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:
- Take a moment to be aware of your body before you start. What’s your baseline today?
- As you place your hands in Anjali Mudra, feel the contact between your hands.
- Feel the arms as you raise them toward the sky. Simultaneously feel the grounding in your feet.
- 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.
- 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?