Turn up the heat without saluting the sun: 4 alternatives to sun salutations

2016-03-01 19.18.40Don’t get me wrong, I love sun salutations – the flow, the full-body stretch, the generation of heat and energy. They can make a great yoga practice by themselves as well as serving as a go-to sequence to wake the body up in preparation for a longer practice.

But sun salutations are not the only option. Because of the familiarity of the sequence, relying on sun salutations can breed bad habits, can block your creativity and self-awareness, and can stop you from challenging yourself – or at least that’s my experience.

I’ve been trying out different options for building heat and energy in my self practice recently. Some days it’s challenging (especially on days when I struggle to get on my mat in the first place), but when I do try something different:

  • I can still get my heart pumping and generate heat.
  • I move with more awareness because it’s a new sequence and I need to focus my attention more closely on what I’m doing.
  • I respond to what my body and mind need at that time, noticing what needs loosening up, whether I need dynamic movement or static stretching, and so on.
  • I enjoy sun salutations all the more when I go back to them!

Here are a few alternatives to sun salutations to build heat and energy in your asana practice:

  1. Think of a few poses you find more physically challenging and turn them into a flowing sequence – flowing from Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior) to Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) to Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended side angle pose) is a great example.
  2. Choose a pose that is challenging, breathe deeply, and hold it for longer than you would normally – try this with Plank or Utkatasana (Chair pose) for example. Focus on breathing deeply from the belly and notice how the heat radiates out from your core. But don’t push it – only hold for as long as you can keep your breath smooth and even.
  3. Focus your practice on aspects you might normally avoid – try a sequence based around backbends, or core strength (or is that just me?), or whatever it is that you tend to avoid. We usually avoid poses that we find more difficult to achieve, so focusing on these poses is likely to generate heat and energy through the extra exertion and attention to neglected muscles.
  4. Choose absolutely any pose and focus all your attention on doing it slowly, properly, and deeply, taking your attention to every part of your body as you move into the pose. Admittedly, you might need some additional guidance for this one, as it’s less easy to do by yourself. In a recent class with my teacher Elena Voyce I broke into a sweat just from lifting my arms above my head because her precise instructions got my whole body working so hard!

Of course building energy isn’t the sole purpose of a yoga practice, and restorative poses come with their own delights and challenges – but that’s the subject for another blog post…

What do you think about sun salutations? If you have your own self practice, what do you do to keep things challenging and interesting?

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