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chapter 1 – once upon a sun salute

Here I am, finding myself writing a brand new blog. So, I thought where better to start, than at the very beginning, because according to Julie Andrews, it’s a very good place to start. Please stick with me and don’t run off to sew a matching 2-piece out of an old set of curtains.

Chances are, if you’ve been to a yoga class or followed a video online, you’ve done a ‘sun salutation’. We follow along the generic instructions given by our teacher and hope to the stars above that we just somewhat look like everyone else.

So, I thought it might be handy to just break down each of these postures, and give you a little info on them, so that next time you step on the mat you feel a little more empowered. Because who doesn’t want to feel like a badass who knows what they’re doing when stood there clad in lycra?!

I’ll break the sequence down over a number of posts so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. To make it easy to follow, I’ve broken each pose to discuss what is going on in 4 sections of the body; feet & legs, pelvis and back, arms & shoulders and head & neck. Where I’ve **’ed, this is a cue which you might hear during class, well, my class at least.

Let’s get cracking.

++22-Jan-2019 Over the last year, I have learnt so much more about the body and my style of teaching has adapted to incorporate this developed knowledge. Therefore, I have decided to go back through my posts and edit any strict alignment cues which don’t necessarily work for every different body and instead talk more about the energetics and engagement of the body. If you have any questions about why or if it doesn’t make much sense, please always feel free to send me a message, I’d love to talk to you more about it 🙂 xo

Tadasana (ta-das-ana) – Mountain Pose

So you think you can stand? Well, now stand like you mean it. Mountain Pose. Be strong, stable, immovable.

(a little smile is always welcome!)

Feet and Legs

The foundation of this pose: the feet.

Wherever your feet naturally find themselves is where they want to plant. Many yogis (past me included) have an obsession with feet together, or big toes together with parallel feet. Which for some people is super comfy. However, there are so many variations in how the leg bones sit in the hips, the way the bones have grown with torsion and other factors which affect the turn out of our feet. Pair this alongside our stability and balance, feet wider in fact be much more suitable for many of you.

**Ground down through the feet

However the feet are located, spread the toes to increase your surface area, feel the toes connected to the mat, push down through the feet to send the rest of your body tall. Did you ever hear of the scientific theory that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, by some Isaac Newton dude? Well, seems there’s something in it.

**Draw the energy up through the arches of the feet, up over the knee caps, engaging into thighs.

When I cue this, I sometimes see people lift their feet off the mat. This is an energetic cue, rather than a physical cue. So maybe take a moment rubbing the arches of your feet, so you can locate a sensation in the feet when you are standing in Tadasana. Then from this point imagine a current of energy coming up from the earth, into the arches of your feet and up the inner seam of your leg all the way to the base of you pelvis (you know, where the goodies are). Engage the muscles in the legs. Again, Mountain Pose, not Waiting for a Bus Pose. You have some pretty big muscle groups in the legs so get them involved.

**Ground down through the outer edges of the legs, all the way down to the out edges of your feet.

To oppose that upward lift of the inner seam, we want a downward motion of energy ground us back down again. This helps to keep us balanced and make sure we don’t roll inwards!

Pelvis and Back

**Lengthen the tailbone down to the ground.

We’re at the centre. Find a neutral position in your pelvis (read hips if you’re not into anatomy), basically don’t stick your bum out. Try to feel like you’re creating a nice long line for the spine.

**Lift through your pelvic floor.

For those who have an understanding of bandhas, we’re talking mula bandha. (If this means nothing to you, no stress, it’s different terminology for the same thing in this circumstance. Maybe one day I’ll write a blog more about it.)

**Pull the bellybutton back to the spine.

A good way to counter sticking the bum out, is to pull the belly back. Engage the abdominals, a key player in your core collective.

Arms and Shoulders

** Open across the collarbones, turn the palms face forward to encourage the chest to open.

Moving on up: generally most of us are rounded in our upper back, so work on opening the chest. Don’t go so far that the chest is sticking out like a Peacock. We are neutralising. Turning the palms open is a small action which helps rotate the shoulders.

Head and Neck

**Draw the crown of the head towards the sky.

Finally we get to the top. This action lengthens the neck, the last part of the spine we want to elongate. Keep the space between the shoulders and the ears. I usually bring the shoulders up to the ears and then draw them down and back to set this distance. If you’re feeling spiritual, you could think of the crown of your head lifting to connect to the universe. If not, then leave it.

Now you can stand. Who thought there would be so much to think about in something as simple as standing?!

But this basic posture is the foundation for every other pose, so setting some good cues and alignment pointers here will help with everything else here on out.

Utthita hasta in tadasana (oo-tee-ta has-ta in ta-das-ana) – Extended hands in Mountain Pose

So let’s getting moving.

The action:

**Hands to the sky, gaze to the thumbs.

Take the hands out to the side in a big circle all the way to above your head (or up in front of the body if you’re in a class where you might hit your neighbour!).

Bring the palms together and take the gaze towards the thumbs.

So. All of the above for tadasana still apply here. We’ve just simply moved the arms.

Feet and Legs

**Feet grounded and legs engaged.

Your attention has tuned into your arms so you’ve forgotten that your legs were doing something as well.

Pelvis and Back

**Keep the spine long.

You’ve only moved your arms, try to not let your bum pop backwards and your chest come forward. Tits and arse. Keep it in check.

Arms and Shoulders

**Create space between the shoulders and the ears.

If bringing the hands together automatically shoots the shoulders up, try bending the elbows slightly or keep a little bit of space.

Head and Neck

**Look towards the thumbs.

It’s a slow lift, don’t throw your head back. If looking up niggles your neck, don’t do it. The change of gaze is to follow the line of energy. Certainly not worthy of creating any pain.

Utthita hasta, done.

Uttanasana (oo-tan-ass-ana) – Standing forward bend

(keep knees bent as a modification)

The action:

**Hinge at the hips, forward fold.

Release the hands down to the ground in a circular motion (again, in front of you if space constrained) at the same time as you folding yourself in half. Come into your forward fold with a straight spine, folding from the hip crease rather than the waist or by rolling down through the vertebrae. When you are folded, you can round a little more as you come into a deeper fold.

(hinging at the hips)

Feet and Legs

Again, our feet and legs are the same as they were in tadasana. The big change, you will start to feel a stretch down the back of the legs in the hamstrings. This is a great posture to lengthen the hamstrings.

Pelvis and Back

**Send the tailbone to the sky.

Having hinged, the cues for the spine in tadasana still apply, just upside-down! Length in the spine is what we are always after in yoga, this can be found by bringing the belly close to the thighs. If you find pain in your back while in this pose of have a particularly rounded spine this could be because of your hamstrings. Because, the leg bone’s connected to the, hip bone and the hip bone’s connected to the back bone, dem bones dem bones dem dryyyy bones. So back to my point, if it hurts your back, BEND YOUR KNEES. Protecting the spine is wayyyyyy more important than loosey goosey hamstrings.

Arms and Shoulders

**Allow the hands to rest wherever the comfortably reach.

There are different variations of forward folds, hands to the ground, holding the elbows (ragdoll) peace fingers around big toes, palms of the hands under soles of the feet, hands interlaced behind the legs, hands interlaced behind the back. But here, I’ll allow you just to release them wherever is comfortable. You’re welcome.

Head and Neck

**Release the tension you’re holding in your neck, crown of the head down to the ground.

Chance are, you’re cricking your neck up and you don’t even realise you’re doing it. Nodding and shaking the head is a good way to become aware of what’s going on there. Only when you stop tensing all of the little muscles in your neck trying to hold your head up, will the crown of the head release down. Relax.

Ardha Uttanasana (ar-da oo-tan-ass-ana) – Half standing forward bend

(hands to shins or fingertips/palms on the floor)

The Action:

**Half way lift, flat back.

Depending on the flexibility of the hamstrings, either bring the hands to the shins or press the hands/ fingertips into the mat. Lift the collarbones and sternum away from the ground and straighten through back. This posture encourages the body to find length and is preparation for the jump back.

Feet and Legs

Same as uttanasana.

Pelvis and Back

Straighten through the back, lifting the chest encouraging an opening sensation.

Arms and Shoulders

If the arms are bent, bring the elbows parallel to each other rather than splaying outwards. If the whole hand is on the mat, press firmly into the hands, you are preparing the body to jump back so you want a firm grounding.

Head and Neck

**Long neck

Try not to lift the head to look forwards, just turn the gaze of the eyes slightly forward as you lift. Lifting the head crunches the neck, keep the length of the neck.

And there you have the first four poses of a sun salutation. Take your new knowledge to the mat and go get it yogi!

I hope you find it helpful, but would of course love any feedback you have.

AP xoxo

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