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August 21, 2010

Curvy Sun Salutations: Widen, Align and Ground.

“You’re actually just trapped in a time/space continuum.”

Most people I know have a love/hate relationship with sun salutations (SOORYa—namAh—skAHRa). I usually tend toward the love side; that is, unless they keep going and going and going. I’m sure you know what I mean. You’ve probably been there. You’re going through at least your 89th sun salutation, and you think “geez! I thought this class was only an hour!” You then realize that you’re actually just trapped in a time/space continuum where the sun salutations never end. Just kidding—kind of.

I used to hate sun salutations. No; hate probably isn’t a strong enough word. I loathed them. I never felt more awkward than when I was struggling to get through them. Forget jumping back! That was out of the question. What I needed to know was how to step my foot forward from a Lunge into Standing Forward Bend (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna) without losing my balance or feeling like I was about to seriously strain a muscle.

Over time and through home practice, I discovered a little secret. It is called space, and it literally opened up a whole new world to me. I’m not talking about the final frontier, I’m talking about space for my body to move around. Once I got that, there was no turning back. If you, like me, are rocking your yoga with curves, there’s a mantra I want to share with you: widen, align, and ground:

Widen—in my experience, curvy yogis are often taught to begin the sun salutations with their feet together or hip width (meaning hip bones) apart. That’s great, unless that alignment doesn’t work for your body.
Try this: From Mountain Pose (tah-DAHS-anna), begin with the feet wider than hip distance apart. I suggest beginning with feet mat width apart. Depending on the curviness of your body, this will give you more accurate alignment and stability in addition to a more open and free foundation upon which to build the Salutations.

Align—alignment is essential to yoga—for everyone, regardless of your shape and size. However, for curvy yogis, that importance sky rockets because of potential and/or existing joint issues.
Try this: Throughout the Salutation, keep the feet wide.  If your feet are too close together and you step back from standing forward bend into a lunge, you may tweak your knee out of alignment. This misalignment likely happens because you just need a little extra room to step back. For instance, if I step back without width between my feet, I run into my belly, and then I do whatever is awkwardly necessary to ignore that fact (which is obviously not the most productive method for protecting the long-term health of my joints and disruptive to flowing).

Ground—without firm grounding, we can easily lose our alignment and risk injury. Once you have established your stance for a pose, and checked to ensure the alignment, the last step is to ground.
Try this: If you struggle to step the foot forward from lunge to standing forward bend, try bringing one knee to the mat first.  For instance, if you’re stepping your right foot forward, bring your left knee to the ground, and then step your right foot forward. This simple movement will give you some grounding and leverage to safely step the right foot forward in alignment.

Continue using the widen, align, and ground principle as you explore your Sun Salutations. This technique has increased my confidence while practicing and it has decreased my risk of injury.  In other words, it makes me even more excited to get on my mat every day!

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