Moving your body through the Sun Salute can sometimes feel more like a wrestling match than a graceful dance-like sequence.
When it flows, the Sun Salute feels great. But there are a couple of bits that not only make this flow feel clunky, but leave you feeling frustrated and lacking in confidence.
One of these points is the bit at the end...when you step one foot forward from Downward Dog into a lunge, to bring yourself back to the front of your mat. Your teacher says ‘now step one foot forward to your hands’ and you watch as their foot effortlessly and gently moves from the back of their mat to the front.
You try and your foot gets halfway, and no matter how much you wrestle, heave and force it forward, it won't go any further. Then you try and get the other foot forward too and you meet your tummy and almost fall on your face. Not elegant or pleasant ... or fun!
These clunky bits can put you off ever doing another sun salute, because nobody likes feeling unable or not good enough, and rather than feeling calm and energised at the end of your sixth sun salute, you could well feel like chopping off your damn foot and launching it at the front of your mat! Of course, this is not the desired physical or mental state one is trying to achieve!
So what's the trick to magically getting your foot to disappear from the back of your mat and reappear at the front?
Well this step forward is in fact a speeded-up series of moves that involve arm, shoulder, abdominal and spinal strength, general joint flexibility (especially in the hips), and some balance. So don't assume that something's wrong with you if you can’t step all the way orward.
What can help, not just with this position, but with all aspects of learning yoga, is if you treat it like learning a new language. When failing at speaking Russian for the first time, you don't assume there is something wrong with you, or with the Russian language, you know that with the right instruction, time, and lots and lots of practice, you will become fluent.
So if you want to learn this step forward to a lunge ‘sentence’, there are a few words or phrases you need to learn first:
Come onto all fours and try moving one foot forward between your hands without lifting your hands at all. It's not possible. To bring your foot between your hands, your hand has to lift and your shoulder moves up and back.
Now tuck your toes under and come into Downward Dog: (full instructions in article no 4)
Pressing your hands into the ground, rotate your upper arms away from your ears. Lift up onto the tips of your toes and draw your chest towards your thighs. Now work your heels towards the ground, keeping your chest reaching towards your thighs, and your thighs back towards your heels. Bring your attention to five steady, slow breaths.
Move forward into Plank pose:
Your shoulders should be above your hands. As you do this, tuck your tailbone under, so your tummy muscles tighten. Keep your arms straight and then draw your shoulder blades down your back, and push back into your heels. Be careful that your hips don't drop down as you do this. Try and stay for five long, smooth breaths.
Now move between dog and plank a few times. Inhale into plank and exhale into dog. As you get into a rhythm, notice the movement in your shoulders and hips. Building up your confidence and strength to make this rocking forward movement into plank is one of the main aspects to stepping your foot through.
Now next time you move into plank, try stepping your foot forward, and see where it comes to.
If it is not yet at your hands, there are a few more things you need to work on, so be patient.
3 Legged Dog:
From Downward Dog, lift your right leg up and back. Keep pushing into your hands and into the left thigh, and stay in this pose for five breaths, building yet more strength and flexibility.
Go back to the rocking movement between Dog into Plank. But this time, from 3 Legged Dog, bring your right knee as far forward as you can. When your shoulders are over your hands, draw your knee up into your chest as high as possible. As you will feel, this is a great core strengthener.
Now rock between 3 legged dog, and core plank, bringing your knee as high off the ground and as far forward as possible. Engaging the core and shoulder muscles in this way is a big part of being able to step through, and it’s hard work!
You might need a rest now!
Stepping into the Lunge: (more on lunging in article no 5)
The last part of this movement is more subtle. You need to lightly lift the hand on the side that is stepping forward. Keeping your hand heavy stops the foot from coming forward that last, final bit. Think of your foot stepping onto the bit of mat where your hand is, so your hand needs to get out of the way slightly.
Now try putting all those parts together to make one movement. Make sure you are exhaling or you have just exhaled when you step forward. Emptying the body of air before or as you step through creates more space for the movement.
As you put all this together, consider how much is going on to make this a seemingly easy thing to do. The ease and fluency will come with lots of practice and patience. Ability comes with lots of practice and an understanding that not being able to do something is an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s not a sign of weakness.
I will be giving you some more tips on helping the Sun Salute to flow soon.
Jessica Hatchett teaches yoga in West Cork.
For more info on her classes and events go to www.yogawestcork.com.
Photography by www.luluash.co.uk
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