According to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, in his classic book ‘Yoga Mala’, during the ‘Salute to the Sun’ sequence (Surya Namaskar), your eyes should gaze upward toward the ‘Third eye centre’ (broomadhya drishti) on each inhalation (all the odd numbered vinyasa) and your eyes should gaze downward toward the tip of the nose (nasagra drishti) on each exhalation (all the even numbered vinyasa). You must also stay relaxed.
In this video Simon Borg-Olivier demonstrates several breaths using this system which can also be used in every posture and during seated breathing exercises (pranayama).
It is interesting to note that studies have shown that allowing the eyes to roll upwards in this fashion (as happens naturally in deep sleep) increases delta wave activity of the brain, while gazing at the tip of the nose stimulates pelvic floor activity (and mula banfha).
The following diagram shows variations of the main postures used in Surya Namaskar A in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the main postures in Candra Namaskar A, which is for many people a good preparation exercise before practicing the Ashtanga Yoga Series, because it includes a very useful hip flexor (front of hip) stretch.
Following is the broken down version of the ‘Salute to the Sun’ Sequence (Surya namaskars vinyasa). Each of the postures with letters in front of them are the more accessible first stage of each major posture, that should be mastered first, and then the postures with an asterix (*) in front of them are more challenging or more advanced version of the first posture that need to have the essence of the primary pose in them. Also included is the breath taught and the corresponding drishti (gazing point).
A.‘Half squat posture’(Utkatâsana) (Inhalation with broomadhya drishti) can be modified by bending the knees only slightly, only lifting the arms up a little and not raising the head. But in the full version (not shown here) it is optimal for energy flow and spinal health if the front of the body can be lengthened without shortening the back.
B.‘Standing hands-to-floor posture’ (Hasta uttanâsana) (Exhalation with nasagra drishti) can be modified by bending the knees as much as you need to touch the floor (you avoid this sequence unless you can touch the floor comfortably at least with you knees bent). The key to this pose even in the full version is not to feel a stretch in the back of legs. This can be done by pressing the ‘sitting bones’ towards the floor, lifting the top of the hips while pressing the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) towards the floor. This is what prepares you for the strength work in this sequence and protects your back with a mula bandha that does not create tension.
C.‘Pendulum posture’ (Lolâsana) (Inhalation with broomadhya drishti), which involves balancing in the air on your hands in its final form, can be modified by simply leaning onto your hands and taking as much weight off your feet and onto your hands. Or, when this posture is done in the floor sequence (‘half vinyasa’) you can simply step to a easy ‘Kneeling plank posture’ (Janu san tolanâsana). In this pose which is commonly thought to be a back bend arching the back on an inhalation, the key is lengthen the front of the body on an abdominal inhalation and this gives you the power to lift into the air.
D.‘Push-up posture’ (Cataranga dandâsana) (Exhalation with nasagra drishti) can be modified by being in an easy ‘Kneeling plank posture’ (Janu san tolanâsana) or moving to a simple ‘Kneeling push-up posture’ (Janu cataranga dandâsana). In the final posture, as in this more accessible preparation posture, there should be no creases in your back, and you should should be able to speak normally while being able to comfortably hold your shoulders the same height as your elbows (not below them), with elbows directly above your wrists.
E.‘Upward-facing dog posture’ (Urdhva mukha svanâsana) (Inhalation with broomadhya drishti) can be modified by simply lying on the abdomen and perhaps coming to a simple ‘Half cobra posture’ (Ardha bhujangâsana) or by staying in an easy ‘Kneeling plank posture’ (Janu san tolanâsana). Most people should not try the full ‘Upward-facing dog posture’ until they have mastered ‘Pendulum posture’. As physiotherapists we regularly see that when this posture is practiced incorrectly, as it is by most adults, it generally leads to back problems.
F.‘Plank posture’(Santolanâsana) can also be replaced with an easy ‘Kneeling plank posture’ (Janu san tolanâsana) to teach the important transition for the spine between forward bend (spinal flexion) and backward bend (spinal extension).
G. ’Downward-facing dog posture’ (Adho mukha svanâsana) (Exhalation with nasagra drishti) can be modified by putting the knees on the floor for an easy ‘Kneeling downward-facing dog posture’ (Janu adho mukha svanâsana). The most important thing here is the drsti (gazing point). You need to be able to see your navel or this posture is not going to help you develop the balance between strength and flexibility that keeps you energised, calm and pain-free for life.
H.’Upward-facing fingers-to-floor posture’ (Urdhvamukha uttanâsana) (Inhalation with broomadhya drishti) can be modified by bending the knees. But even in the final posture the most important thing is that you lengthen the front of the body, by extending every vertebra, not just squashing the back and extending only one or two vertebra, which is what happens if you simply ‘fold forward at the hips’ (which is commonly taught and which has undesirable long term effects).
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If we reverse Pattabhi’s suggestion… what happens? Pattabhi’s idea makes consciousness identify with the physical body. Physical body identification is the opposite of the true aim of Yoga. It’s this aberration which is causing so many people to believe that ‘Yoga is Asana’ and to go so far off track.