This week I am focusing on the Suryanamaskar in detail with the subtle nuances and considerations of each posture.
Not only is it important to do the 12 postures with accuracy, but also the performance must exude tremendous grace throughout, including a smooth transition from one posture to next. Mindfulness to cadence can impart a rhythmic quality. The body stretches and as you progress into a few cycles, you will notice ability to bend further into the postures. As important as it is to complete the entire cycle of 12 postures, equally important is the execution of a single posture with simplicity, dedication, and attention to detail. Ideally 12 cycles of 12 postures is a beginning goal. There are masters who have the ability to do 108 cycles in close to 1 hour. Different approaches like mastering one posture before moving onto the next or learning all 12 and then working on fine tuning the movement pattern are acceptable. You have to know how you learn best and pick your own approach. When you have no prior exercise routine and are not doing so regularly for about 15-30 minutes at least 3 times a week, you may have to build the endurance to do maybe one cycle, then 3, then 5 increasing up to 2 cycles per week, till you build up to the 12 cycles of 12 postures, for example.
Today I will brood on the first posture, which is the pranama asana. This is also the 12th asana. It is basically tadasana with the hands folded in “namaste”. “Talk to yourself once in a day … otherwise you may miss meeting an excellent person in this world”-Swami Vivekananda. When doing the Suryanamaskar, it is basically coming into touch with your own being by looking deep within yourselves. The folded hands may be placed with thumbs close to the heart and head bowed down to touch the fingers. When done in presence of a teacher, one bows in reverence to the soul present in the heart of the other and so may the divine relationship blossom.
Considering the posture in terms of joint position, the spine is neutral and elongated with natural curves- cervical (neck) and lumbar (low back) lordosis or convex forward, and thoracic(mid-back) kyphosis or concave forward, neutral pelvis, shoulders relaxed and shoulder blades slightly pulled back symmetrically(retraction), to open chest. When bowing head, gently tuck chin in while elongating back of neck, instead of reversing the natural lordosis of the cervical spine.
Muscles: Low level co-contraction of the trunk stabilizers to maintain upright spine. The dorsiflexors and plantaflexors balance the moment of force around ankle joint. The knees relax, with quadriceps and hamstrings balancing the moment around knees, hip joints are balanced by the glutei and iliopsoas, neck stabilizers which are the deep neck flexors.
Breathing should be natural, and, gradually as the body and mind relax, it becomes deeper. Be aware of your breathing pattern. The abdomen moves out while you breathe in, with the flattening of the diaphragm as it contracts. The diaphragm slowly returns with breath out as it relaxes into a dome shape, expelling air from the lungs. The transversus abdominus (abdominals) are contracted throughout with intensity slightly more during exhalation. Multifidi (back extensor) co-contract providing spinal stability. Diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles work like a piston.
“Om Mitrayah namaha” (I bow to thee, my friend)
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.