Get creative with your sun salutations
I’ve been practising and teaching sun salutations pretty much the same way forever. I use a light ujjayi breath and have a roughly equal ratio of inhale to exhale. Sometimes the breath is counted and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I add pauses, sometimes I don’t. Often I or my students rush through certain parts of it (chaturanga anybody?). I decided I needed a new and more deliberate approach to how I breathe in sun salutations so the breath can serve the purpose of regulating and manipulating my nervous system when I move. The gist of it is that I have taken simple pranayama patterns and used them as the basis of the breath for a simple sun salutation A (modified however you normally modify it). Find the five varieties with basic instructions below. All breath can be done with a light ujjayi or more naturally.
Sun salutation with 1:1 breath
This will be the most familiar and the most like sun salutation business as usual. However, we will be counting the breath as we move. Inhale to the count of 3 or 4 and exhale to the count of 3 or 4. That’s it! Keep the count steady through all the movements of your salutation and try to move at the pace of your breath. This even ratio of breath will help the nervous system find balance.
Sun salutation with 1:2 breath
This next sun salutation is very similar to the last. However, we are going to double the length of the exhale! Inhale to 3-4 and exhale to 6-8. This means any action on an exhale is going to move very slowly. This will be quite difficult for your chaturanga so feel free to practise with knees down. This extended exhale will be enormously down-regulating for your nervous system.
Sun salutation with double pause breath
This breath and movement technique inserts a pause after the inhale and after the exhale. This means you will also have a pause of movement at these moments. You’ll find yourself hanging out in the moment between inhale and exhale many times. It builds patience! I find it helpful to inhale to 5, pause to 3, exhale to 5, and pause to 3. Because we are emphasising inhale and exhale with the pauses, this is quite balancing for the nervous system.
Sun salutation with single pause breath
Similar to the above with one big difference, this breath and movement technique inserts a pause only after the exhale. This means, like above, you will also have a pause of movement at these moments. I find it helpful to inhale to 5, exhale to 5, and pause to 3. Because we are emphasising the exhale with the pauses, this is quite down-regulating for the nervous system.
Sun salutation with three-part breath
Now the most funky! We are going to use a three-part or viloma breath pattern. Each inhale will be broken into three parts separate by pauses. This is followed by a slow and complete exhale. I find it helpful to visualise locations for each third of the inhale. Breathe in a third of the way into belly, second third of breath into ribs, and final third of breath into chest and upper back. Now, we add movement! Because your inhale breath is broken up, so will any movements on the inhale. This means you will have a lot of time to explore arms overhead, your upward-facing dog, and other moments within the salutation. Movement might feel a little choppy at first but will eventually smooth out. Inhaling on top of an inhale will also calm your nervous system. I also find the extra time within the inhaled shape as an opportunity to explore the depth of each posture.
- Coordinate movement to breath
- Only move when breathing
- Count your breath
- Use a light ujjayi breath, with teeth parted and face relaxed
- Use the inhale breath to explore the depth of each posture
- Use the exhale breath to find stability
- Use each pause to practise patience
- Notice the effect each variation has on your nervous system