by Sadie Nardini
They are FINALLY over! Don’t worry if you consumed too many calories this season. Holiday weight gain doesn’t stand a chance against my turbo-boosted Sun Salutations.
Adding core-toning work in the transitions between poses in the classic Sun Salutation series amps up the benefits of all the poses. I call these Core Salutations. When you follow this sequence, you’re doing twice the yoga in the same amount of time. It’s a calm centering practice that will burn off those sugar cookies and eggnog, fast.
You’ll also tone areas that yogis often underuse, like the pelvic floor, abdominals and arms — and release places that can take on too much pressure: the lower back, neck and shoulder. As a happy bonus, you’ll experience a higher level of tapas, as you spark the inner fires of transformation. Translation: you’ll sweat buckets, and burn more calories than ever before. So no matter how cold it gets outside, you’ll be sizzling hot in that little black dress (or suit) this year!
Maintain Mula Bandha, an active lift of the pelvic floor muscles (like a constant Kegel) for the duration of your practice to build and contain heat. Do 3-5 rounds of the Core Salutations on each side, or more!
1. Mountain Pose
Stand tall, preparing for your practice ahead. Begin deep, easy breaths through the nose, and set your best intention now. Move to honor it for the rest of your time on the mat. Inhale, and stretch the arms up.
2. Forward Fold
Fold from the hip creases with a long spine and open heart. Navel activates to prevent overstretching of the hamstring attachments as the heart reaches towards the big toes. Exhale to Forward Fold.
3. Wave Forward Reach
To balance the lower back strength, as you look halfway up, wave through the spine. Bend the knees at first for more movement, then straighten them over time. The tailbone curves down as the navel activates into the body. Draw the low ribs in, and offer the heart. Reach the arms out in front of you, palms facing. Inhale to Wave Forward Reach; hold for 3-5 breaths.
Benefits: Releases the lower back from chronic overuse, activates a balancing abdominal strength. Improves L-shape Handstand, Warrior 3, and Standing Forward Bend.
4. Downward-Facing Dog
Step back to Downward Dog, exhaling. Press through your fingertips and leg bones, lifting your heels slightly to help activate the navel into the spine. Curl the tailbone and press the heels down at the same time, creating a dynamic buoyancy.
5. Downward Dog to Plank Pose Waves
From Downward Dog, inhale and lift the heels higher, and send the tailbone forward as the navel pulls strongly upward towards the spine. This begins a wave, where the pelvic floor, navel and lower ribs draw in, and as the heart lengthens forward through the upper arms, the shoulders move over the wrists for Plank Pose. On an exhale, reverse that: lift from the low ribs, navel, and pour back into a long Downward Dog from the strength of center. Repeat Plank Waves 5-10 times.
Benefits: Increased abdominal and arm strength, mid and upper back flexibility, release of pressure on the lower back, wrist, and elbow joints. Moves Plank into a higher, core-held posture, and decreases risk of shoulder injury. Improves abdominal poses like Navasana, handstand and releases pelvis for all standing poses.
6. Downward Dog Splits
From Downward Dog, inhale and lift your right leg high. Keep the hips square here and spin the lifted leg and toes to face the floor.
Benefits: Allows the sacrum to open, generates a greater stretch on the standing leg’s hip, builds inner thigh and abdominal strength, provides traction for the spine and arms to lengthen and releases the hamstrings. Improves floor splits and forward bends.
7. Core Plank Pose
Exhale, sweep the knee into chest and move the shoulders over wrists. The back curls and hips lift as high as possible. Inhale back to Dog splits, and exhale knee into chest for Core Plank. Repeat 3 times, then hold the last Core Plank. Proceed to the next pose.
Benefits: Detoxification and stimulation of the hara center, for building heat. Strengthens abdominals, psoas, quadriceps, chest and arms. Releases low, mid and upper back, improves crow pose, arm balances and inversions.
8. Step Forward Transition
From the last Core Plank, exhale, draw the knee higher into the chest and forward through the upper arms. Use the contracting navel strength and height to step the foot lightly to the same hand’s thumb (right foot to right thumb). Over time, the foot will hover before touching the ground.
Benefits: Intensely core and arm strengthening, low back release. Improves the jump forward, back and through, Headstand, Lolasana, Asta Vakrasana and other floor balances.
9. Low Lunge
Come onto your fingertips, and pump the breath after that fierce core connection!
10. Mid Lunge Transition
With fingertips on the floor, inhale and draw the back heel over the ball of the foot and press down to energize the thigh. Lift the thighbone higher. Into this space, curl the tailbone, and draw the navel to spine. Instead of the low back overworking, round through the back at first and lift up using the core strength until fingers rise from the floor. As the ribs draw in and hip crests tilt back, begin to rise in a wave, stacking the pelvis and ribs. Finally, inhale, offering the heart and arms lightly to the sky.
Benefits: Keeps femurs, hips and pelvis in open alignment, stretches groins and iliopsoas, builds a long, lean core and back. Releases shoulder and neck from overworking. Improves all standing poses, Pigeon and other hip openers.
11. High Lunge with Fists of Fire
In high lunge, inhale the hands and heart higher, exhale fists to the low side waist. Inhales open the chest, and exhales engage the abdominals, lengthening the tailbone down. Spark your fiery attitude here…it feels good! Repeat Fists of Fire 3-5 times or more.
Benefits: Increases oxygen flow, detoxes the tissues, balances central nervous system, opens shoulders, strengthens upper back and core. increases pelvic movement in all poses. Improves: backbends, forearm stand and twists.
12. Step Back Transition
Inhaling, step back from a standing pose, reversing the direction of the Core Plank (#7). Draw the knee to the chest, energize the navel, and round the back. Use the core connection to mindfully place the leg long into Downward-Facing Dog pose once again.
Take one Plank Wave forward into Plank Pose (#5).
13. Chaturanga Right Angle Transition
From Plank, float the heels and heart forward maintaining your elbows directly over wrists. Place the knees down if building arm strength, but keep your navel lifted, tailbone long. Lower a little, exhaling, into the full pose, which is shoulders at elbow height, never farther down. The arms make a right angle to minimize joint pressure and optimize arm strengthening in the full expression of Chaturanga.
Benefits: protects wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, builds quadriceps, arms and core strength. Improves arm balances, Shoulderstand, Peacock Pose and Full Wheel.
14. Upward-Facing Dog
From Chaturanga, inhale and point the feet, and in the same wavelike motion, curl the tailbone, access the navel, low rib points, and open the heart high and wide. Wrap the shoulders and elbows back, and slide the head from jaw to base of the skull, neck still long, as a continuation of the spinal curve.
Benefits: Lengthens lumbar spine, prevents shear pressure in thoracic and lumbar spinal connection, stretches abdominals, strengthens triceps. Improves: Bow, Camel, Tabletop and Full Wheel poses.
15. Upward to Downward Dog Transition
From Upward Dog, tuck the toes under, and wait — instead of lifting from the sit bones, which puts pressure on the lower back, wave back from the front body: chest, ribs and navel lift you up and spread back into Downward Dog, exhaling, from this active center.
Benefits: Protects lower back and lumbar spine, balances abdominal and back strength, lessens pressure on wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Improves: Side Plank Pose, Titibasana, Crane Pose, Handstand preparation.
16. Shakti Kicks Strengthener with Double Core Plank Float Forward Transition
From Downward-Facing Dog, walk the feet together. Engage the inner thighs to keep the legs close as the knees bend. On the exhales, begin to take low hops, kicking heels towards the sit bones. As the arms strengthen, aim for higher hops. Repeat 3-5 times.
17. Jump Forward Transition
On the last exhale, curl the tailbone and both knees forward like a double Core Plank, exhale, and jump lightly up between the hands, as if hopping over someone lying across your mat. The more you draw up and into the navel, the lighter the pose will become.
Benefits: Intense arm and core strengthener. Fear-buster. Improves: magic poses like hovering jump-forwards, pressing into handstand, and light jumps back from Crow Pose into Chaturanga.
Wave Forward Reach (#3)
Forward Fold (#2)
18. Root Transition Into Mountain Pose
From Forward Fold, wave the spine halfway up once again into the Wave Forward reach. Moving the thighs back, curl the tailbone down, engage the pelvic floor, and move the navel into the spine so much that it begins a wave from the root that organically hugs the ribs, and lifts the entire torso up intoMountain Pose. Stretch your light heart and arms up on the inhale, and on an exhale, collect the hands, and the energy of the practice, together at the heart center.
Repeat Core Salutation Sequence on the left side. Repeat 3-5 times for a powerful core routine!
For an hour of fat-melting yoga, including these Core Salutations, try my Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga DVD!