Yoga

Sun Salutations

This 5 Minute Morning Exercise Will Revitalize Your Life.

Making exercise a priority in the morning can be challenging. I think most people would agree that exercising in the morning is a good thing, but the reality is time always seems to get in the way. There are many benefits that come from a morning exercise routine such as; increased blood flow, more energy and fewer aches and pains.

So what’s the solution to realize these benefits and many more? It’s a yoga sequence call Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara). The Sun Salutation is a 5-minute morning exercise that will revitalize your life and send you off to tackle your day with a sense of calm and purpose.

The Sun Salutation is a sequence of postures, each with its meaning and function. It is a daily practice intended for dawn and/or sunset and done in the direction of the sun. It’s nice if you can practice Sun Salutation outside in nature as a way of honoring the sun and sharing your gratitude for its energy, but it isn’t a requirement.

The Benefits:

A regular and faithful practice of the Sun Salutation in the mornings can benefit you in the following ways:

  • Strengthens the entire digestive system.
  • Invigorates and restores the nervous system.
  • Energizes the heart and regulates blood pressure and heart palpitations.
  • Promotes healthy lungs and breath.
  • Stimulates glandular activity.
  • Strengthens the muscles in your upper and lower body including your abdomen and back.
  • Reduces excess fat on the body.
  • Improves kidney function.
  • Encourages proper posture.
  • Brings clarity to your mind.

Basically, a morning ritual that includes the Sun Salutation will benefit all your vital organs, muscles, your mind and it will provide shape and muscle to your body in a healthy, natural way.

Doing The Sun Salutation

The good thing about the Sun Salutation is it is perfect for all levels. The series is made up of eight beginning yoga poses that take you through twelve stations. It can take you anywhere from 5 minutes to longer, depending on how many sequences you choose to do.

The Sun Salutation can be performed at various speeds. A slow rhythmic practice is recommended as it has greater effect on the mind. The Sun Salutation helps to attain a meditative mood when performed slowly, with attention on the breath and chanting the specific mantra. When performed with speed, it has more effect on the body, energizing it and burning extra calories.

No matter what the speed is, it is important to pay attention to the breathing.

  • Contraindications and Cautions

The Sun Salutation should not be practiced by those suffering from high blood pressure, coronary diseases and strokes. Also those with hernia should avoid this. Women should generally not practice it during pregnancy. People with spondylitis and sciatica should consult a doctor before practicing the Sun Salutation.

Each Sun Salutation round consists of two sets, and the 12 yoga poses complete one set of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). In order to complete the second half of one round, repeat the same sequence of postures, only moving the left leg instead of the right (steps 4 and 9). Sun Salutations, as the name suggests, are best done early morning on an empty stomach.

But Wait… There’s More:

Some of you might remember that Sun Salutations were shared here as part of our Well Begun project. That post is a lot longer than this one and covers the Sun Salutations in depth and in detail. If you are interested, you will find it here: Good Morning To The Sun. It even has Sun Salutations that can be done while sitting in a chair!

The Ganesha Mudra

The Ganesha Mudra is a powerful hand lock which, when incorporated into your yoga practice, can lift your spirits, relieve tension and boost confidence! It is the physical embodiment of perseverance. To achieve it, you should begin in a comfortable seated position with a long, straight spine. Then:

  • Bring both hands in front of your chest with bent elbows.
  • Position your left hand, palm outward, so your thumb points down toward the solar plexus and your pinky points up toward the collar bone.
  • Form a claw by bending the four fingers of your left hand and clasping them with the four fingers of your right hand. Your right palm should be facing your chest.
  • Take a deep breath in through the nose. Fill up.
  • Upon exhaling, forcefully pull both arms apart while keeping the claws locked. Feel that resistance open your shoulders and chest.
  • Inhale again and relax your arms, always maintaining the Ganesha lock. Exhale and pull apart.
  • Repeat this process six times, breath to movement.
  • Interchange the direction of your hands, with your right palm facing outwards and the left palm facing inward.
  • Repeat six more times.

Release the Mudra, feeling all tension melt away with it. Bring your unclasped hands to your heart, palms facing inward. Focus on slow, deliberate breaths, absorbing the restoration of equilibrium to the body, mind and soul.

Why does it work?

By uniting this Ganesha yoga pose with potent breath, blockages and obstacles are evicted from the body. With no refuge in the openness that’s been created, the clutter of the mind also dissolves. And since it’s his job to destroy what’s in the way, Ganesha has been known to place obstacles in the path of those who need to be “checked.” If something blocks your path, invoking Ganesha’s symbolic destruction with this Mudra can help to create space for what you seek!

Often honored at the opening of important rites and ceremonies, Ganesha represents new beginnings. His presence reminds us it’s only after we’ve removed the obstacles that we can begin anew. Sometimes, we must demolish the ego to rebuild a stronger foundation for personal growth. The yoga mat is the perfect place to lay that base!

Release After Resistance

The Ganesha pose can remove negativity and stress by stimulating resistance in the upper body. Sometimes, it’s only after release that we notice the heaviness of the weight we were carrying. What are you resisting? What’s holding you back? What obstacles can you remove to free yourself from what doesn’t serve you? Surround yourself with Ganesha, and all can become clear.

Here’s a Ganesha Mudra Meditation

The meditation is to be done while holding the Mudra pose.

  • Fully inhale. Fill your lungs up to their fullest capacity.
  • Fully Exhale. Empty your lungs until they are completely empty.

Every time you exhale draw your navel in, tense your chest and arm muscles and feel as if you are trying to get out of the grip, but you can’t. Stay relaxed in your face, top shoulders neck as you feel the tension. Completely exhale until your lungs are empty while visualizing and mentally repeating the obstacle (what’s holding you back).

  • Then inhale to fill your lungs while releasing the tension. Maintain the clasp.
  • Repeat this 6 times. For a total of 6 cycles.

When I do this I like to visualize myself exhaling against any resistance I might be feeling at the moment. It helps me to release the tension. I feel myself dissolving it and it opens me up and creates space.

When I inhale I visualize myself opening myself up to what I am focusing on (writing, finishing something I have been putting off), and the possibilities of exploring/learning something new.

Integrate what you are experiencing at the moment and use the Ganesha Mudra Meditation for that.

When you are done; visualize a clear path; visualize openness. Believe the pathway is clear for you to continue what you want/need to do. Believe that everything will have an outcome that will serve you in the best possible way possible.

There are many factors you can’t control, but be in charge of what you can control. Your thoughts, your actions is always within your control.

Give it a go, and see if/how it can support you. Make it your own. This meditation takes no more than 3 minutes.

Sources:

Good Morning To The Sun

This 5 Minute Morning Exercise Will Revitalize Your Life.

Making exercise a priority in the morning can be challenging. I think most people would agree that exercising in the morning is a good thing, but the reality is time always seems to get in the way. There are many benefits that come from a morning exercise routine such as; increased blood flow, more energy and fewer aches and pains.

So what’s the solution to realize these benefits and many more? It’s a yoga sequence call Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara). The Sun Salutation is a 5-minute morning exercise that will revitalize your life and send you off to tackle your day with a sense of calm and purpose.

The Sun Salutation is a sequence of postures, each with its meaning and function. It is a daily practice intended for dawn and/or sunset and done in the direction of the sun. Ideally, you would practice Sun Salutation outside to be in nature when honoring the sun and sharing your gratitude for its energy, but it isn’t a requirement.

The Benefits:

A regular and faithful practice of the Sun Salutation in the mornings can benefit you in the following ways:

  • Strengthens the entire digestive system.
  • Invigorates and restores the nervous system.
  • Energizes the heart and regulates blood pressure and heart palpitations.
  • Promotes healthy lungs and breath.
  • Stimulates glandular activity.
  • Strengthens the muscles in your upper and lower body including your abdomen and back.
  • Reduces excess fat on the body.
  • Improves kidney function.
  • Encourages proper posture.
  • Brings clarity to your mind.

Basically, a morning ritual that includes the Sun Salutation will benefit all your vital organs, muscles, your mind and it will provide shape and muscle to your body in a healthy, natural way.

Doing The Sun Salutation

The good thing about the Sun Salutation is it is perfect for all levels. The series is made up of eight beginning yoga poses that take you through twelve stations. It can take you anywhere from 5 minutes to longer, depending on how many sequences you choose to do.

The Sun Salutation can be performed at various speeds. A slow rhythmic practice is recommended as it has greater effect on the mind. The Sun Salutation helps to attain a meditative mood when performed slowly, with attention on the breath and chanting the specific mantra. When performed with speed, it has more effect on the body, energizing it and burning extra calories.

No matter what the speed is, it is important to pay attention to the breathing.

  • Contraindications and Cautions

The Sun Salutation should not be practiced by those suffering from high blood pressure, coronary diseases and strokes. Also those with hernia should avoid this. Women should generally not practice it during pregnancy. People with spondylitis and sciatica should consult a doctor before practicing the Sun Salutation.

Depending on your preferred style of yoga, you may be familiar with one of the many versions of sun salutes. The Vinyasa-style salutations, for example, incorporate chaturangas (low plank), and focus more on upper-body strength. The below postures are the most traditional version of the Sun Salute and actively engage all parts of the body.

Each Sun Salutation round consists of two sets, and the 12 yoga poses complete one set of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). In order to complete the second half of one round, repeat the same sequence of postures, only moving the left leg instead of the right (steps 4 and 9). Sun Salutations, as the name suggests, are best done early morning on an empty stomach.

Let’s Get Started

Make sure you are in comfortable clothing and barefoot is best.

  • Prayer pose – Pranamasana 

Stand at the edge of your mat, keep your feet together and balance your weight equally on both the feet. Expand your chest and relax your shoulders.

As you breathe in, lift both arms up from the sides and as you exhale, bring your palms together in front of the chest in prayer position.

Relax and breathe normally.

  • Raised Arms Pose – Hastauttanasana 

Breathing in, lift the arms up and back, keeping the biceps close to the ears. In this pose, the effort is to stretch the whole body up from the heels to the tips of the fingers

To deepen the stretch, push the pelvis forward a little bit. Ensure that you are reaching up with the fingers rather than trying to bend backwards.

Also called the Upward SaluteUrdhva Hastasana,Talasana, or the Palm Tree Pose.

  • Hand to Foot Pose – Hasta Padasana

Breathing out, bend forward from the waist, keeping the spine erect. As you exhale completely, bring the hands down to the floor beside the feet.

You may bend the knees, if necessary, to bring the palms down to the floor. If it doesn’t touch, go as far as possible without straining. Try to touch the knees with the forehead. To deepen the stretch, straighten the knees.

This position is also called the Standing Forward Bend or Uttanasana.

  • Equestrian Pose – Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Breathing in, push your right leg back as far as possible. Bring the right knee to the floor and look up.

The left foot is in between the palms. Be extra careful to avoid pressure on the back knee, especially if it is on the floor. If the neck is feeling sensitive then look down at the floor in front of you instead of lifting the head up.

  • Stick Pose – Dandasana

As you breathe in, take the left leg back and bring the whole body in a straight line.

Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor.

This is similar to the Four-Limbed Staff Pose or Chaturanga Dandasana.

  • Eight Points Salute – Ashtanga Namaskara

Gently bring your knees down to the floor and exhale. Take the hips back slightly, slide forward, and rest your chest and chin on the floor. Raise your posterior slightly.

Lower the body to the ground in such a way that it touches the floor in eight locations. The two hands, two feet, two knees, and chest and chin should touch the floor.

  • Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana 

Slide forward and raise the chest up into the Cobra Pose. You may keep your elbows bent in this pose with the shoulders away from the ears. Look up.

As you inhale, make a gentle effort to push the chest forward. As you exhale, make a gentle effort to push the navel down. Tuck the toes under.

This position looks like the cobra which has raised its hood.

  • Mountain Pose – Parvatasana  

While exhaling, take the right leg backward and place it along the left leg. Raise the buttocks. Let the hands be straight supporting the weight of the body. The head should be placed between the hands.

The pose looks like a mountain from the side. If possible, try and keep the heels on the ground and make a gentle effort to lift the tailbone up, going deeper into the stretch.

The Tadasana Pose is also called the Mountain Pose. The one described here is probably the exact same pose as the Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana.

  • Equestrian pose – Ashwa Sanchalanasana 

Breathing in, bring the right foot forward in between the two hands, left knee down to the floor, press the hips down and look up. (This is the same position as before but with the right foot forward instead of the left foot forward.)

To deepen this yoga stretch, place the right foot exactly between the two hands and the right calf perpendicular to the floor. In this position, make a gentle effort to push the hips down towards the floor.

  • Hand to Foot Pose – Hasta Padasana 

Breathing out, bring the left foot forward. Keep the palms on the floor. You may bend the knees, if necessary. This is a repetition of the same pose earlier in the sequence.

To deepen this yoga stretch, gently straighten the knees and if you can, try and touch your nose to the knees. Keep breathing.

  • Raised Arms Pose – Hastauttanasana 

Breathing in, roll the spine up, hands go up and bend backwards a little bit, pushing the hips slightly outward.

To deepen this yoga stretch, ensure that your biceps are beside your ears. The idea is to stretch up more rather than stretching backwards.

  • Standing Pose – Tadasana

As you exhale, first straighten the body, then bring the arms down. Relax in this position, observe the sensations in your body. You can also end your session with the Prayer Pose.

Confusingly, in some yoga traditions, Tadasana is also referred to as the Mountain Pose. It should not be confused with the Parvatasana (Mountain Pose) described above.

This completes one round of Sun Salutations. Start with one round when you are learning the practice and then increase it up to 10 rounds if you have the time and the desire.

An Important Point

I did the Sun Salutations for years, and really enjoyed them. I did not try very hard to do them exactly right, nor did I get caught up in proper form. I just did the best I could, and I didn’t care if it was sloppy or lazy or not very well done. And yet, it felt really good, and I got a lot of benefit from it.

If you enjoy yoga, and want to learn the correct techniques and get the most from the exercises, you can check out the information on each of the individual poses explained below. If you just want to get your body stretching and moving, watch the animation a few times and give it a go.

The Vinyasa-style Sun Salutations

The below detailed instructions come courtesy of The Yoga Journal.

  • To begin, stand in Mountain Pose. Distribute your weight evenly over both feet. Establish a slow, steady rhythm for your breath. Find your center.
  • Next, inhale and stretch your arms out to the side and overhead into Upward Salute.
  • Reach your heart and arms to the heavens, sending your greeting to the sun.
  • As you exhale, hollow out your belly and fold into Standing Forward Bend, connecting down into the earth. Keep your legs firmly engaged.
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine forward into Standing Half Forward Bend. In this pose, the gaze is lifted, the spine is extended, and the fingertips can stay on the floor or rise to the shins.
  • Exhale and step or lightly hop your feet back behind you into Plank Pose. Your wrists should be flat on the floor, shoulder-distance apart, and your feet should be at hip distance. Take a full breath in as you lengthen through your spine.
  • Exhale and lower into Four-Limbed Staff Pose, keeping your legs straight and pushing back into your heels or bringing your knees to the floor. Build heat in the center of your body as you hold this challenging posture.
  • Inhale and carve your chest forward into Upward-Facing Dog, directing that energy out from your heart. Pull your shoulders back and open your collarbones. Engage your legs but relax your gluteal muscles.
  • Exhale and roll over the toes, coming into Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Ground down through your hands and feet as you lengthen your spine. Remain here for five breaths.
  • On your fifth exhale, bend your knees and look between your hands. Then inhale and step or lightly hop your feet between your hands, returning to Standing Half Forward Bend.
  • Exhale back to Standing Forward Bend, surrendering into the fold.
  • Inhale, reaching your arms out wide to your sides and coming to stand through a flat back. Feel a renewed sense of energy as you draw your arms overhead into Upward Salute.
  • Exhale and return to Mountain Pose, your home base. Remain here for a few breaths, feeling the movement of energy through your body, or continue on to your next salute.

The Individual Poses:

Prayer Pose – Pranamasana

The Prayer Pose is a common gesture used in India and many eastern countries to show respect and a popular way to greet others especially elders, seniors, gurus and guests.

In India, the word for greeting is “Namaste” which means that – I bow down to the Self in you. The Self or the Jiva is said to be located at the heart center.

Hence the palms are brought together touching one’s own heart when bowing down and greeting others. This gesture with the hands is called Pranamasana.

  • Step 1

Stand erect with the feet held together.

  • Step 2

Bring the two hands together and the palms touching each other at the chest level. Look straight ahead. Breathe in normally. This will give a sense of relaxation.

This pose is done in the beginning and end of the Sun Salutation. Pranamasana gives a sense of relaxation and inner peace when done with feeling.

Mountain Pose – Tadasana

The foundation of all standing poses, Mountain Pose makes a great a starting position, resting pose, or tool to improve posture.

  • Note

The Mountain Pose – Tadasana shares its common name with Mountain Pose – Parvatasana which appears to be the same as Downward Facing Dog, descriptions of both can be found below.

  • Step 1

Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.

  • Step 2

Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps, without hardening your lower belly. Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches, then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groins, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel.

  • Step 3

Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.

  • Step 4

Balance the crown of your head directly over the center of your pelvis, with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, throat soft, and the tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Soften your eyes.

Mountain Pose is usually the starting position for all the standing poses. But it’s useful to practice Mountain Pose as a pose in itself. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing easily.

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana

Urdhva Hastasana literally translates to “Raised Hands Pose,” but it is also sometimes called Talasana, the Palm Tree Pose.

  • Step 1

Stand in Mountain Pose. Turn your arms outward (or laterally) so your palms face away from your torso and thumbs point backward. With an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and up toward the ceiling.

  • Step 2

If you’re tighter in the shoulders, stop when your arms are approximately parallel to each other. But if possible without hunching your shoulders forward, press your palms firmly together by, touching the bases of your palms first, then the palms themselves, and finally the fingers.

  • Step 3

Extend your elbows fully and reach up through your pinkies so your thumbs turn slightly down toward the crown of your head. Making sure not to compress the back of your neck, tip your head back slightly and gaze at your thumbs.

  • Step 4

Don’t let your lower front ribs protrude forward. Bring your front ribs down (toward your pelvis) and in (toward your spine), and lengthen your tail bone toward the floor. Then lift your rib cage evenly away from your pelvis to stretch the circumference of your belly. Hold for a few breaths.

  • Step 5

Exhale and, as you sweep your arms out to the sides, tip your torso forward from the hip joints to fold into Standing Forward Bend.

This pose stretches the belly, improves digestion, stretches the shoulders and armpits, and helps relieve mild anxiety. It’s good for fatigue, asthma, indigestion and back ache.

Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana 

Standing Forward Bend will wake up your hamstrings and soothe your mind. If you have had a back injury, do this pose with bent knees.

  • Step 1

Stand in Mountain Pose, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend draw the front torso out of the groins and open the space between the pubis and top sternum. As in all the forward bends, the emphasis is on lengthening the front torso as you move more fully into the position.

  • Step 2

If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Turn the top thighs slightly inward.

  • Step 3

With each inhalation in the pose, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates almost imperceptibly with the breath. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

  • Step 4

Standing Forward Bend can be used as a resting position between the standing poses. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It can also be practiced as a pose in itself.

  • Step 5

Don’t roll the spine to come up. Instead bring your hands back onto your hips and reaffirm the length of the front torso. Then press your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.

  • Beginner’s Tip

To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, bend your knees slightly. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking deeper into the back of your pelvis and bring the tailbone closer to the pubis. Then against this resistance, push the top thighs back and the heels down and straighten the knees again. Be careful not to straighten the knees by locking them back (you can press your hands against the back of each knee to provide some resistance); instead let them straighten as the two ends of each leg move farther apart.

This pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. It also stimulates the liver and kidneys; stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips; strengthens the thighs and knees; improves digestion; helps relieve the symptoms of menopause; and reduces fatigue and anxiety. It also relieves headache and insomnia. Standing Forward Bend is therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis.

Standing Half Forward Bend – Ardha Uttanasana

With any neck injury, don’t lift the head to look forward.

  • Step 1

From Standing Forward Bend, press your palms or fingertips into the floor (or blocks on the floor) beside your feet. With an inhale, straighten your elbows and arch your torso away from your thighs, finding as much length between your pubic bone and navel as possible.

  • Step 2

With your palms (or fingertips) push down and back against the floor, and lift the top of your sternum up (away from the floor) and forward. You might bend your knees slightly to help get this movement, which will arch the back.

  • Step 3

Look forward, but be careful not to compress the back of your neck. Hold the arched-back position for a few breaths. Then, with an exhale, release your torso into full Standing Forward Bend or, if you are doing the Sun Salutations, lower yourself into the plank position.

The Standing Half Forward Bend  stretches the front torso, strengthens the back and improves posture. This position also stimulates the belly

Plank Pose

Plank Pose is one of the positions in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. You can also perform this pose by itself and stay anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it is not recommended that you hold this pose for any length of time.

  • Step 1

If you are coming into this pose from the Standing Half Forward Bend, exhale and step or lightly hop your feet back behind you into Plank Pose.

When practicing this pose by itself, start in Downward Facing Dog. Then inhale and draw your torso forward until the arms are perpendicular to the floor and the shoulders directly over the wrists, torso parallel to the floor.

  • Step 2

Press your outer arms inward and firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then spread them away from the spine. Also spread your collarbones away from the sternum.

  • Step 3

Press your front thighs up toward the ceiling, but resist your tailbone toward the floor as you lengthen it toward the heels. Lift the base of the skull away from the back of the neck and look straight down at the floor, keeping the throat and eyes soft. Exhale and lower into Four-Limbed Staff Pose (if you are practicing the Sun Salutations).

A beginner’s best friend, this pose is the perfect precursor to more challenging arm balances. It strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine, and also tones the abdomen.

Four-Limbed Staff Pose – Chaturanga Dandasana

Four-Limbed Staff Pose is one of the positions in the Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Release with an exhalation. Either lay yourself lightly down onto the floor or push strongly back to Downward Facing Dog, lifting through the top thighs and the tailbone.

  • Step 1

At this point, you are in the Plank Pose. Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and press your tailbone toward your pubis.

  • Step 2

With an exhalation slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor. There’s a tendency in this pose for the lower back to sway toward the floor and the tailbone to poke up toward the ceiling. Throughout your stay in this position, keep the tailbone firmly in place and the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.

  • Step 3

Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don’t let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. Lift the top of the sternum and your head to look forward.

  • Contraindications and Cautions

It is not recommended that you hold this pose for any length of time if you are pregnant, or if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Even experienced students have difficulty with Four-Limbed Staff Pose. Lay a thickly rolled blanket on the floor below your Plank Pose, parallel to your spine. Lower yourself lightly onto this support. Use it minimally, just enough to keep yourself afloat.

You can get a feel for this challenging position by practicing it standing upright. Stand and face a wall, a few inches away from the wall. Press your hands against the wall, slightly lower than the level of your shoulders. Imagine that you are trying to push yourself away from the wall, but the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back prevents any movement. Lengthen your tailbone into your heels and lift the top of your sternum toward the ceiling.

The completed form of Four-Limbed Staff Pose is quite difficult to perform at first, until your arms, back, and legs are strong enough to support you. From Plank Pose, begin by lowering your knees to the floor and then, with an exhalation, lower your sternum to within an inch or two above the floor.

Upward Facing Dog – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Upward-Facing Dog will challenge you to lift and open your chest. Upward Facing Dog is one of the positions in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually, holding it anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor or lift into Downward Facing Dog with an exhalation.

  • Step 1

Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your waist so that your forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.

  • Step 2

Inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep the thighs firm and slightly turned inward, the arms firm and turned out so the elbow creases face forward.

  • Step 3

Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel. Narrow the hip points. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.

  • Step 4

Firm the shoulder blades against the back and puff the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Look straight ahead or tip the head back slightly, but take care not to compress the back of the neck and harden the throat.

  • Contraindications and Cautions

It is not recommended that you hold this position for any length of time if you have the following – back injury, Carpal tunnel syndrome, headache, or pregnancy.

Often it’s difficult to keep the legs strongly suspended above the floor. Before you move into the pose, position a thick blanket roll below your top thighs. When you are in the pose, lightly rest your thighs on this roll as you press the tailbone closer to the roll.

There’s a tendency in this pose to “hang” on the shoulders, which lifts them up toward the ears and “turtles” the neck. Actively draw the shoulders away from the ears by lengthening down along the back armpits, pulling the shoulder blades toward the tailbone, and puffing the side ribs forward. If you need help learning this, lift each hand on a block.

Upward Facing Dog improves posture; strengthens the spine, arms, wrists; stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen; firms the buttocks; and stimulates abdominal organs. This position also helps relieve mild depression, fatigue, and sciatica, and is therapeutic for asthma.

Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Deservedly one of yoga’s most widely recognized yoga poses, Downward Facing Dog, offers the ultimate all-over, rejuvenating stretch. Downward Facing Dog is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Child’s Pose.

  • Step 1

Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.

  • Step 2

Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.

  • Step 3

Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.

  • Step 4

Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.

  • Contraindications and Cautions

Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term. High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms. Do not hold this pose for any length of time if you have Carpal tunnel syndrome or Diarrhea.

If you have difficulty releasing and opening your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.

Downward Facing Dog calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. This pose also energizes the body; stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands; and strengthens the arms and legs. It helps relieve the symptoms of menopause; and relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported. Downward Facing Dog helps prevent osteoporosis; improves digestion; and relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue. It is therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, and sinusitis.

Equestrian Pose – Ashwa Sanchalanasana

The Equestrian Pose is also called the Lunge Pose. Be extra careful to avoid pressure on the back knee, especially if it is on the floor. Consider placing a blanket underneath the knee to support it. This pose is fairly easy to do and gives flexibility to the legs. If the neck is feeling sensitive then look down at the floor in front of you instead of lifting the head up

  • Step 1

The Equestrian Pose is done immediately after the Hand To Foot Pose (Standing Forward Bend) when doing the traditional version of the Sun Salutations. So this is the starting pose for the Equestrian Pose.

  • Step 2

From this position, take the left leg as far back as possible. In the process, bend the right knee without changing its position. Inhale while stretching the left leg backwards.

  • Step 3

Keep the hands straight with fingers touching the floor. Arch the back and tilt the head slightly backward. Look straight ahead.

When done as part of the Sun Salutation exercises a mantra can be chanted while performing this asana. Equestrian Pose is done as the 4th pose and the 9th pose. During 4th pose chant “Om Bhanave Namaha”. It means salutations to the one who shines. During 9th pose chant “Om Adityaya Namaha”. It means salutation to the son of Aditi.

The Equestrian Pose stretches the groin, quadriceps, leg and the hips; and also stretches the back muscles and opens the chest. It tones the abdominal organs and is good for indigestion, constipation and sciatica. It also gives a sense of nervous balance.

Mountain Pose – Parvatasana  

In Sanskrit “Parvata’ means mountain. The pose looks like a mountain from the sides and hence the name Parvatasana. Confusingly, in some yoga traditions, Mountain Pose is also a name given to the Tadasana pose and this pose is probably the exact same pose as the Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana.

As part of the Sun Salutation exercises, Parvatasana Mountain Pose is performed after the Equestrian Pose. Hence the Equestrian Pose becomes the starting pose for Parvatasana Mountain Pose.

  • Step 1

From the Equestian Pose, straighten the bent leg and take it backwards. Exhale during this process. Let the right and left foot be together.

  • Step 2

Raise the buttocks up. Let the two arms be on the floor and support the body weight.

  • Step 3

Lower the head to be between the two arms. The body makes the shape of a triangle when observed from the sides. It looks like a mountain and hence the name.

When done as part of one of the traditional versions of the Sun Salutation exercises, Parvatasana Mountain Pose is done as the fourth pose and the ninth pose.

Parvatasana Mountain Pose can strengthen the wrists and legs. It also increases the flow of blood to the head. It tones the spinal nerves and sends good flow of blood to the spinal region. This pose also increases blood flow to the brains.

Eight Limbed Salutation – Ashtanga Namaskara

The Eight Limbed Salutation is part of the Sun Salutation series of asanas. It appears as the 6th pose in the Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskara. In this pose, the body touches the ground in eight locations – the two feet (toes), the two knees, the two palms, the chest and the head.

In Sanskrit, “ashta” means eight and “anga” means part. Hence the name Ashtanga Namaskara. This pose is also used by devotees for paying obeisance to deities in Indian temples.

  • Step 1

Lower the body so that the body is parallel to the ground.

  • Step 2

Let the following parts touch the floor – The two feet, the two knees, the two palms, the chest and the chin. The hip and abdomen is slightly raised up.

While performing this pose the breath is held outside and the breathing is stopped for few seconds.

Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana 

The Cobra Pose, is one of the main backward bending asanas used in yoga. In the Cobra Pose, the head and trunk resembles a cobra with raised hood, hence the name (Bhujanga means Cobra in sanskrit).

  • Step 1

Lie down on your stomach with hands on the side, toes touching together.

  • Step 2

Bring your hands to the front at the shoulder level, with palms resting on the floor. Slowly raise your trunk and head with the support of the palms alone. The arms should be bent at the elbows.

  • Step 3

Arch your neck slightly backwards, so that the pose looks like a cobra with raised hood. Breathe normally and feel the stomach press against the floor.

  • Step 4

Hold the position for few seconds in the beginning stages. One may go up to 2 minutes as one progresses. You can release the pose by bringing the hands back to the sides and resting your head on the forehead. Then, place the hands under your head like a pillow. Bend and rest your head on one side and breathe normally.

Usually our back muscles don’t get much exercise, in our day to day activities. The weakening of these muscles can lead to back aches, stooping, slipped disks and other posture defects. The Cobra Pose is an easy way to strengthen the back muscles. You should avoid this asana if you are pregnant or if you have had any abdominal surgery in the recent past.

Last But Not Least:

I also found this graphic that shows how to do Sun Salutations in a seated position.

Sources:

Wake Up and Breathe

Stress is detrimental. But you already knew that! So why when you open your eyes in the morning to nothing but a dismal morning, does your stress only get heavier and deeper? You draw in a soothing breath, not realizing the benefits swirling about in that one inhalation.

What if you could tap into that energy and positivity upon waking?

Now, please don’t mistake simple breathing workouts as some new age mumbo jumbo, or even think that you should just ignore it because you already know how to breathe!

You know how to run, but can you run a marathon?

How Do Breathing Exercises Work?

Breathing fully and deeply stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) (source).

This system is for the mellow, steady-state activity going on in your body constantly. When the PNS is moderated, the blood vessels dilate, the GI tract is stimulated, nutrients are absorbed, and the fight-or-flight response is mitigated.

Thus, breathing exercises give you control over the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve that works like an on/off switch (source).

These breathing exercises all have a basis in mediation and yoga and you will start to notice the focus on counting as you go through them.

  • Why is this important?

Well, focusing on something other than the day ahead is a great way to actually begin your day relaxed! A novel thought I know, but it works!

6 Breathing Exercises to Jumpstart Your Morning

Breathing exercises may sound like something from yoga class, but there are 6 exercises that can bring sunshine and warmth to every morning. These six morning breathing exercises are not only relaxing, they shake off any lingering remnants of sleep.

By doing this in the morning or whenever you are in a pinch for tranquility, you turn on the PNS, and regain control of your mind and body.

Wake up, breathe, and get ready to tackle the day ahead of you.

  • 1. ​Simple Belly Breathing

This is considered one of the most basic types of breath work – perfect for beginners who want an introduction to these types of exercises. You may find that you know it from a yoga class you took months ago. It is very simple and not too intense.

  1. Sit or lay comfortably on a flat surface, such as a yoga mat or on your bed. It doesn’t matter as long as your back is straight.
  2. Place one hand over your stomach, just below the ribcage, with the bottom edge of your hand (the pinky) resting over the navel.
  3. Place your second hand over your chest.
  4. Inhale deeply through the nostrils, trying expand the space beneath the bottom hand first. Your chest should not lift or expand in any way.
  5. Breathe out through your mouth. Purse your lips. Gently use the hand on your stomach to guide the abdominals inwards, pressing out the exhalation.
  6. Repeat this breathing 3 to 10 times.

Remember to go slowly with the breath to get as much air in and out as possible. You might find that controlling the breath is harder than you think! Keep practicing.

  • Equal Breathing​

Also called “sama vritti,” this breathing practice works like counting sheep or muttering a calming mantra. You can do this one anywhere or anytime you need instant relaxation.

  1. To start, find a comfortable position for yourself. Close your eyes and notice your natural rhythm of breath. Do not change it at all.
  2. Begin to slowly count to four as you inhale. Find a moment of stillness when the lungs are completely full.
  3. Then count to four as you exhale. Take a moment to sit in the emptiness.
  4. Repeat this pattern, making the duration of the inhalations and exhalations equal.

Continue for several minutes.

  • Morning Breathing​

This is the perfect way to start the morning – even more effective than a shot of high quality espresso.

Oftentimes, when you wake up in the morning, you are already primed for stress due to your body still thinking that it is in the year 25,000 BCE and expecting a sabre tooth tiger to pounce on you!

Morning breathing will relax the body, minimizing tension that might have accumulated overnight.

  1. Stand up straight with the knees slightly bent. Bounce a few times, feeling the floor with the balls and soles of your feet.
  2. Begin to bend forward from the waist, hinging. Let the arms loose, hanging towards the floor.
  3. Take a deep breath in. Imagine yourself as an inflatable lawn ornament slowly rising up from the ground. Roll up through the spine, letting the head be the last thing to lift.
  4. As you exhale again, return to the bent over position.

Repeat this flowing breath until all tension from the body is released and you feel a warmth moving through your limbs.

  • Deep Muscle Relaxation Breathing

This is a bit time consuming and thus should only be done when you have a break to devote to pure relaxation. Used together with simple belly breathing, this is a gateway to removing discomfort from various parts of your body.

  1. Lay down on your back, either on a yoga or pilates mat or the floor (if you have carpet). Close your eyes. Take a few normal breaths.
  2. Once you have established an even flow of breath, you may move onto the second part of the exercise.
  3. Relax your face by scrunching the nose and knitting the brows together. Release with the breath.
  4. Move on to the neck. Tilt the chin up and down, side-to-side. Shake your head yes and no. Then with the exhale, release.
  5. Relax your shoulders, shrugging them up towards the ears. Hold for a moment then release.
  6. Relax the torso by moving the limbs into an X form, stretching on in all positions. Stretch for several seconds then release.
  7. Lastly, relax the legs by pointing and flexing the toes as well as circling the ankles. Point, flex, stretch, and then release.
  8. Lay in silence for some time, once again returning to modulated breath.

You may desire to repeat this process several times, paying special attention to the parts of your body that need more tension removed.

  • Alternate Nostril Breathing

Yoga classes often incorporate this type of pranayama into the beginning of the lesson. It is said to bring forth a sense of unwavering calmness and composure. Definitely worth a try when you are stressed over work or exams.

  1. Start in any meditative posture that has the spine in a long, straight, neutral position.
  2. As you breathe, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale solely through the left.
  3. At the apex of the inhalation, you will switch to sealing off the left nostril with the right ring finger and open the right nostril.
  4. Exhale through the right nostril.

Continue the pattern for some time then switch the process.

  • Kapalabhati or “Skull Shining Breath”​

This is an involved, intense breathing practice that offers a challenge to those who may have mastered other exercises.

  1. You start seated on the floor with legs crossed or extended out in front of you. Begin with the simple breath work to regulate the pattern of the breath.
  2. Then, take a long, drawn out inhalation. At the end, contract the lower abdominals and sharply exhale. Do this several times to get comfortable with the contraction.
  3. Once you are comfortable with that, increase the tempo to sharp inhale, sharp exhale for 10 breaths total. Use only the nose.

A Simple Breathing Exercise To Give You More Energy

Most people breathe very shallowly in day-to-day life. This is often referred to as “chest breathing.” Chest breathing generally starts between ages 4 and 7, which is when you start to develop voluntary control of the musculature in the thoracic region (chest).

But do you ever wonder why babies have that wonderful ability to cry and scream very loudly, despite their size? The reason: The way they breathe, which is commonly called “diaphragmatic breathing.” In diaphragmatic breathing, your stomach expands outward, while the lower ribs expand sideways, which causes the diaphragm to contract.

These movements draw air into the lungs, and not just the upper lungs, as in chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing fills every part your lungs, including the lower parts. When you exhale, the abdomen pushes in and up. The lower rib cage contracts inward, the diaphragm expands, and the air is forced out.

So why should you breathe from the diaphragm?

The capillaries in your lungs help exchange oxygen with the rest of your body, and there are more of them in the lower parts of the lungs than in the upper parts of the lungs. When you breathe shallowly, you have work harder.

An additional benefit from breathing “low” is that the abdominal muscles expand and contract around all of the organs of digestion. This will assist them in functioning better and promote better digestion.

Finally, imagine feeling more energized and having the ability to think more clearly, with more focus and fewer distractions. Increased oxygen can contribute to greater mental capabilities. Furthermore, higher oxygen content in the blood stream leads to healthier organs, muscles and tissues. I could go on and on about the benefits.

Let’s give it a try. All you need are these four steps:

  1. Sit up straight in a chair.
  2. Place your hands on your stomach.
  3. Inhale through your nose (which filters the air before entering your lungs) and breathe into your stomach, feeling it extend outward (as opposed to your chest).
  4. Exhale through your nose or your mouth by pushing your stomach in and up (never down).

That’s it.

In Conclusion

With a conscious effort, you could change old habits into healthy new habits. It’s truly painless!

You can integrate breathing into your daily living very easily — you simply have to be conscious of it. When you wake up in the morning, think about it. When you go to sleep at night, think about it. Instead of yelling at a stoplight to change, focus on your breath. When someone is talking to you and you have no interest in what they are saying, turn your attention to your breathing.

After you notice the calming and concentrating effects this simple act can have, you’ll begin to incorporate it more automatically. Focused individuals tend to accomplish more, enjoy a higher standard of living, and often live life more passionately, making each day an adventure instead of simply a destination.

Good luck!

Sources:

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