How to Build An Ashtanga Practice

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Session 7 - Sun A - Breath & Body

As I said in our last session notes, “The sun salutation is a vinyasa.  The word Vinyasa means to place in a special way. Vinyasa is about arising, abiding and dissolving. It is life in flow and the ability to navigate moment by moment.  Because we are being mindful and placing in a special way, we learn the poses separately and then put them together.”


As we put the poses together, we collect and organize our awareness of the body and the breath and we flow toward a pose, abiding in the pose and then dissolving to flow to the next pose like a continue ribbon of mindful movement and breath.  Over the next three sessions we will practice the skills of finding the dance of the body and the breath, smoothing out the vinyasa into an experience of equanimity and scaling the practice to meet our needs by controlling the heat and building endurance.


The Dance of the Body and Breath


We start the dance by becoming quiet and placing our awareness of the breath and the body.  It’s a lot of ground to cover, so we approach it systematically by first finding a physical grounding standing at the top of your mat.  The mindful, deliberate placement of yourself in the template of Tadasana is a way to start becoming familiar with the physical body - bones, muscles, fascia and the contents of the body.  The template of Tadasana is a calibration pose. If something is feeling out of calibration as we call the body home to this position, we will recognize it here. Invite it to be a part of the practice.


We continue on by deliberately placing our attention at the end of the nose - the rings of the nostrils - to bring the experience of the breath into focus.  Breath is energy and the stream of breath as it moves in and out of the nose, nostrils, throat and lungs tunes us into the energetic layer of our being.  This is the opportunity to witness the current state of our energy.  Whatever it is, is just that…what it is at this point.  Notice the particular characteristics - sluggish, vibrant, even, uneven, etc.  That is simply the starting point. Energy, like everything else is impermanent. 


Newton’s Law of Motion

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."

Noticing Unbalanced forces


When we stand at the top of the mat observing what is, we can start to notice the push and pull of the breath, the body, the energy we are currently experiencing and the influence of mood and thoughts. These things can influence our arising, abiding and dissolving, so we harness them all and direct them like a team of horses as we embark on our practice.  We harness them by first acknowledging what is here and then working to keep them in harmony in every breath, every transition and every pose.  We notice thoughts and feelings pulling us out of balance.  We notice physical places of tension and tenderness and start to work with them instead of against them.


To manage the team of our being, we need to acknowledge - knowing where we are as we set off and then set a direction in which we will head. We don’t know how the journey will be until we take off and go breath by breath, move by move, pose by pose. So we resolve to stay open to managing each step - focused on the moment and action we are in, rather than just fixing our focus on the destination.


Sun A is a perfect vehicle for the Body and Breath to come together. We rise on the inhales - stretching the body, making space in the spine and we release the body on the exhales to let ourselves be where we are. We reach for the edges on the inhales and we relax into the new sense of space those edges define as we exhale. 


In between the Inhale and the Exhale is the turn of the breath. In that momentary turn from the fullness of the inhale to the release of the exhale, we abide in a suspension of where we feel the rise, the edges, the fullness of being in a moment of form and shape - engaged but not too much and not too little. It is a point of balance - a still point. And then the exhale happens and we dissolve toward the next place where we will abide in that momentary window into our selves.


In between the Exhale and the Inhale, is another turn of the breath. In that turn we get to experience the moment where our vulnerability and our strength meet. We arise into that strength as the new inhale takes us to the new edge, pose, abiding.


The only way to experience this is to do it. 


Start with the 1/2 Salutation.


Gather Yourself At The Top Of Your Mat

Stand at the top of your mat and deliberately place yourself in the template of Tadasana.  

    • Feet two fist widths apart. 

    • Neutral, level, balanced pelvis

    • Gathering up and in with a lift of the sternum

    • Placing shoulders over the hips

    • And bringing a subtle lift through the roof of the mouth and the top of the skull


Observe the body, breath, energy, mood and thoughts. Know where you are and what you are experiencing without judgement or analysis -whatever is here is fine. It’s where you are right now.


Set a direction for your practice, remembering that it will be a matter of navigating all the layers of your being and the forces of nature present to stay in that direction.


Set an intention to do your best at staying focused, kind and present because nothing stays the same.


Remember that the best decisions you make in each moment are guided by compassion, which will lead you to the best you can feel right now and for a while following your practice.



Establish Ujjai breathing 


Before we start moving, we find an equal length to the inhale and exhale. We need to know the number of beats in and out so we can manage samma vritti - same length breath throughout the practice…like a personal metronome.  And we must know the breath in its natural state to establish Ujjai.


The movements of the Inhale will happen in the full the length of inhale - reaching into the fullness of the pose and your comfortable edges.  The movements of the exhales will happen in the full length of the exhale - releasing into the emptiness of the breath and the vulnerability of who we are in the void. It’s a window into ourselves where we start to become familiar and friendly with ourselves as we are… unmasked.


Bring awareness to your breath in the openings of your nose and notice the natural breath.


Lengthen your inhales and exhales and bring attention to the back of the throat where you feel the stream of your breath moving in and out. Over the course of a few breaths, find the average length and start to even out the breath to be the same number of beats in and out.


Give a subtle hug to the back of the throat to increase the volume of the breath in that same count.  Start to notice the expansion of your ribs as you remain gathered in and up - not to rigidly and no to lax.


Notice the subtle, personal sound and feeling of your breath. This is the anchor for your awareness.  You will return here again and again as you practice to stay present and tuned in.


Inhale/Exhale - Tadasana

Inhale - Urdhva Hastasana

Exhale - Uttanasana

Inhale - Ardha Uttanasana

Exhale - Uttanasana

Inhale - Urdhva Hastasana

Exhale - Tadasana



Now apply what you learned in the half salutation to Sun A


Gather yourself at the top of your mat

Inhale/Exhale - Tadasana

Inhale - Urdhva Hastasana

Exhale - Uttanasana

Inhale - Ardha Uttanasana

Exhale - Plank/Chaturanga

Inhale - Upward Facing Dog

Exhale - Downward Facing Dog - Five Breaths

Inhale - Ardha Uttanasana

Exhale - Uttanasana

Inhale - Urdhva Hastasana

Exhale - Tadasana 


Practice this over and over again and start to notice the process of Arising, Abiding and Dissolving.

Gather YourselfAndrea Dyer, E RYT 500
00:00 / 01:46
Establishing Ujjai BreathingAndrea Dyer, E RYT 500
00:00 / 02:51
Half Salutation LedAndrea Dyer, E RYT 500
00:00 / 01:56
Sun A LedAndrea Dyer, E RYT 500
00:00 / 04:25

Here is a pdf of Sun A. Print it out and put it at the top of your mat as you begin to memorize the sequence.

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