Having Trouble Focusing? Start Your Day With the Brain-Boosting Sun Salutation A

Photo: Getty/ Nicola Katie
There's no one "right way" to start your day. Whether it's 20 minutes of meditation, a sweat-inducing workout, or setting intentions by way of journaling, "whatever works for you" is really the best mantra to live by when it comes to morning routines. But if you struggle with choosing just one of these options for how to prep your body and mind for what's ahead, there's good news: Yogis have somehow managed cover all three with a series of 12 moves by way of sun salutation A.

Surya Namaskar, which is sanskrit for "sun salutation," translates to "greeting the sun" and should be practiced in the morning. "Mornings are the best time of day to set intentions," says Kajuan Douglas, yoga instructor and founder of Merge New York. In addition to being beneficial to the mind and soul, though, the series is also great for your body. Think of sun salutation A as the yoga class equivalent of a cardio burst. It will get your heart pumping and your blood flowing, all while stretching and strengthening your muscles at the same time. "The mechanics of the Surya Namaskar A series are designed for stretching the back and shoulders, lengthening the waist, strengthening the arms, lower abs, and pelvic floor," says Douglas.

Think of this series as a way to set rhythm in a vinyasa class—it gets your breath and body moving as one, and sets the stage for what's to come on the mat. Each of the 12 postures are held one breath, with the exception of your resting pose, downward facing dog, where you hang out for a few inhales and exhales to strengthen your arms and stretch your shoulders. It comes from Ashtanga yoga, and though the sequence is fixed, it's not totally set in stone. "There are many variations and modifications to this sequence and others yoga traditions namaskar sequences,' says Douglas. "It's an open salad bar of options and you can pick and choose what works for you." Here, Douglas shares his recommendation for how to cycle through the movements.

Sun salutation A:

1. Mountain pose (Tadasana): Stand with your feet hip-width apart and parallel, with your weight distributed evenly. Think about aligning your hips over your feet, and shoulders over your hips, and keep your arms by your sides. Lift your chest lightly and hold for one breath.
2. Upward hands pose (Urdhva Hastasana): Lift your arms over your head with your fingers toward the sky, thinking about keeping your fingertips, arms, and shoulders in one line. Hold for one breath.
3. Standing forward fold (Uttanasana): Keeping your feet in their shoulder-width position, engage your core and fold forward toward the ground. Hold for one breath.
4. Half lift (Ardha Uttanasana): Inhale and lift your body halfway up, resting your hands on your shins. Hold for one breath.
5. Limb staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana): Place your hands on the ground and hop or step your legs back behind you. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider), and point your elbows back behind you, hugging your shoulder blades to your back and opening your chest. Tuck your toes and lift your head, neck, shoulders, and pelvis off of the floor, engaging your core.
6. Upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana):
From chaturanga, straighten your arms as you inhale and roll to the tops of your feet. Lift your legs away from the ground and keep your shoulders down away from your ears. Hold for one breath.
7. Downward-facing dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana):
Push your hips up and back into downward-facing dog, and hold for one breath. Consider this your resting pose, which will strengthen your arms and stretch your shoulders.
8. Jump to the top of the mat
9. Half lift (Ardha Uttanasana): Hold for one breath.
10. Standing forward fold (Uttanasana): Hold for one breath.
11. Upward hands pose (Urdhva Hastasana): Hold for one breath.
12. Mountain pose (Tadasana): Hold for one breath.

Need some visuals? Follow along with the video below: 

If you want to add another Sun Salutation into your rotation, try this variation, which will light up your entire body in a matter of minutes. Or if you're just getting started in your practice, try this beginner yoga flow.  

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