Making Peace with Sun Salutations: Sivananda Yoga Posture Stories
By Annapurna Devi (Grace Welker)
Over time, our experience of yoga asanas evolves beyond the physical — the postures become our teachers and companions, showing us our relationship with ourselves and the world. Enjoy this collection of stories submitted by Sivananda Yoga practitioners from around the world, sharing their in-depth connections with each asana of the Sivananda sequence.
“I completely dislike the sun salutation,” I said out loud — just as there was a lull in the conversation in the small room, a small room that included several of the senior staff and swamis of the ashram. “I mean, well, it’s just that I never learned it when I first trained in yoga,” I managed to eke out as my face turned bright red. I couldn’t have scripted a more embarrassing moment.
It was my second visit to the ashram, a place I had fallen in love with immediately. I loved everything about it — the water, the meditation and chanting, the daily yoga classes, the birthday celebrations — everything except the sun salutation.
When I would step to the front of mat to start, here’s some of what my mind would say:
- Ugh, I don’t like this one bit. Not one bit.
- I can’t wait until this is over.
- Just breathe.
- My first yoga teacher never made us do sun salutations.
- Stupid, stupid sun salutation.
My first yoga teacher, Odile, didn’t teach us sun salutations. I was a devoted student: twice a week classes, once a month workshops, and seasonal retreats for three years — and not a single sun salutation. She taught in a well-known lineage and went to India twice a year to study with its founder. But that’s not why I became her student. I was living in Rabat, Morocco, and she was the only yoga teacher there. I was going through a particularly hard time in my life psychologically and emotionally — and yoga and Odile kept me from completely falling apart.
I was lucky to have found them.
When I returned to the United States in the late 90s, I was caught off-guard: yoga was a thing. There were a lot of different traditions — and special clothes. Classes were shorter, met once-a-week, and were mostly drop-in (with Odile, we signed up for 8-week sessions). As I tried to navigate it all and find my yoga home in New York, I experimented with different styles and teachers and studios, and I noticed one thing: they all did the sun salutation. Some of them seemed to build their whole approach around it.
So I decided I didn’t like it. The sun salutation was everything that was wrong with this American yoga scene I had stumbled into. For me it would represent the misunderstanding of the depth of each of of the asanas and the incredible insights from yoga philosophy I had received under Odile’s tutelage. It was part of my missing those years in Morocco — especially the yoga practice and teacher that saved my life and gave me hope when I had run out of my own.
Disliking the sun salutation became my silent protest. Even when I became a yoga teacher myself (trained in an interdisciplinary approach), I rarely taught it. But when I did — usually at a student’s request — some part of me did it without true joy.
When I landed at the ashram in 2013 and took my first Sivananda Yoga class, I was curious: what will we do? In what order? How? We started with pranayama and I was thrilled — Yes! This is real yoga. And then … the sun salutation. Ugh. I don’t like this one bit. Not one bit.
I was very attached to my resistance. And many times, I still am. I’ve gotten used to that state of resistance; it’s like an old friend. I feel it in my body; it lives in my chest and would express as an eye roll if I let it. But despite the resistance, I do the sun salutations. And, often, much to my surprise, I actually don’t mind them so much. I have even experienced a peaceful surrender with them at times.
In these last few years of practicing Sivananda Yoga, as I step to the front of my mat to begin the sun salutations, there are new thoughts that have emerged:
- We’re just warming up …
- This is actually a classical yoga practice.
- Stay with the breath.
- You know you end up enjoying it once you start.
- Let go, Grace, let go.
Every week from January 1 – March 26, 2018, we will be sharing a new story — You can access all of the current ones here.