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Absolute PerFlexion

Honestly, the Ashtanga Yoga Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskara A) is just such a perfect sequence. Its brilliance never fails to amaze me.

The whole package is so delicious and really has everything you need for a complete yoga practice except a twist…and Savasana.

Today, I want to talk specifically about the spine. Because, ultimately, that really is the focus of the entire practice.

Spinal health is everything.

Okay, so think about this:

The third and the second-to-last pose of Sun Salutation A is Uttanasana.

What is so unique about Uttanasana? It is basically the only forward fold in Ashtanga yoga that is done in spinal flexion instead of extension. (Can you fill in this blank? Every forward bend has an element of a ________________. If you did my Vimeo classes, you would know that answer! And your whole entire yoga practice would be better for it, too!!)

And what poses bookend Uttanasana? Urdhva Hastasana and Ardha Uttanasana. Both spinal extensions.

In essence, this is a spinal flexion sandwich, a quick little pose/counterpose sequence that is the Ashtanga equivalent of (standing) Cat/Cow.

Keep in mind that everything else within the practice is a spinal extension…until you get to the finishing series, when we revisit flexion with Halasana, Salamba Sarvangasasana, and Karnapidasana. Finished off with a spinal extension counterpose, Matsyasana.

I know this post is supposed to be about the Sun Salutation, but I had to throw that in.

Why does Ashtanga create this one forward bend, Uttanasana, with a rounded spine?

(Keep in mind that this whole post is just my own theory, so don’t go into Jois’s relics on this one).

Because while spinal flexion isn’t something we wish to encourage in our bodies–none of us aspires to have a hunchback when we are older–it is certainly still a part of the spinal mobility equation.

And while so many people think that backbends are “back stretches,” in fact, the exact opposite is true. A backbend stretches the front body while compressing the muscles in the back. So, adding in these very specific spinal flexions at the start and finish of the Primary Series allows us to stretch our back muscles and even get a potential core engagement in the process.


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