For 2017, the “longest day of the year” happens on June 21. The summer solstice is not only the beginning of summer, it’s also a time to thank the sun. Yogis across the state and country come together on this auspicious day in large numbers, mostly to practice 108 Sun Salutations led by various teachers. Why 108? Well, for many it represents the number of beads on a mala (garlands of prayer beads), but it is also a number of wholeness of existence, according to Shiva Rea.
It also happens to connect us with the cosmos: The average distance of the sun and the moon to the earth is 108 times their respective diameters. The number 108 also happens to be the same as the number of pithas (sacred sites throughout India), Upandishads (collection of texts written in India) and marma points (sacred places of the body).
No matter the reason, practicing one or 108 Sun Salutations during summer solstice will give you the opportunity to salute the sun as you welcome the new season. If you can practice without your mat, on grass or even a sandy beach – no matter if it’s with friends, complete strangers or by yourself, – go ahead and give your mind the opportunity to focus on the breath and body connection as you flow through this sequence.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations)
Beginning at the top of your mat, ground down through your feet as you reach through the crown of your head towards the sky, feeling the opposing reactions lengthen your spine. Arms are by your sides, palms open, shoulders rolled back and down the spine. Close the eyes here in tadasana, or mountain pose, and feel the strength in your legs as you connect to the Earth. Lift up from the kneecaps as you feel the inner thighs engage.
On an inhale, bring your hands to your heart in Anjali mudra. Set an intention. On your next inhale, sweep your arms overhead and dive forward as you come to forward fold. Let your torso be heavy here, allowing anything that doesn’t serve you to melt away from the crown of your head. On an inhale, flatten your back and look forward, with fingertips alongside the feet or up on the thighs. On the next exhale, fold.
With your next inhale, step your right foot back as far as you can reach, keeping the heel up, left knee directly above your left ankle for low lunge. Your fingertips can be gently grazing the mat on opposite sides of your left foot, or on blocks placed on either side of your foot. The gaze is soft, looking forward with the heart and chest lifting, spine is nice and long. Take a few breaths here.
Step your left foot back to meet your right, hip width apart, hands directly under the shoulders, for plank pose. Inhale here.
On your next exhale, begin to flow forward, bending your elbows at 90 degrees, with your chest lowering to become inline with your triceps (your chest shouldn’t touch your mat). Extend through your heels, engaging your legs, quads and core for chaturanga dandasana. (NOTE: If you are new to yoga, or need to build arm strength, place your knees on the ground and follow the same guidance. It’s important to make sure the arms and shoulders are flowing through the motion properly to avoid injury.)
Breathing in, uncurl your toes so that the tops of your feet are firmly pushing into your mat. Make sure your legs are lifted, as are your hips, core and chest. Your arms should be straight as you ground down through your hands to lift your chest and head up for Upward Facing Dog. Engage your core here while you relax your shoulders down your spine, away from your ears. (Note: If your low back is sore, coming into low cobra, with your legs, hips and belly on the mat, chest lifting is a great substitute).
Curling the toes under, let the exhale out as you lift your hips to the sky, coming into Downward Facing Dog. Ground down through your hands and feet equally (even if your heels don’t touch), focusing on keeping the spine long and the neck soft. Take three big breaths, and on your next inhale, lift your right leg up to the sky and bring it forward in-between your hands to come into low lunge on an exhale. On your next inhale, bring your left foot to meet your right, coming into a forward fold. With your next inhale, sweep your arms up over your head as you make your way back to tadasana with your hands in Anjali Mudra. Repeat on the opposite side.
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