Sun Salutations are modifiable, portable and my go to for the best all round yoga practice when time is short and I need a boost of awesome. The idea is simple and profound: balance forward and back bending, upper body and lower body and do it in synchrony with a breath that in and of itself strengthens you.
The sequence (which can vary in many ways so you can adapt to your resources and goals, but we need a place to start) is this:
If you've never done yoga before, make sure you have a teacher check your form particularly on Downward Facing Dog and the lower down from plank. Webcam is a great way and you can even get a complimentary half hour consult to see how yoga can supercharge your wellness routine.
The lower down from plank is often called a yoga pushup and your form is important for your shoulder girdle. (Tweetable! ) The idea is that your hands are wide enough that you're able to keep your shoulders from visiting your ears while also bringing the elbows close to your body + not lowering your shoulders below your elbows - whew! A good teacher will give you modifications for learning these alignment cues and creating the strength in a balanced way throughout the upper body to keep your rotator cuff safe and happy.
Once you've got the basic sequence in your body (because your mind isn't where you remember these things), you can vary it with jumps, interposing other yoga asana (poses), going faster or slower. It's great, balanced practice.
Breath is everything, so never out yoga your breath. Ujayyi will help with this. It's sometimes called Darth Vader breath because when you access the muscles that create a metering of the breath at the back of the oropharynx (mouth, basically for our discussion), it creates an oceanic sound. This will help you know you've got it, though again, a good teacher will be able to guide you best. Smile with the back of your mouth and breathe through your nose. That's the basic technique. It slows your breath, gives it a tiny resistance which if all else is healthy builds ventilatory strength, and helps keep you focused in your body. If you're doing Sun Salutations (or any other thing yoga) and you need to open your mouth for your breath to keep up, that's what I call out-yogaing your breath. Rest in Mountain, Down Dog (if you're very used to it) or Child's pose (Down Dog with knees down, belly resting on the thighs) until you catch back up to your beautiful breath.
Ujayyi, along with all the isometric muscular contraction, accounts for what exercise physiologists call the "pressor" response, which keeps yoga from being "Cardio." When you're looking specifically for cardio, you want short times when you are breathing hard alternating with times where you can talk. This is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and is invaluable for your fitness. I get mine hiking.
Questions about Sun Salutations? Comment here and you'll get an answer here and may be included in the next Home Yoga Practice Support Live call!
"Practice and all is coming," said the master. Good enough for me.