by Kara-Leah Grant
In recent months, we’ve looked at all the different asanas or postures that make up a standard sun salutation.
We’ve explored each of these postures in-depth, and explained them on video.
Now it’s time to took at the transitions between the postures. Because this is what makes sun salutations such a fantastic yoga sequence – especially for home practice.
Each pose flows effortlessly into the next posture, creating a complete circle where you end up where you started, ready to start again.
However, despite this natural flow, it’s still easy to approach sun salutations in a piece-meal manner.
First you do Tadanasa, then you fold forward, then you step or jump back into high plank before lowering into Chaturanga Dandasana… and so on. In this approach, you’re in a pose, and then you’re getting to the next posture – the time between the postures isn’t important, it’s just a transition.
But when you’re practicing yoga, there is no such thing as just a transition. There is no moment that isn’t yoga – that state of presence where we’re aware of our breath and we allow our breath to led us through the movement.
And therein lies the key to sun salutations – the breath. First we breathe, then we move.
From Uttanasana, we inhale as we step or jump our feet back into high plank, exhaling firmly to find out foundation in our new body position.
We inhale in high plank, feeling the alignment of the posture, before our next exhale releases us down into Chaturanga Dandasana.
An inhale lifts us through and up into Upward Dog. Exhale carries us back into Downward Dog.
Here we may pause and allow the breath to explore Downward Dog for five breaths or more, until an inhale steps or jumps our feet forward into a Forward Bend again. Finally, another inhale lifts us up into Tadanasa.
This is the flow – we dance with our breath, following it’s led, letting it move us from one posture to another.
Transitioning with full awareness of the breath takes us into yoga. There is no time to think – we’re fully aware of each inhale and exhale so we can follow the rhythm of the dance.
That’s the magic of the sun salutation – dancing with the breath dances us into awareness and suddenly we’re present.
Of course, it’s easy to forget our breath, and even easier to forget which breath we’re meant to move on.
When that happens – as it will – don’t panic! Notice how you’re being drawn up into thinking mind and away from a state of presence. Let go of needing to know what breath you’re meant to be on and when you’re meant to move. Instead, bring full awareness back to your breathing and how that breath moves in your body. Just pay attention.
As you breathe with full awareness, notice when an impulse arises to move.
If you’re in downward dog, when do you naturally feel like moving forward?
If you’re in Uttanasana, when do you naturally feel like moving backward into high plank, or upward into Tadasana? Trust that there is a part of you that knows when to move and on which part of the breath – and then allow yourself to be guided.
This is the value of home yoga practice – you get thrown back completely on to your own wisdom and intuition.
You learn to let go of the not-knowing of the mind and tune into the natural tendencies of the breath. And if you move, and it feels wrong – don’t berate yourself! You’ve just learned something.
Moving on that breath didn’t work for you, go back and try it on the other breath and see how that feels. It’s all just feedback. It’s all just about getting intimate with your body and your breath – minus the mind chatter.
Finally, one powerful way to practice sun salutations is to play with the transitions in particular. Repeat each transition three times, or link 3 postures together and go round and round. This helps to program the breath cycle into muscle memory and you learn what works and how it flows.
Heres’ some examples of how you might use repetition in a sun salutation:
- Exhale from Tadasana down into Uttanasana. Take a breath in Uttanasana and then inhale back up again. Try this three times, leaving out the breath in Uttanasana to really feel the flow. Exhale down, inhale back up again.
- From Downward Dog, inhale forward into high plank, and then exhale back into Downward Dog. Do this three times, focusing on moving from the tailbone and waving the spine forward and back in one integrated movement.
- Extend this out by inhaling from Downward Dog into High Plank, exhaling down into Chaturanga Dandasana, inhaling into Upward Dog, and exhaling back into Downward Dog. Pause in Downward Dog for a breath or two and then repeat. Or don’t pause at all, but make it one continuous circle around and around.
As you play with transitions in this way, focus on breathing seamlessly until it’s impossible to tell where a transition starts and stops and where a posture starts and stops – it’s just an effortless flow of movement.
No matter how many decades you’ve been practicing sun salutations, there’s always something more to enjoy.
Home Practice Foundations: Transition Time! with Seka Ojdrovic-Phillips of Spirit Fire Yoga
Thanks for joining Seka and I on this intimate journey through the asana and breathwork that make up Sun Salutations.