9-Day Challenge To Improve Your Yoga Flow

There are several variations of sun salutation, sometimes there’s backbends or a lunge involved, but generally this is what I do in class, which is a basic vinyasa flow, so this is what I will share with you, although feel free to add on to it or make your own adjustments. Here are the basic steps of the sun salutation we’ll be working with, and proper breathing to help guide you:
  • Inhale and exhale. Begin in mountain pose or tadasana, feet hip-width apart, back straight, hands by your side.
  • Move into extended mountain pose, bringing your arms up above your head, straight and perpendicular to each other, or together in prayer pose. Take a slight back bend.
  • Swan dive down to a forward fold, bending at your waist, letting your torso hang heavily.
  • With fingertips brushing the ground, or hands on your shins, come up half way to a flat back fold.
  • Drop your hands to the ground and jump or step back into a high plank position. Keeping your arms tight to your body sink down into chaturanga, or low plank.
  • Move into upward facing dog; raising your chest up, and sinking your shoulder blades back, with core engaged.
  • Move into downward facing dog, your body forming an upside down V, pushing your hips back, and straightening your legs, trying to reach your heels to the ground. Inhale.
  • Jump or step forward to the top of your mat, and into a forward fold.
  • Forward fold to flat back.
  • Flat back to forward fold.
  • Rise all the way up, hands moving straight above your head, then down to heart centre.
Basically, with this challenge, each day will hyper-focus on one of these parts of the sun salutation, and then you’ll continue on with the flow, adding on each day. The goal being to improve your vinyasa flow and become more aware of what your body is doing in each pose. Day 1: Mountain pose/tadasana Yoga_MountainPose_01_300x350 Ok. Standing. How hard can this be? Well, it’s not a hard pose per se, but there are still ways to improve it. This is one of my favourite things to do when starting ANY standing pose – I use it a lot for tree pose.
  • Get into mountain pose.
  • Lift all of your toes off the ground, this will help shift the weight into all four corners of your feet.
  • Now try to put down just the big toe.
  • Now the pinky toe.
  • Now the rest of your toes.
It sounds simple, but I definitely couldn’t do it the first few times I tried. I’d get the big toe down and then the others would just all collapse down at once. This will help you remain really grounded into your feet, and your legs will feel much stronger. Continue with the rest of the flow. Day 2: Extended mountain and swan dive to forward fold
  • Do the mountain pose exercise from Day 1.
  • As you raise your arms up into extended mountain focus on your shoulders, rolling them back and down.
  • Now do a slight back bend, but continue to focus on pulling your shoulders down your back, rather than on how far back you can bend.
  • As you swan dive down feel your shoulders release and sink heavily into your forward fold, releasing any tension from your shoulders
This is a very fluid movement, so it often gets overlooked for tweaking, but if you focus on your shoulders before and during the swan dive, you can feel a really great release in the forward fold. Continue with the rest of the flow. Day 3: Forward fold to flat back Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 6.16.07 PM This is another part that gets particularly overlooked – unfortunately for your neck.
  • Do the exercises from Day 1 and 2.
  • Even if you can reach the ground with a flat back, bring your hands to your shins.
  • Pull your thighs back as you lengthen your spine forward, puffing your chest out slightly.
  • Pay special attention to your neck in this pose. Avoid looking at your feet or looking up, pick a spot about a metre in front of you on the ground to look at. This will help you keep a straight line from the base of your skull all the way down your spine.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then drop again into forward fold, taking hold of opposite elbows, letting your neck completely relax and rocking gently to and fro.
This pose may be easy, but it’s more than just a transitional pose, and when given the proper amount of attention it can help to strengthen and decompress your spine. Continue with the rest of the flow. Day 4: High plank to chaturanga Chaturanga_01_300x350 Chaturanga, or four-limbed staff pose, can be a great arm and core strengthening pose, but it’s also very easy to injure your shoulders, wrists, or low-back by doing the pose incorrectly.
  • Do the exercises from Days 1-3.
  • Move from a forward fold to high plank, making sure that your wrists are aligned with your shoulders.
  • Now, move into half chaturanga, starting by dropping your knees to the ground.
  • Slowly start to sink your chest closer to the ground, keeping your elbows stacked directly above your wrists, even if this means coming a bit forward with your chest.
  • Your elbows should remain tight to your body, and your arms should form a 90-degree angle.
  • Move back into high plank and try this movement a few more times. If you feel confident that you can do the move with legs lifted than do so, as long as your alignment stays in tact.
Day 5: Upward facing dog wheelupward-dog-e1338737990228 The important thing to remember about upward dog is to always lead with your heart, not your head. Literally – not in a weird metaphoric kind of way.
  • Do the exercises from Days 1-4.
  • With hands still placed palm out on the floor beside your chest, start to push your torso away from the ground, leading with your chest. Keep starring at the ground in front of you.
  • With thighs and core engaged, straighten your arms completely, lifting your torso completely off the ground, and your thighs rising a few inches off the ground.
  • Sinking your shoulders down your back, puffing out your chest, you can look up – without straining your neck.
  • Lower your body back down. Now, tuck your tailbone, and draw your pubis towards your stomach. Lift back up into upward dog and feel the difference in the pose. Continue tucking your tailbone, and drawing the pubic bone up.
This movement will help you remember where the strength in the pose is supposed to come from; the core becomes more engaged, your legs get fired up, and your butt muscles stay firm but not overly flexed. Day 6: Downward facing dog
  • Do the exercises from Days 1-5.
  • Move into downward dog.
  • Raise your heels high off the ground while bending your knees.
  • Sink your chest more, pulling your shoulder blades together. Push your hips even further back.
  • Now straighten your legs and drop your heels, reaching them to the ground.
Continue with the rest of the flow. Day 7: Jump or step to a forward fold Jumping into a forward fold can be really fun, but for the purpose of this challenge, and for more of a hip opener, we’re going to step into a forward fold.
  • Do the exercises from Days 1-6.
  • In your downward dog, swing your right leg up and back, opening your hip up to the sky. Swing your leg all the way through to the top of your mat, and plant it between your hands.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t get your leg all the way to the top of the mat, just get it as far forward as you can in the first swing and then walk it up between your hands. Bring your left leg in to meet your right.
  • Get back into downward dog again and repeat with the left leg.
Usually you would just do the left leg on your next flow, so if you are doing more than one flow you can skip that last step and just continue on, it’s just important to do everything on the left side that you do on the right. Continue with the rest of the flow. Day 8: Rise up, hands to heart centre
  • Do the exercises from Days 1-7.
  • Repeat Day 3’s exercise for forward fold to flat back
  • Moving slowly, rise up all the way to stand, your hands sweeping up beside you.
  • Take a mini back bend, then bring your hands together in prayer pose and down to heart centre.
Do another full flow, with all of the previous day’s exercises. Day 9: Putting it all together sunsalutation  
  • Do one sun salutation moving slowly through each day’s exercise.
  • Do one sun salutation moving slightly faster, letting your breath guide you, but keeping in mind each day’s exercise, and trying to apply them.
  • Empty your mind and do one sun salutation at a fairly quick pace, focusing only on your breath.
See if you can still feel the difference, even at the quick pace, and surprise yourself with how awesome you’ve gotten at your vinyasa! (or in this case vin-YEAH-sa! Ok, I need to not make puns, I know).

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