How to Build An Ashtanga Practice
Session 15 - Practice - Sun A & B Five Times Each
Practice - Sun A & B Five Times Each
Now it’s time to trust what you know and put it in motion. Allow yourself to let the memories of what you have learned so far filter into your practice. Know that you won’t remember it all and will have moments of “Oh I forgot about…” or “Oh yeah, I should have…”. That is all a part of the learning process. Do your best and let the practice bubble up each time you get on your mat.
Here are some ways to frame the practice and sun salutations. I think it helps to know and understand the intention of them as you do them.
Every single movement and pose in the Ashtanga system is nested/stacked in an intelligent order to take you on a journey into your physical, energetic and emotional bodies. There is vinyasa karma - intelligent sequencing that step by step prepares your body to go deeper and to take a more detailed look at who you are in the practice. As you begin, the body or the gross layer of your being is the most evident. We start with this outer layer and move inward. The Energetic layer is felt in the pulse of energy and where you are in your natural breath. The emotional layer is in the mood and feeling tone of your being - influenced by your current emotional state. All of these layers are experiencing temporary conditions. Nothing is permanent. To travel through these layers, we have to work systematically and attentively.
Sun A is a simple sequence that brings flexion and extension to the spine and warms up the body for the most common movements. Typically, you do more than one round of this sequence to temper the body for more intricate movement. I recommend 3 rounds at the very least:
Round 1 - A chance to observe all the physical parts - organizing the body into the “Tadasana” of the poses and transitions.
Round 2 - A chance to bring awareness to the breath connecting all the parts of the body into one cohesive unit.
Round 3 - A chance to refine and look for equanimity in the body and breath.
Sun B is a more intricate sequence that asks larger muscle groups to engage. The addition of Warrior 1 and the additional planks/chaturangas brings heat and starts working the spine into twists, foreshadowing work that is coming up ahead. This salutation starts testing our equanimity by asking us to be firm in our roots so we can start exploring the edges of the body in all directions. The breath needs to be deeper here to support the movements and the engagement.
In Sun A, it is important to fully exhale - clearing stagnancy from the lungs and priming the lungs for the deeper inhales that follow.
In Sun B, it is important to fully inhale - intaking more oxygen for fuel for the larger, more engaged movements.
By bringing attention to these parts of the breath, we are not making those parts of the breath more powerful, we are making sure that the attention helps to focus the intention of the breath to make the sequences more efficient and effective.
In the Ashtanga practice, when doing the full primary series, we start the practice with 3 Sun A’s and 3 Sun B’s. In the shorter forms, the equation is different to help you prepare for those asana squences:
15 min Short Form - 5 Sun A’s; 3 Sun B’s
30 min Short Form - 3 Sun A’s; 2 Sun B’s
45 min Short Form - 3 Sun A’s; 3 Sun B’s
David Williams, when he recounts his time studying with Guruji, says that he had to repeat the sun salutations (A & B) until he had the stamina to move forward. I believe that is sound teaching and recommend doing as many salutations as feels good over a period of time to notice your development of strength and stamina.
Your homework here is to do AT LEAST 3 Sun A’s and 3 Sun B’s and then increase to 4/4; 5/5; 6/6.
Do your best and do something everyday to create the muscle memory you want and need. Remember as many of the details as possible and put notes on the top of your mat if you need reminders.
Practice, Practice! All is coming!