Surya Namaskar /Sun Salutation A

(Special thanks to Ambitious yogi, Natalie, for modeling this month's pose.)

Now that we’ve perfected Ambitious Yoga Poses #1-6, it’s time to continue our practice and build a little heat in the body with Sun Salutations. Surya Namaskar (stemming from the Sanskrit words surya – “sun” and namas – “to adore”) is a dynamic asana sequence that syncs movement with the breath and efficiently takes your body through a series of poses that combine strength, flexibility and balance. In other words, in less than 30 seconds and 12 poses, your mind and body are in a better place than they were when you started out. Yep, I wish I could package this drug and sell it! J

Ready to get started? Let’s move you from Runner’s Lunge (Ambitious Yoga Pose #6 – you’ve sure been there a long time!) to get you into the starting position.

From Runner’s Lunge: Step your back foot forward and straighten your legs to transition into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). From there, allow your head, neck and arms to relax completely. Keep your knees slightly bent and turn your gaze toward your navel. Slowly begin to roll up to a standing position one vertebra at a time.

Now you’re ready to read on for Sun Salute A broken down into 13 easy steps:

1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Stand with your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart. Lift and spread your toes and then lay them gently onto the floor to widen your stance. Rock back and forth gently to try to stack your weight evenly over every joint (knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips, neck over shoulders). Lift your kneecaps, drop your tailbone toward the floor and lift your chest, widening across your collarbones (think “proud stance!”). Your chin should be parallel to the floor. Bring your hands down by your sides and turn your palms to face forward. Breathe.

2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute): (Inhale) Raise your arms and extend them completely toward the ceiling, palms facing one another, while relaxing your shoulders away from your ears (no hunched shoulders, please!).

3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): (Exhale) Hinge from the hips and fold forward, leading with the chest as you reach for your toes (or your shins, thighs or whatever else is accessible). For many yogis, legs will be straight, but feel free to bend your knees as much as you need to in the forward bend – particularly if you feel pressure in your lower back. Bending the knees allows the pelvis to tilt forward, which is exactly what you’re looking for in the pose.

4. Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend): (Inhale) Lift your chest to create a flat back. Some uber flexible yogis will be able to do this with the hands on the ground, but for most of us I recommend bringing your hands to your shins to allow you to get full extension through the spine.

5. Runner’s Lunge: (Exhale) Bring your hands to the mat and step your R foot back into a Runner’s Lunge position, keeping the back leg straight. For more details on the Runner’s Lunge, check out Ambitious Pose of the Month #6.

Advanced Tip: The Jump-Back. Feeling Ambitious? Skip poses 5-6 and jump straight back from Uttanasana (Burpee-style) into Chaturanga Dandasana, but be sure to brace your core as you do so to protect your lower back. Not sure you are ready for the jump-back? Test your confidence and jumping ability first with the jump-forward (see Advanced Tip 10b.).

6. Plank Pose: (Inhale) Step your L foot back to meet your right foot to find yourself in a Plank Position. Arms are straight and perpendicular to the floor with your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Press down evenly through all 5 fingers of both hands. Lift through your chest and widen across your shoulder blades, as you slide them down your back for support (again, no hunched shoulders!). Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels to engage your core. To keep your legs engaged, press your thighs toward the ceiling and reach your heels away from your body, as if you were pressing them into the wall behind you.

7. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose): (Exhale) Maintain the plank form as you begin to lower yourself halfway toward the floor (just like a reverse push-up), hugging your elbows in toward your ribs the entire time (imagine you forgot to put on deodorant and are trying to keep it from your fellow yogis!).

8. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog): (Inhale) Begin to shift your body (still in a strong plank position) forward a couple of inches until the heel of your hands is in line with the base of your ribs. At this point, slowly begin to flip your feet over, so that the tops of the feet are pressing into the floor and extend your arms, lift your chest toward the ceiling. In the completed position, you want your hands stacked under your shoulders with your arms complete extended. Your chest is lifted with your shoulder blades pressing into your back. The tops of your feet are pressing firmly into the ground, so much so that the tops of the thighs lift away from the floor. Extend your tailbone toward your heels, which are hips-width distance apart. Gaze is forward.

9. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog): (Exhale) From Upward Dog, lift from the lower abdomen as you begin to pike your hips up toward the ceiling to create a triangle position with the body, as you flip your feet over one by one. Continue with Steps #3-7 of Downward Dog from Ambitious Pose of the Month #5 .

10. Ardha Uttanasana: (Inhale) Step your R foot forward between your hands, followed by your L to transition into a forward bend position and return to a flat back position as we did earlier in the cycle (See instructions for Step 4).

Advanced Tip: The Jump-Forward. If you’re interested in getting your feet wet with the jump-forward and jump-back, this is the place to start. Instead of stepping the feet forward to Ardha Uttanasana, shift your weight forward into your hands, brace your core and hop your feet forward (just like a Burpee) between your hands instead. Give it a try – the first two or three times you may have to take a few hops to get the whole way there, but eventually you will develop the confidence you need to conquer the jump-forward every time.

11. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): (Exhale) Relax into a forward bend position as we did in Step 3.

12. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute): (Inhale) Swing your arms out to the side like airplane wings and lead with the chest as you come up to stand with a flat back. Raise your arms over head and return to Urdhva Hastasana (see Step 2)

13. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): (Exhale) Return to Tadasana (see instructions Step 1).

Repeat 4-5 times and enjoy the sensations arising in your body (that’s Sun Salute-goodness for ya!).

A note about breathing: As you get started, you may need to take several breaths per movement (that’s ok!), but eventually your goal will be to take one breath per movement as indicated below. When in doubt, remember this yoga rule of thumb: just breathe!

Read on for more about the history and philosophy behind the Sun Salutation.