Sun Salutations are the beginning of every Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice. Regardless of which sequence are you practicing, you will always start with five rounds of Sun Salutations A and five rounds of Sun Salutations B. After this, if you use the proper breathing (Ujjayi Breath) and the energetic locks (Bandhas), your body should be warm enough to allow you to move safely through the standing sequence.
Old students of Sri K. Patthabi Jois have mentioned that in the past, if you were new to the practice, you are only allowed to practice Sun Salutations repeatedly. Only until your body has completely adapted to this sequence will you be able to start practicing the succeeding postures or asana.
Feeling comfortable when going through Suryanamaskaras will immensely have a positive effect on the rest of your practice. Comfortable, in terms of yoga, means you are able to synchronize the breath and the movement with ease. That means that your body is already flexible and strong enough in order to move safety through the standing sequence.
Practicing Suryanamaskaras gives you the opportunity to tune in to your breathing, and synchronize it with your movements. You may often hear people say that, «Sun Salutations will help you to build the rest of the practice.» I always used to ask myself how the first 15- 20 minutes of Sun Salutations will help build the foundation for the rest of the 1 hour (or more) of the practice.
The answer to this question came to me after having repeated the same movements over and over — more importantly, repeating the movements with awareness, focusing on the breath, and following the right number of vinyasa.
The movements we preform during Surya Namaskaras will help to warm up the body and open the main group of joints and muscles:
Shoulders in EKAM, arms up overhead (Urdhva Hastasana); hips and spine in DVE, forward fold (Uttanasana); legs and ankles in TRINI, halfway lift (Ardha Uttanasana); wrists, shoulders, core, and legs in CATVARI, low plank (Chaturanga Dandasana); back and front of the body in PAÑCA, Upward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana); and finally, legs, hips, back, shoulders, arms, and wrist in SAT, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
When you do start to do Sun Salutations with more awareness, you will notice that all your movements, when linked with your breath, become more effortless. If you notice that your breathing is fast, it is possible that you held your breath at some point, or you started your movement before your breath. Pay attention to the quality of your breath in all the asanas before getting into Downward Facing Dog.
Legs, ankles, and spine in SAPTA, halfway lift (Ardha Uttanasana);
backs of the legs (mainly hip extensors and hamstrings) and core in ASTAU, forward fold (Uttanasana); spine, shoulders and front of the body in NAVA, arms up overhead (Urdhva Hastasana); and back to the starting position (Samasthithih).
This is the moment where you will be able to observe if your have done the correct number of vinyasa, and if you were able to properly synchronize breathing and movement.
By the time you begin your first round of Suryanamaskara B, the main areas of your body that were mentioned above should be more open. There are more vinyasa in Sun Salutation B (than there are in Sun Salutation A), so this sequence is more complex, therefore, it requires more awareness in order to breath and move at the same time.
One big difference between Suryanamaskara A and B is EKAM.
In Sun Salutation B, the first movement is Fierce Pose (Uttkatasana) — this will help you to create a deeper connection with your root lock (Mula Bandha), and your quadriceps will start to engage some more, preparing your body for what comes next, which are the standing postures.
Another significant difference between Sun Salutations A and B are SAPTA and EKADESA, Warrior A (Virabhadrasana A) on the right and left side. This posture will help open the hip flexors, as long as the back foot is fully pressed down and grounded on the floor. The hip flexors are one of the most important muscles we use to perform everyday activities such as walking or running. Opening and awakening these muscles will help you to keep a firm foundation, and will help you move with more lightness and awareness in the standing postures.
It’s amazing how each part of the sequence is significantly connected with the next. All the asana were arranged in a precise way that each posture will help you build the foundation of what is coming next. The breath is what connects all these postures together, not only opening the right groups of muscles, but also allowing the energy (or prana) to flow in the right direction.
When you become more mindful to your breathing, the wisdom of your practice will begin to unfold.
Yoga is the practice and the teacher in itself.