Week 1: Introduction to Meditation and Sun salutations
The Ashtanga Yoga system
In the Ashtanga Vinyasa system (What is Vinyasa?), postures (asanas) are performed in a specific order, which has the effect of ‘unlocking’ the body in an intelligent and scientific way designed to specifically align the body and strengthen the nervous system, each pose preparing the body for ones to come. Each pose has specific health benefits for the practitioner and when combined into a flowing sequence this has the effect of realigning and detoxifying the body and the nervous system as well as developing inner strength, flexibility and improving general health and wellbeing.
The ashtanga system consists of six series of poses (the primary series is the first sequence) with each series becoming more complex and challenging than the last. Each series starts with the sun salutations followed by the standing postures and ends with the finishing postures. Each of these sections of postures are explained in more detail below.
Sun Salutations (“Surya Namaskara”) – Why practice sun salutations?
Surya means the sun and Namaskara is a greeting of honour and respect to the divinity present in each of us. The entire foundation of Ashtanga Yoga is based upon the dynamic flow of Surya Namaskara A and B; these are the birth of your practice. It is here that we set the rhythm and mood for each session of yoga. The entire series, whether it be Primary, Intermediate or Advanced, is an extension and refinement of the movement learned in the sun salutations. The aim of the sun salutations is to feel the connection between the movement and breath (“vinyasa”). Identify the breath as the source of the movement and use only the energy required to get you from point A to point B. Ride the breath as you would a wave in the sea, relax areas that are not required and feel the body move through space. Be free, light and joyful in the experience. These movements will lengthen and strengthen, flex and extend many of the main muscles of the body while distributing the prana (energy/life force) flow throughout the system, generating heat. There are many sun salutation variations; we are going to practice the traditional Ashtanga sun salutations.
The aim is to work towards practising 5 of each sun salutations, but choose a comfortable amount to begin with and increase it over time. Here is a link to an online video demonstrating Sun Salutation A and B that you can follow if you are practising at home.
Below are pictures of the sun salutation A & B sequences:
What is the purpose of standing postures? (these will be covered in week 2 (forward bends) and week 3 (twists and balances))
The rhythm and the foundation for practice has been set through the flowing nature of Surya Namaskara A and B. The standing sequence initiates the weaving of one asana to the next. The sun salutations combined with the standing sequence act as one slice of bread. The second piece of bread is the finishing sequence.
In the standing sequence our balance is challenged and the understanding of how to work with the forces of gravity is developed. In all asanas there is a point of equality of opposition in which we may find the greatest sense of stability and comfort. This point may be discovered in the simultaneous rooting and rising energies within the body. In the standing sequence the feet are the roots of our body which reach far down into the earth in order to gain a stable foundation. From this base we may then grow and expand, lifting and lengthening into each asana. We must seek a balance between these two forces of grounding and lifting.
Below are pictures of the Ashtanga standing postures:
Finishing Sequence (covered during week 4 (backbends) and week 5 (inversions)
The finishing sequence rounds off each and every Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice. These 16 Asanas are practiced systematically and provide a harmonious flow of energy. The finishing series of Ashtanga yoga is very beneficial, hence the reason we always include it no matter which series we are practicing. The closing series calms your nervous system and brings your body back into balance. It is a series of inversions and counter poses that help to re-align your body after the practice. Within the first few months of practicing Ashtanga Yoga, you should learn and memorize the closing sequence; each time you practice you want to always end with closing—no matter how far you went in your practice, so even if ending early always end with the closing sequence.
Below are pictures of the finishing postures:
The very final pose it to take rest in Savasana, “corpse” pose. This posture is just as important as any other posture, it is extremely restorative and refreshing, it allows you to leave class renewed—not tired. Enjoy a guided savasana.
“Lying full length on the back like a corpse is called savasana. With this asana tiredness caused by the other asanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of mind.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)