Before I practice suriya namaskar I 'warm up' my spine, legs and wrists with an active spinal movement sequence that incorporates dynamic balance.
When people start my classes, this opening sequence appears, by far, to present the biggest challenges. It includes heel raises, one legged balancing, and active spinal movement--often all at once!
I took this 5 minute video at my last retreat in Talalla, Sri Lanka. You can hear the beautiful birds in the background and see the luscious coconut grove in which we have our twice daily practice!
The video is mainly intended for my students who want a visual refresher of what to do or for interested students who might come to class. I don't recommend learning from the internet.
After watching the video take a look at some of my practice tips.
Below I have jotted down a few thoughts for some of the movements/actions throughout the sequence. I say these commonly in class. They are not all of the instructions. I have tried to clarify a few points were I see students sometimes struggle.
Arms forward and up
When taking the arms overhead, push the armpits forward and up.
When practicing all of the heel raises, lean forward until the toes start to grip naturally, look at the floor to help with balance, then raise the heels. Keep gripping with the toes.
When bending the knees, I push my knees forward and hips forward. My hips don't really go anywhere and what you will see is that they lower straight down.
When knees are bending I try to keep firm behind my knees--as though you were trying to perhaps squeeze something behind them. But don't squeeze too hard! Remember, feel active but not tense.
I keep the toes gripping.
Shoulders roll in
When you roll the shoulders in, press armpits lightly down. I try to press wrists forwards and elbows back.
When you roll shoulders in it is easy to droop the top of the spine. Be careful it does not sag. Keep upper back lifted so you do not shorten the front of your body.
Shoulders roll out
When shoulders roll out there can be a tendency to press the ribs forward. Look carefully in the video and you see I try to lift but not push out in the upper back.
When you bend sideways, try to lengthen the one side without squashing the opposite side. In the video you will see I initiate this movement by raising one elbow without dropping the other.
Standing balance leg forward
The raised thigh rolls out. That means your knee seems to roll away from the centre line of your body. Be careful not to hike your raise leg pelvis up, which commonly happens when people focus on getting their leg high. It is not how high it is that counts.
Leg to side
Again, thigh rolls out. It is difficult to get the leg this high so keep it closer to the floor if necessary. The leg is to the side and slightly to the front. People who focus on getting their leg too high often have the leg too far to the front but it needs to be more to the side than the front.
Leg behind fold forward
Leg straight forward fold
As always, stretch less, tense less, think less, and breathe less. Try your best without being attached to an outcome. The outcome people often become attached to in these postures (from my observations) is taking their legs too high.
Better the legs are straight rather than high. This might mean that you keep toe tip on the floor. That is an important modification I did not show in this video. That is, you do not need to raise the toe off the floor at all. You can keep toe tip down, do the arm and spinal movements, and then just straighten the leg when that time comes.
Relax your tongue and breathe naturally. This will help you feel calm in these challenging movements.
This is the opening sequence in my current outdoor Canberra yoga classes. Join us and have some fun if you like!