I frequently get asked questions about how to start a yoga practice. Yoga is such a vast subject that it can be difficult to decide where and how to begin. In my opinion, the best thing to do when beginning a yoga practice is to create a solid foundation on which one can build more advanced skills. This can easily be done through repetition of simple vinyasas, such as Surya Namaskar A (sun salutation A).
The word vinyasa literally means ‘to link.’ When we practice vinyasa-style yoga, it means that our movements are linked to our breath. Practicing Surya Namaskar A helps to create a solid connection between our movements and our breath. This deep intrinsic connection will help one to utilize the breath to be able to transition through more advanced asanas.
To practice Surya Namaskar A, begin standing in Samasthiti at the top of your mat. Samasthiti/Tadasana is the blueprint pose for all standing poses, so learning these alignment points will help you find correct alignment in more difficult standing poses.
- Press down into all four corners of the feet.
- Firm the outer ankles in (toward your midline.)
- Lift the kneecaps up to engage the thighs.
- Rotate the inner thighs in and toward the wall behind you.
- Lift the hip points up toward the bottom ribs, reaching the tailbone toward your heels.
- Lift the sternum, broaden the collarbones, and relax the shoulders down.
- Lift up through the crown of your head, keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
- Pull the belly toward the spine.
Attached is a video of myself practicing Surya Namaskar A 3 different ways–you can choose which way to practice depending on your level of physical strength. In general, when practicing a vinyasa, you’ll link your inhale with movements where you lift up toward the sky and your exhale with movements where you lower down toward the earth. Below the Sanskrit counts and breaths are outlined in more detail:
- Ekam, inhale. Reach the arms up overhead and gaze at the thumbs.
- Dve, exhale. Fold forward and touch the floor.
- Trini, inhale. Lift up to a flat back and look up.
- Chatvari, exhale. Step or hop back and lower down through Chatarunga Dandasana, bending the elbows back and in toward the ribs (you can lower down onto the knees if you need to.)
- Pancha, inhale. Press into the tops of the feet, lift up the thighs, straighten the arms and lift the chest and chin up, allowing the belly to drop down. This is Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or upward facing dog.
- Shat, exhale. Roll over the toes and press the hips up and back for Adho Mukha Svanasana, downward facing dog (feel free to bend the knees if it helps you find extension through your spine.) Take five deep breaths here, gazing toward your naval.
- Sapta, inhale. Look up toward your hands, taking a step or a hop to the top of the mat.
- Ashtau, exhale. Fold forward.
- Nava, inhale. Stand up and reach the arms up overhead.
- Dasa, exhale. Release your arms to your sides, stand in Samasthiti.
I always start my practice with at least 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A. It helps me to fire up my core/bandhas, find length in my spine, loosen my shoulders, and open up my hamstrings. It also solidifies the connection between my body and my breath, which allows me to focus my mind.
Try practicing 10 rounds of Surya Namaskar A to begin. Once you feel comfortable with this vinyasa, you can try flowing through some poses flowing through some poses like Virabhadrasana A (warrior 1), Virabhadrasana B (warrior 2), and Trikonasana (triangle pose) before jumping up to the top of your mat from Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). Just remember that whatever your practice looks like, it is absolutely perfect.
Happy practicing! 🙂