Yoga

Sun Salutations, My Favorite Warm up

Here's a little explanation of my favorite warm up which also happens to be a fairly standard flow in many yoga classes.

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer and also don’t have a perfect body by popular American standards. Let’s just agree that body shaming is not necessary from here on out because a lot more unflattering poses and sequences will eventually show up and no one has time for that mess on this blog, or any yoga feature of any blog. Ever. Also, my poses aren’t perfect. I thought about trying to get the perfect picture in each pose that shows me doing it all perfectly but that’s just not the point of yoga here. So I accepted where I was with each pose that day and moved on.

I first learned the sun salutations in my yoga instructor course last year. As someone who has mostly had a home practice, I probably should have known it already. I did do parts of the salutations, but not exactly the salutation itself. When incorporating Sun Salutation A into my daily (ish, I mean nobody’s perfect) practice, I added just a little touch.

Mountain pose

It begins in Mountain pose:

  • Feet are solid on the ground. For me, big toes are together and my heels are just wherever is comfortable. Preferably, the feet are in line with the knees and hips, but my feet have always turned in a little so that’s what’s comfortable for me.
  • Chin tucked
  • Shoulders back
  • Ribs tucked down
  • Hips tucked rather than sticking out
  • Arms at your sides, palms up.

After you’re all situated in Mountain Pose, take a long breath and bring your arms up above your head into Exalted Mountain Pose. Here’s where I deviate from tradition, especially since I use it as a warm-up.

Exhale and stretch over to one side, making an effort to keep your hips tucked. Then inhale back to center and exhale to the other side. Inhale back to center and then resume the rest of the traditional sun salutation and forward fold, bring the arms down in what is either referred to as a “circle sweep” or “swan dive”. Honestly, do it however is comfortable for you. It’s more important to adjust into the next pose and not hurt yourself than to abide by old standards.

From here, a lot of people are intimidated about touching their toes and being flexible enough to do yoga. Let me just say that there is no such thing as not flexible enough to do yoga. If you’re not feeling flexible, definitely try yoga. There are so many adjustments and blocks and straps to help build flexibility. For example, if you don’t feel like you can touch your toes, then put a Yoga Block in front of your feet and touching that or resting your hands on your legs wherever is comfortable for you. Seriously, moving a little and being comfortable is the most important thing.

Here’s how the blocks may be used. I had gone back and taken these picture on another day when I realized they were necessary. Depending on your flexibility, use them whichever way doesn’t make the pose uncomfortable.

Now, that was an exhale down from Exalted Mountain to Forward Fold. On the next inhale, straighten your back and bring your hands up to rest on your legs just wherever they are. In class, the instructor will typically say to come half way up.

On the next exhale, bend the knees and put your hands on floor (remember to move any block or anything that was used to help with forward fold) and either jump or step back into plank. Here’s a high plank:

Plank

Again, I’m not perfect and have come to use the YogaJellies I mentioned a few weeks ago. For me, they help with a bit of cushion a few steps from now to not hurt my hand but are good for a variety of reasons. For example, my husband uses them because he doesn’t have full range of motion on his wrists and can’t do a push up without pain on a flat surface. To continue, this exhale begins in half way up from Forward Fold, brings the hands to the floor, steps back into plank and then lowers into Chataranga.

Chatarunga

Yeah, my Chatarunga isn’t perfect either. Ideally, the body is a straight line from heels to head and the elbow is at a 90 degree angle. I can’t quite get that straight line every time, but that’s why it’s called a practice. We’re not gonna hit every pose perfectly every day. From here, and this is where the YogaJellies come in for me, there are two options.

Option 1: shift your feet so that the tops are on the floor and push up with your hands, bringing your torso up and your hips down while keeping your legs off the ground.

Option 2: push your upper body forward, rolling over your toes until your feet are on the floor and your torso is up, hips stay parallel to the floor without actually touching. While pushing forward and rolling over the toes, there can be a strain on the hand and the little bit of cushion of the YogaJellies helps the pressure to not hurt mine when moving into this pose. Additionally, the rotation of the shoulders when doing this can be harmful to some. Listen to your body and don’t do anything that hurts. It’s perfectly fine to do Option 1.

Upward Facing Dog

This brings us to Upward Facing Dog. Personally, I like to look up in this pose, some look straight ahead. If Upward Facing Dog isn’t possible or managable or hurts in any spot, there is also Cobra Pose. Cobra looks similar but the hips are on the floor. This takes some of the pressure off the hands and the back. Doing whichever works best for you. I’m prone to doing either depending on how sore I am or how warmed up I am from the day’s events.

From Upward Facing Dog, exhale and push with your hands and pull your hips back and up into Downward Facing Dog.

Downward Facing Dog

This pose tends to look stagnant and heavy on the wrists but it isn’t. I was also fairly warmed up by the time I remembered to grab my camera but I assure you that heels on the ground are not necessary. Mine don’t usually hit the ground until the third sun salutation and that’s after more than 10 years of doing yoga.

The most important thing to remember about this pose is that the pressure should not be in the wrists. Even though it looks like a resting pose and is often used as one in power classes, there is work getting done here. Push with your hands and fingers so that you are pushing your shoulders up off the ground and your hips up as high as possible and their weight is on your legs, not your hands. Then the pressure should shift from the wrist to the fingers. My hands are still on the YogaJellies which are keeping my wrists at a different angle and also helping me to keep the pressure off.

On the next inhale, bring the heels deliberately up and look forward, between your hands. From here you can either step towards your hands in as many steps as are necessary or jump if your feeling froggy. Again, after 10 years of practice, the different between walking and jumping is still simply a matter of how I feel today. Go easy on yourself and do what feels comfortable.

Then you’re back in Forward Fold!

Just like before, inhale and come halway up. Exhale and fold down again, getting a little deeper if you can. Inhale and bring the hands back overhead in Exalted Mountain Pose.

Bring them together and down for Gratitude on the exhale.

And that’s Sun Salutation A with my small warm up variation. One of the great things about yoga, at least how many of us have grown to practice it in the West, is that it leaves plenty of room for creativity and for people of different abilities. Most poses can be played with to be made easier or harder. There are infinite combinations to add to those that are regularly practiced. I don’t have anything against the traditional and usually love it, but it’s nice to know that I can just as easily add in this or that pose because it works for my body to do so today.

That said, feel free to play in your yoga practice and hit me up if this was helpful or you have any questions!

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2 comments

    1. Thanks! I do want to get into more sequences down the road that can be used for different injuries and abilities one day. I’d love to be a yoga therapist because I really believe in its ability to improve quality of life in general.

      Like

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