When I need to “reset” my mood, nothing works better than doing a few “sun salutations.”A sun salutation is a sequence of yoga postures performed with each posture coordinated with a particular breath (inhale or exhale). For every school of yoga thought, there is another form of sun salutation, but all sun salutations begin and end standing quietly and include a prostration posture. In a prostration posture, the body is prone, signifying submission or deference to a revered power. In the case of a sun salutation, the object of reverence is the sun. The form of sun salutation that I find most soothing contains nine postures. It is the most simple of sun salutations, as there is no right or left side to any of its postures. Each posture is done using both sides of the body equally (as opposed to leading with one foot or the other). Thus, I don’t have to think much or count much. My body simply flows.
The notion of saluting the sun is one that brings me into a state of connection with my universe. I am aware of how the sun energizes me, how it warms me and lights the darkness. And even when I am not consciously considering the way that the sun provides for me, the awareness remains within me. Performing a ritual of prostration to the sun connects me to that awareness. With each movement, I am welcoming the energy, warmth and light into my life. With each sequence, I feel more grateful for the simple but profound pleasures of my life.
So, when the world seems to be spinning wildly around me, when I need to find my center again, I take a deep breath and begin to salute the sun.
Here is how to perform my sun salutation sequence:
Begin by standing at the front of your mat, feet touching, shoulders back, chin level with the ground, arms relaxed at sides. Mouth is closed; breathe through the nose.
Step 1. Inhale (through the nose) as you sweep the arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.
Step 2. Exhale (through the nose) as you bow forward to touch the floor with hands.
Step 3. Inhale to lift only the head up to look up.
Step 4. Exhale to jump back (or step back if you’re not ready to jump) to the bottom of a push-up, feet hip distance apart, eyes gaze forward.
Step 5. Inhale as you press hands down to straighten arms into upward-facing dog pose. Upward-facing dog is a form of a backbend that you perform in what would otherwise be a push-up posture. Your toenails and palms press into the ground while your chest curves up. Your feet are hip-width apart, as they were in step four. Your eyes should gaze upward.
Step 6. Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes to come into downward-facing dog pose. Downward dog is the shape of an upside-down “V,” with your hands flat on the floor, the balls of your feet on the floor and your hips high. Feet are still hip-width apart as in steps four and five. Your eyes should gaze toward your navel, or if you can’t see your navel, then toward your inner thighs. Remain in this pose as you take five in-out breaths (through the nose, of course).
Step 7. Inhale as you jump (or walk) your feet to between your hands. When you land, the feet come together, your hands touch the floor, and you lift the head to look up. This is the same position as in step three.
Step 8. Exhale to drop your head down as far as it goes, getting as much of your palm on the floor as you can. This is the same position as in step two.
Step 9. Inhale and sweep your arms up as you raise your torso to stand with your arms over your head, palms touching if possible. Look up. This is the same position as in step one.
Finish: Exhale and bring your arms to rest by your sides, just like you started.
Your next inhale begins your very next sun salutation.
Don’t think too much about the breaths. Simply do the postures, and you will find that the breathing is intuitive. When the body bends forward, it is natural to exhale to make space for a deeper bend. When the body bends backward, it is natural to inhale to expand the chest.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!