Mental clarity, physical tone, emotional balance, and spiritual connection are all benefits of a regular yoga practice. Yoga is at least five thousand years old, yet it's a modern form of exercise and relaxation. In our technology-based world and fast-paced lives, yoga is restorative, working all the muscles and unifying mind, body, and spirit. Encompassing control and surrender, the philosophies of a yoga practice can extend to our daily decisions and tasks. There are many styles of yoga, and for some of us one seems more compatible than another. However, in all forms of yoga, we benefit from conscious breath, physical movement, and meditation, or rest.
The Sun Salutation sequence is made up of postures that correlate with and can benefit everyone from Aries to Pisces. Sun Salutation is an asana central to the Hatha style of yoga. This sequence of postures, traditionally performed at sunrise, has origins in Hindu worship of the solar deity. As there are twelve signs of the zodiac, there are also twelve postures that form the Sun Salutation. Completion requires moving through the series twice, alternating left and right sides of the body and inhalations with exhalations. The entire body stretches backward and forward in turn, as well, indicating a connection to the signs Leo, ruler of the spine, and Aquarius, sign of the nervous system. Sun Salutation, in name and energy, has a natural connection to Leo and indeed does work the part of the body correlated to this regal and strong sign of the Sun. Integrated in the salutation are postures that energize, move and strengthen the Capricorn bones, Pisces feet, Cancer abdomen, Sagittarius hips, and Gemini wrists and hands, among others.
Follow the sequence of Sun Salutations postures either by mentally picturing or physically acting out these descriptions and find your sign in the commentaries. If you are having difficulty with feeling energized in a certain area of your body, consider your connection to and the traits of the ruling sign for insight, and perhaps extra attention in your yoga practice.
- Mountain Pose
Mountain pose, in name, relates to the element of Earth, sharing energy with Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo. Capricorn, sign of the goat, metaphorically climbs and lives in the mountains. Mountain pose is a motivator, activating Capricorn ambition to start one's practice, and this posture activates the increase in blood flow to all parts of the body, encouraging Virgo flexibility. Mountains are timeless, and like fixed-sign Taurus, aren't going anywhere but instead remain constant! As you engage in the Mountain and Extended Mountain postures, meditate on your strong connection to the Earth and tap into your Earth-sign energy!
Pisces rules the feet, and close attention to the toes and rooting to the Earth with all parts of the feet are both key to Mountain. In Western culture, we probably don't pay enough attention to our feet, yet we use them more than almost any part of our body since they get us where we're going! Mountain is a great opportunity to tune in to the lower extremities and remember how much energy is released there!
Begin by bringing your feet and legs together, and spread your toes apart wide. Root your heels and feet to the ground and firm your legs. Then, roll your shoulders back and down and spread and lift your chest while your hands remain at your side, palms forward.
- Extended Mountain Pose
Inhale through your nose and raise your arms up to the side, palms facing upwards. Extend your arms above your head to either side, and hold. Follow by bringing your hands forward in front of your chest and to prayer position.
- Swan Dive to Forward Bend
The Swan relates to the Air signs. Libra's traits of grace and harmony are embodied in the Swan Dive. For Gemini, a sign with energy to burn, the cycle of Sun Salutation breaths begins with this first exhale, fueling the body for the remainder of practice. For Aquarius, sign of the central nervous system, the first forward bend begins to open the vertebrae, creating space and encouraging expansion. During your first Swan Dive, feel how the release of breath relaxes the nervous system while bringing a flow of blood to the brain, the place or intellect and thought and therefore, air!
Exhale through your nose while moving forward from the waist. Open your arms wide and fold into a standing forward bend. Touch your hands to the floor if you can or if not, to the front of the shins or ankles.
- Standing Lunge
The action of a lunge is Mars's assertive Aries energy! This part of the salutation mimics the initial part of another posture called Warrior. Consider where you could make a breakthrough by taking an active stance in your life as you move into your first lunge.
This posture also engages the Sagittarius energy of the hips and thighs as it opens the pelvis and strengthens the glutes and quads. Lunge has the quality of the archer's stance as he aims his bow.
Inhale through your nose and place your hands next to your feet on the floor and step one foot back into a lunge. Keep the front knee directly over the ankle and keep the back leg firm. Now, exhale and bring the other foot back form to Downward-facing Dog position.
- Downward Dog and Plank Pose
Downward Dog and Plank Pose work the belly and wrists, domains of Cancer and Gemini, respectively. The hands and wrists support us in both postures, helping move tension stored during daily tasks, including our use of computers, texting on our phones and other technology, as well as more strenuous physical work. Though it may not be comfortable for our hands, these postures are freeing and open up our hands and wrists to aid in the recovery process. Our hands are also integral to how we express ourselves, both in body language and through writing, so communication may flow more easily when our Gemini parts are open and activated.
Strengthening core abdominal muscles brings energy to the stomach, ruled by Cancer. Plank Pose is particularly good for the abdomen, requiring some strength and endurance as we hold ourselves up from the ground, engaging the core.
Both positions, done in a sequence, relate to how we support and nurture ourselves. Our hands and our core muscles need to be strong as do the complementary Gemini and Cancer traits of intellect and sensitivity, self-expression and ability to turn inward. The two postures encourage balancing and blending these energies and building both physical and emotional resilience.
- Downward Dog
Exhale and bring the front foot back to align with the back foot and form Downward Dog. Spread your fingers and press your palms into the mat, they should be shoulder width apart. Now, lift your hips up toward the sky, lengthening your spine. Gently straighten your legs, pressing your heels down into your mat as far as you can go.
- Plank Pose
Inhale and take your shoulders forward directly over your wrists, extending well with your arms to form the Plank Pose. Keep your thighs strong and firm, your feet flexed and your belly drawn in. Your body should look like a plank, at a slight angle from shoulders to feet with hips and abdomen level. Avoid the tendency to move your hips higher than the rest of your body.
- Cobra and Knee-Chest-Chin
Cobra engages the entire spine, raising kundalini energy from root of the spine to crown of the head. Scorpio, the sign that governs the sex organs, and Cancer, sign of the abdomen and chest, are closely linked to this posture. The pubic bone presses to the floor sending energy through the lower chakras while the chest moves upward and forward opening the heart. The abdomen stretches fully as the front of the body raises from the floor. The Cancer and Scorpio parts of our body are awakened.
Cobra is also a Leo posture since the spine fully stretches and engages in back bend while the fourth chakra opens. Leo rules the back and heart.
- Knees-Chest-Chin to Cobra Poses
From Plank, exhale and bend your knees to the floor and then lower your chest and chin to the floor. Keep your chest open and your elbows close to the side of your rib cage.
Inhale and raise your chest to begin Cobra pose. Roll your shoulders back and extend the shoulder blades down while pressing them in toward the chest. Your chest should be lifted and open and your elbows close to the body. Engage the muscles of the legs to firm your thighs. Your legs and feet should be well extended with toes pointed backward and tops of the feet to the floor.
- Extended Child Pose to Downward Dog Pose
In Extended Child posture, the nurturing aspect of Cancer is at work. Bringing yourself to a place of safety and rest, this is a posture similar to a fetal position.
Exhale and tuck in your toes while bending your knees and pushing back to the Extended Child's position with head to the floor, bent knees and arms outstretched in front of the head.
From Child, move directly back into another Downward Dog. Pull the belly up and toward the back of the spine. Raise the hips toward the ceiling.
To complete the Sun Salutation, repeat in reverse the first three postures that began the series, using these instructions as a guide.
- Standing Lunge
Inhale and bring the opposite foot forward in between your hands to the lunge position. On an exhale, bring the back foot forward to join the front foot so that your feet are together. Rest your hands on the floor, shins, or ankles, depending on your comfort level.
- Reverse Swan Dive Transition
Inhale and lift your arms up to the side with palms facing upwards to the sky. Extend the arms above your head and bring to prayer position.
- Mountain Pose
Exhale and return to Mountain Pose to close the Sun Salutation.
Sun Salutation represents just one asana, or series of postures, that happens to integrate all and activate all the body parts, systems, and chakras. However, there are many forms of yoga to explore and practice. If Hatha does not strike a chord for you, you might try a form of hot yoga like Bikram, where the room is heated and a regular series of postures are practiced in each session. In some styles of yoga, poses are sustained, while in others a flow is created and we move from posture to posture more rapidly. Some signs, like the Fire signs, might prefer heat and a strenuous or athletic workout while others might find meditation and restorative poses more well-suited.
Whichever practice you choose, yoga's focus on the breath, on stretching and working the muscles and body systems, and on centering the self applies to all elements and signs of the zodiac. Awareness and attention to each part of the body helps bring us back into balance, cooling fires, heating where motivation might lack, releasing emotion, and grounding us solidly to the Earth.
Excerpted from Llewellyn's 2012 Sun Sign Book. Click here for current-year calendars, almanacs, and datebooks.