A practitioner that approaches the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series for the first time, is confronted with the sun salutations (Surya Namaskara A and B) from the very beginning. The sun salutations consists of a challenging sequence of poses and in this video we aim to point out the common misalignments that practitioners often do during the execution of the sun salutation A (Surya Namaskara A).
Urdhva Hastasana, hands up pose, is the first vinyasa (ekam) of the Surya Namaskara A. In the execution of this asana, often happens that the shoulders lift up to ears compressing the neck. The challenge of this asana is to raise the arms up while keeping the shoulders in a fairly neutral position so that the neck is free to move while gazing up towards the hands (Hastagrahe drishti).
The second most common place where practitioners often have a hard time aligning the body is Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose or low plank). Chaturanga Dandasana is an extremely challenging pose for practitioners of any level and in the execution of the pose, it is not uncommon to see the shoulders dropping towards the mat, the elbows splaying out to the sides and the buttock lifting up towards the sky. To avoid the shoulders to round down towards the mat, the Serratus Anterior, a muscle located just below the armpits, at the side of the torso, that acts as a stabiliser of the shoulder, should be tightly engaged. Alongside with the Serratus Anterior, the engagement of Abs and Glutes stabilises the hips, avoiding the pike-like buttock. In the correct execution of the pose the chest moves forward (and not down) while the shoulder blades roll back towards the feet, the elbows are actively kept close to the torso, abs, glutes and legs are strongly engaged to maintain the body in a straight line and the weight of the body is equally distributed between hands and feet.
If Chaturanga Dandasana is the fourth vinyasa (chatvari), the fifth vinyasa (pancha) consists of inhaling into Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward facing dog). Urdvha Mukha Svanasana is considered a back bending and as such it requires strong shoulder muscles, strong arms, a flexible thoracic spine, flexible hip flexors and strong legs. In the execution of Urdvha Mukha Svanasana it is not uncommon to see the shoulders elevated up to the ears, the elbows splayed out to the sides and the entire upper body collapsing down compressing the lower back. In the transition from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdvha Mukha Svanasana, the idea is to drag the body forward and up avoiding the compression of the lumbar spine. The shoulders and pectoral muscles are essential to drag the entire body forward but to stabilise the body into an upward position, along with the above mentioned muscles, one must strongly engage the legs by firmly pushing the top of the feet against the mat. Ideally, in the transition from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdvha Mukha Svanasanain the feet should roll on the toes to move forward simultaneously. However, it is not uncommon to see beginner practitioners staying on the toes in both poses or moving from toes tucked under to the top of the feet one foot at the time.
From Urdvha Mukha Svanasana, we exhale back in the sixth vinyasa (sat) of Surya Namaskara A, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog). Adho Mukha Svanasana seems to be a fairly easy pose but for a beginner practitioner it might be quite heavy to hold it for five breaths. The biggest challenge of the pose are usually the Hamstrings, the muscles of the back of the legs, which are often very tight, forcing the body to move towards the hands. If in Urdvha Mukha Svanasana, the shoulders are aligned to the wrists, in Adho Mukha Svanasana the shoulders move far back with the help of the arms and the hands pushing firmly against the mat. The shoulder blades are rolling towards the feet, the Abs are engaged (belly is in), the Quads are strong, the Hamstrings are relaxed, the sitting bones are reaching towards the sky while the heels of the fee are reaching towards the mat.
It takes time to build the strength to flow through the Surya Namaskara A with ease and the support of a teacher can be extremely useful in order to practice it in a safe way for the body.