There's Sure To Be A Posture To Suit You
By Grace Welch, M.Y.

It is said that there are 1,000 postures in the classical hatha system. However, they all derive from the basic yogic positions: horizontal (lying on the floor), sitting and standing. The word "hatha" literally means "sun and moon", or the energy of "yin and yang" that we achieve in balance by the regular practice of yoga.

It is unlikely that a person living in the West and having to earn a living will have the time, energy or the inclination to pursue the study of the thousand yoga postures. If one travels to India it is possible to meet a person who has devoted his or her entire life to the study of yoga and meditation, who can do astounding things with their body. For us Westerners, we are fortunate that the practice has been modified to enable us to incorporate it into our lifestyle and to reap the many benefits it offers.

The warm-up sequence for a typical yoga class is the Sun Salutation. This exercise is an aerobic that gives you the benefits of running around the block without wearing out your joints pounding the pavement. There are twelve positions performed as a continuing sequence, with each position counteracting the one prior. Students who are beginners start with four rounds, a "round" consisting of two sequences, starting first with the right foot, and the second with the left foot. Coordinating the breath with the action separates yoga from most other forms of physical exercise -- every time the body comes up you inhale through the nostrils, and every time the body comes down exhale through the nostrils (no mouth breathing, the lips lightly together). As you become more proficient and comfortable in the exercise, gradually increase the practice to eight or ten rounds.

The beauty part of yoga is that you don't need to buy props or expensive clothing. All you need is enough floor space to accommodate your outstretched body, about six feet by three feet, according to your personal dimensions. Place a mat or blanket on the floor in a well-ventilated room, as you will be taking in lots of fresh oxygen. Weather permitting, it is very beneficial to practice yoga outdoors. Wear loose clothing, nothing tight or restrictive around the waist or chest. If you have not been exercising and are out of shape, you will want to go very slowly as you begin to undertake yoga. For readers with medical problems, please consult your physician or health care provider.

Following are the 12 positions of Sun Salutation:

  1. Stand erect with feet together, weight evenly distributed, arms by the side of the body, fingertips barely touching the outside of your thighs. This is the Mountain Pose, called "Tadasana". Inhale and bring your hands into prayer position in front of your chest.
  2. Inhaling, stretch your arms up, arching slightly back from the waist, legs straight, relaxing your neck.
  3. Exhaling, extend your arms out toward the wall in front of you, as you descend to the floor, placing your hands beside the feet, fingertips in line with the toes. Try to get the palms on the floor, bending the knees if necessary to achieve this. (Do Not Bounce to try to reach the floor; as you continue your yoga practice, your hamstrings will gradually stretch out, allowing you to reach the floor with straight knees. There is no bouncing in yoga.)
  4. Inhale, bring your right leg back and place the knee on the floor, toes extended, arching slightly back and looking up. Your left knee is bent directly over the left ankle.
  5. Retaining your breath, bring the other leg back for a straight pushup, keeping your head and body in line, and you're looking at the floor about six to eight inches beyond your hands.
  6. Exhaling, drop your knees, place your chest on the floor between your hands, hips are raised, forehead or chin on the floor, whichever is most comfortable; elbows are bent and close to the body, toes are curled under toward your head. This is called the "crumple" position.
  7. Inhaling, lower your hips, push your chest forward and up, raising your head up and back. Shoulders are down and back, away from your ears (try to get your shoulder blades to touch). Legs are together, toes extended, heels touching, if possible. This is the "Cobra" position.
  8. Exhaling, push up into an inverted "V" position, raising your hips, without moving your hands or feet, curl your toes under toward your head, and try to get the heels closer to the floor while bringing your head closer to the floor.
  9. Inhaling, bring your right foot up between your hands while placing the left knee on the floor, toes extended, look up.
  10. Exhaling, bring the left foot forward, with palms on the floor beside the feet, fingertips in line with the toes (bend the knees if necessary), head is down in toward the knees.
  11. Inhaling, keeping your arms by your ears, reach forward to wall in front of you, as you raise your body, extend arms upward and arch back slightly.
  12. Exhaling, bring your arms down in front of your chest in prayer position, then down to your sides as you return to your original upright position, Mountain Pose.
To complete the "round", repeat the sequence, starting #4 with the left leg.

The purpose of the Sun Salutation (in Sanskrit language it is termed Surya (Sun) Namaskar (Salute), is to warm the body in preparation for the postures, or "asanas" (pronounced ah-sa-nahs) to follow.

After you have completed four rounds for beginners, eight or ten for more advanced students, you will experience a rapid heart beat, increased pulse, and your muscles will be infused with oxygenated blood.

Lie down in relaxation (Corpse) position (Savasana), legs three feet apart, arms away from the body six to eight inches, palms up; neck is long on the floor, eyes are closed. Focus on your breath. After four or five deep yogic breaths through the nostrils, your heart rate and pulse will return to normal.

Note: Illustrations of the 12 positions described above may be seen in "The Sivananda Companion to Yoga" ppgs 34,35, a Fireside Book published by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York.