hands and completing the sequence.
Other common variations are Sun Salutations A and B. In A, you step or jump both feet all the way back, skipping the lunge, and typically you do chaturanga and upward dog. Sun Salutation B starts with chair pose and also includes Warrior 1. (Here are videos of an incredibly flexible guy doing Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B.)
I’m more used to doing Sun Salutation A, so it was actually a little challenging for me when I started attending classes at this studio and doing the “classic” sun salutation. The lunges were really hard when I wasn’t used to them! Now, though, I can appreciate it more. In the past, doing A, I was used to moving on every inhale and exhale, while with the classic version, each pose can be held for a few breaths, which can allow for a deeper experience of the pose while still building heat in the body. I find that slowing my sun salutations down this way can also help me to improve my alignment in tiny ways, creating a better experience.
Friday night’s class was useful because we were able to analyze each step of the different Sun Salutation sequences, looking at every option and modification for each step. After having practiced yoga for many years, it was useful to look at this basic sequence from a beginner’s perspective, examining what could be challenging or painful, and seeing how the poses could be interpreted by beginners.