Stiff yoga guide: Surya Namaskara A

I’m succumbing.

And I apologize.

After so many repeated times of writing about how I’m not going to dwell on specifics of my practice, I will. Briefly. As briefly as possible.

My back-to-basics approach definitely has me feeling and thinking like the beginner I am, or ought to be. As I move through week two, and a few fundamentals continue to guide me, I realize there are some specific adjustments happening in the poses I’m doing that, perhaps, might make the practice more welcoming to stiff, resistant would-be (but probably claim to be “never-be”) Ashtangis.

I was one of those, for many years.

That said, I still think we may be too eager to find a “one size fits all” way to describing asanas. Like clothing, these work fine, I suspect. But always something transcendent might be missed, much as a bespoke suit transcends one pulled off the rack at Nordstrom. I do realize it is somewhat unrealistic to expect everyone to get their very own version of an asana practice such as, say, the Ashtanga sequence. One can be idealistic, right?

But first, I would direct anyone to have the stiff and resistant guys (I’m assuming most are men) they know read this post that describes how my move from running and weightlifting to Ashtanga didn’t result in any loss of strength or muscle. That kind of thing is important to them. (Again, I was them, so I remember that.)

Via, and no, not what I look like at all.

Here are the tweaks I’m finding helpful in Surya Namakara A. This is just the list of things I feel I’m adjusting from the typical or that I think a stiff and resistant guy (SRG) might try to cheat on:

  • Arms straight on that first breath, a little bit in front of the body (i.e. not directly out in one line but really close). This seems to be helping my shoulders and upper back loosen up a bit. And keep the arms straight on the forward fold.
  • Keep the legs straight during that forward fold! This is a major ego check. (If you can convince your SRG to keep those legs straight, I bet we have a real yogi in the making.) Rest the hands lightly wherever they fall (knees? shins?) to mimic the light touch on the floor that may, or may never, come.
  • Check and see at this point if the knees are hurting. If so, it may be (as in my case) that there is too much weight on the outside of the feet / too much outward rotation going on. Press through the big toe and try to get the inner things to rotate inward. (We’ll get back to that move later, and it is one that reoccurs or needs to reoccur frequently.)
  • On the inhale, make sure the back is straight (if you can be talking to our SRG about bandhas, great!) and extend forward, everything still staying straight.
  • I’ve been stepping back during this process. I alternate which leg is first (and step forward with the same one), but that’s a small detail that I think we can ignore. A benefit of stepping back is you can end up at the top of the push-up (in SRG terms) and then feel as though you are getting a little extra strength exercise from this lowering down. Bobbie also has argued it helps with loosening the hamstrings.
  • In Down Dog, I’ve got my feet spread as wide as the mat, and no, my heels aren’t down. I try to get my legs straight, which is hard. And then here’s a key thing: Rotate the things internally, i.e. towards each other (though not moving closer). My legs desperately want to externally rotate (as though I were trying to do Kurmasana). Such a bad habit! I’m not worrying much about my arms and shoulders; one detail might be making sure it is the pads of the hands that are really pushing into the floor. Oh! And push into the floor! Even if it hurts a little (or the wrists hurt a bit) and it seems counter-intuitive, this seems to work.
  • On the way back to standing, don’t forget all of the above.

So that’s that. Remember, this may only be helpful for me and my body. But perhaps something is transferable to others.

I happily will stop doing these if there is an outcry, believe me. Otherwise, more to come.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

10 thoughts on “Stiff yoga guide: Surya Namaskara A”

  1. I don’t think keep knee straight is good way to “ego check”, bend your knees during fold or downdogs is healthier than keep them straight for SRG.

    I’m a typical SRG who spent three years struggle with “what’s wrong with your knees” and “why don’t you straight your legs” questions from almost every teacher I’ve met, I did lots of work to figure out how to make them straight and none of them works.

    In this March, I’ve attended Richard Freeman’s workshop, the topic is “Do Ashtanga like an elder people”, it’s the same idea with your Re-beginning Ashtanga. And he told us that just bend your knees when you feel it’s tight, instead of fighting with your legs, you should work with other parts of your body first, I’ve practiced in his ways about 3 months, and I figured out keep your knee straight sometimes make you ignores everything else besides your knee, like your pelvis, quadriceps, gluteus muscles, hip flexors. And finally, all my forward bends are now in the right track, I could feel how to straight my legs in proper way now, although they are still not very straight, yet.

    IMHO, keep your knees in whatever capability they should be is a truly ego check: Do you really got to mimic someone who is very flexible? Is it really necessary to keep them straight? Why don’t you just embrace your body rather than forcing them?

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Thanks for that comment. In answer to the final questions: Because not forcing them a bit isn’t stretching my hamstrings very well, so I’m trying to be a bit more focused. I’ve found — and again, this is just my experience — I’m cheating too much by bending the knees.

      Perhaps I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve been working with those other parts, as Richard talked about.

      I’ve also had a bunch of teachers say it was OK to bend the knees some. For me, I’m thinking that may not have been the best avenue.

      My 0.5 cents. 🙂


  2. As a beginner, I found this post very helpful, and hope that you continue writing about tweaks and adjustments that help you get through the practice. I began and then stopped an Ashtanga practice 3 years ago because I hurt my shoulder. This time around I’m going slower and paying more attention to how I feel, not pushing through (with my ego!).

  3. So here is my take… More important is the back alignment than the hamstring stretch, why – because the improper natural curve achieved or lack thereof in he lower back can lead to pain… Bend the knees while still engaging the hamstrings and the quads (easier said than done) – achieved by isometrically pulling the inner knees to the midline and drawing the groin upward, also the wider foot position compromises the forward folding, in my opinion – try feeling the tops of the thigh bone grounded into the hips and with that grounding bending from the hips. Regarding the shoulder think, chest forward shoulders back in standing in all aspects of shoulder alignment in all poses. Just my humble opinion. Oh yes and don’t forget mulha bandha by drawing the sitz bones together while also pulling the perineum into the navel while sending the excess energy created by this action from the middle of the pelvic floor toward the heart.

    1. I’m sure good advice, but honestly too much for my sad little body. I’ve got to get at least a little more flexibility before I can start thinking about isometrics.

      I’m not sure about the wider foot issue… it’s just in Down Dog at this point. But maybe that’s what you’re referring to.


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