Sun Salutations: Spice Up Your Vinyasa

This entry was posted on Jun 21, 2018 by Charlotte Bell.

Sun Salutations - Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) have become the basis for most mainstream yoga asana practices. Ashtanga Yoga was the first to make Sun Salutations the framework for a flowing practice. Since then, other flow-style practices have become quite popular. Think Power Yoga and Vinyasa Flow.

Ashtanga practitioners cite the meditative aspects of flowing through familiar postures. Once you know the flow, they say, you can let the body take over and set the mind aside. But familiarity can also sometimes breed boredom or distraction. When you’re flowing through a habitual series, it can be easy for the mind to become distracted. When you don’t have to pay attention to what you’re doing, the mind can more easily spin off into unrelated thoughts.

There are ways to make your Sun Salutations more challenging for your mind. Here are a few ideas I’ve learned over the years that help me keep my mind engaged.

Spice Up Your Sun Salutations

Vary your flow. Add some other poses to your flow. Be creative. Sun Salutations on their own, without variations, include poses that all take place in the same plane (the sagittal plane). The poses in traditional Sun Salutations are pretty much all forward bends and backbends. Add some twists and lateral bends to change it up. Adding twists and lateral bends will make your Sun Salutations a more comprehensive movement for your spine.

For example, insert a Revolved Lunge Pose into your flow as part of your regular Lunge Pose. You could also try skipping the Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)-Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) – Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) portion of the Sun Salutation sometimes. Varying your flow can help you avoid repetitive strain injuries, especially in the hands and wrists that are vulnerable in these poses.

Be mindful of the transitions. We often think of Vinyasa practice as the linking of poses. This isn’t an inaccurate description. But what if it’s not simply one pose linked to another pose and then to another? Where do the actual “links” fit in? In order to make your flow cohesive, and to keep your mindfulness continuous, make the transitions between poses as important as the poses themselves. Apply this throughout the practice. For example:

  1. Take a moment to be aware of your body before you start. What’s your baseline today?
  2. As you place your hands in Anjali Mudra, feel the contact between your hands.
  3. Feel the arms as you raise them toward the sky. Simultaneously feel the grounding in your feet.
  4. As you lower your arms and begin to bend forward, feel your arms and torso moving through the air as your legs engage to ground you.
  5. And so on.

You get the idea. Staying mindful in the transitions turns your flow into a continuous meditation. Continuous mindfulness of the body keeps your mind from becoming distracted. If yoga is meant to be a mind-body practice rather than just an exercise regimen, these are great ways to make sure your mind stays present.

How do you make your Sun Salutations more engaging?

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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