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Salutation to the Earth - A Flow for Getting Grounded



Salutation to the Earth Instructions:


You can follow along with our Salutation to the Earth Video here:



OR, here are the steps:


  •  Begin in Mountain Pose (tadasana) with your hands at your sides.


Cycle 1:

  • Inhale as you interlace your fingers and raise your palms up to the level of your heart, elbows bending out to your sides.

  • Exhale as you turn your palms over and press them downwards to the full extension of your elbows.

  • Inhale as you rotate your interlaced hands overhead, palms reaching towards the sky.

  • Exhale, release your hands as you circle your straight arms out to your sides and then down and through to center to interlace again at the bottom. For the extra challenge, try switching which fingers you are crossing on top with each rotation of the sequence.

  • Repeat 3 times.


Cycle 2:

  • Continuing with the same breathing pattern and arm movements from cycle 1. With your next inhalation lift your heels up off the earth, balancing your weight across the bridges of your feet. Stay up on toes through the sequence until you exhale your hands back down from overhead again. As you release your arms down, slowly bring your heels back down at the same rate as your breath and arm movement so that all actions complete at the same moment. Repeat 3 times.


Cycle 3:

  • Continue with the same breathing pattern, arm movements, and toe balancing from cycle 2. With your next inhalation, flex your knees and hips to lower into a balancing squat, and with the following exhalation, come back up to standing toe balancing. Repeat 3 times. Transition note: with your last exhale, step your right foot back into leg position for Warrior 1 (virabhadrasana 1).


Cycle 4:

  • The next cycle continues with the same arm and breath movements from cycle 1. As you inhale your hands to your heart, straighten your front knee. As you exhale and bring your hands down, bend your front knee deeply and press your hands down to the front of your knee cap. As you inhale your arms up over head, your front knee will straighten and will remain straight as you exhale and circle your hands back down to center. Repeat 3 times. Transition note: with your last exhale, pivot your feet as you turn to the side and bring your feet in line with each other so the toes of both feet are pointing towards the right side long edge of your mat in a standing wide leg position.


Cycle 5:

  • Repeat the breath and arm movements from cycle 1. After inhaling your hands to your heart, hinge at the waist as you press your palms towards the earth into a standing wide leg forward fold. If your hands reach the ground you can bend your elbows out the sides and bring the crown of your head towards your hands. As you inhale your palms up, lead with your hands as you unhinge and bring yourself back up to standing where your next exhalation releases the hands from upright again. Repeat 3 times. Transition note: with your last exhalation, pivot your feet to face forward and step up to the front of your mat. 


Cycle 6:

  • Transition note: With your next inhalation, step your left foot back into Warrior 1. Repeat cycle 4 on the left side, ending with the same transition, pivoting your feet to face left in a standing wide leg position. 


Cycle 7:

  • Repeat cycle 5, ending with the same transition, pivoting and stepping forward to Mountain Pose (tadasana).


Cycle 8:

  • Repeat cycle 1 to close this sequence.



Benefits:


Salutation to the Earth is a gentle vinyasa flow which helps to develop our foundation, stability, and coordination of our body movements with our breath. As suggested by its name, this flow is first and foremost about our ability to ground and connect with the strength of the Earth and our connection to it. A tree is only as strong as its roots, and our posture is only as strong as our physical and energetic connection to this planet. As we explore the required movements- balancing on our toes, moving through squats and lunges- we develop the strength in our feet, ankles, legs and hips which allow us to create a strong foundation for stable movement in our body. It has always been the belief of ancient yogis that our ability to ground and find stability physically, emotionally, and spiritually is tied into our mula dhara (root chakra), drawing the energy of mother Earth up through the arches of our feet much in the same way a tree would draw water and nutrients in through its roots, sending that nourishment up to even the highest leaf on the highest branch of the tree. As we create each inhalation in this vinyasa, we might feel the energetic action of drawing upwards from the earth as we lift our arches, and feel this how fuels the upward movement of our arms and gaze. With each exhalation of the sequence we can visualize the sunlight of our breath intermingling with the nourishment from below as we use these resources to direct the growth of roots downwards through the soles of our feet, energetically anchoring us deeper into the earth. As we learn to initiate movement from our foundation, and as we explore the timing of our breath with our movement, we begin to create a deeper level of synchronicity and interoceptive capacity throughout our body as a whole, setting a strong foundation for more challenging movements.


The benefits don’t stop at foundation in this gentle vinyasa however. As our roots grow and our experience develops, we may start to explore variations within the flow that challenge our coordination and create many desirable effects within the neurology of our brain. One way to do this is through the option offered above for the manner in which we interlace our fingers. Since our right side is controlled by the left side of our brain, and our left side by our right brain, switching our dominant and non-dominant hand position as we move promotes balance between our right and left brain hemispheres, while creating another healthy adaptive challenge for our nervous system.


Another option to create further challenge and brain activation in Salutation to the Earth is through the use of our dhrishti, our focused gaze. Salutation to the Earth is often offered with the use of bhrumadhya dhrishti (the lifting of our gaze up to the point between our eyebrows), and nasagra dhrishti (the lowering of our gaze towards the tip of our nose). Recent studies support the long-used yogic training of dhrishti “to ‘aid powers of concentration’, and prevent one’s attention from being distracted”- in a comprehensive review of the ‘neurophysiological and neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the effects of yoga-based practices’, Schmalzl (2018) describes recent findings which suggest that “gaze directed within the upper visual field [as done in bhrumadhya dhristi] promotes more allocentric referential processing”, relating to our ability to direct our attention towards the needs of others and to develop our community minded perspectives. Comparatively, gaze directed within the lower visual field may promote more egocentric referential processing, cultivating our ability to connect inwards and bring attention to our own individual needs. Since yoga-based practices such as Salutation to the Earth employ both movements of our gaze, this asana sequence together with the described pattern of eye movement “may promote the dynamic integration of allocentric and egocentric reference frames, which may in turn facilitate our ability to monitor our visual environment with less personal bias”.


Additionally, “it is known that the presence of alpha rhythm in occipital/visual brain regions is associated with a state of relaxed wakefulness. While alpha waves typically occur with closed eyes, individuals can be trained to induce alpha waves with eyes open as long as the attention is ‘turned inward’. It is suggested that alpha production in this case is related to a defocus and relaxation of ocular convergence, a technique that is very similar to a yogic eye posture known as ‘bhrumadhya dhrishti’ (Schmalzl, 2018). As such, and as per the instructions of Pattabhi Jois, we might try applying bhrumadhya dhrishti with each inhalation of the sequence, and nasagra dhrishti with each exhalation. When we combine this movement series with the coordination of our breath, our rotating finger dominance, and the movement and focus of our gaze, we’ve taken a simple sequence and turned it into a dynamic healing tool affecting many aspects of our physical, mental, emotional, and social perspectives!



Adjustments & Obstacles:


This flow is generally considered to be a safe and gentle flow for most practitioners who are mobile and free from severe injuries. There are, however, a few considerations we should make as we assess certain conditions and how we might adjust this flow to keep it safe and accessible.


Foot and ankle injuries:  In the event of a foot or ankle injury, elements of this flow may present a risk for joint stability. In the event of any fresh strains, sprains, or tears to the tendons or ligaments of the foot or ankle, this flow should be avoided until the injury has healed. If the injury is mild, or recovering and ready for strengthening, then it would be recommended to adjust a few steps to reduce the risk of re-injuring. Where we would typically lift up onto the bridge of our foot, and travel down through our squat,  we might adjust by keeping our heels down on the earth, and then lowering into chair pose as a substitute for the squat. This option will allow us a more stable platform to ensure proper support for a recovering joint.


Knee Injuries: Depending on the circumstances and severity of the injury, this flow may help or hinder an injured knee. The majority of knee injuries share a common trait of misalignment between the hip, knee, and ankle. If these biomechanical structures are not correctly aligned in relation to each other during weight bearing activity, the result may be a wearing down of certain areas in the joint, with accompanying strain in the surrounding tissues. The goal of yoga (supported by a qualified teacher) is to allow us to become aware of our own misalignments and to correct them, developing a level of balance where we can stabilize our joints into a position which promotes healing. If we are able to mindfully maintain alignment and perform these movements without sharp pain, then this sequence could be highly beneficial in our road to repatterning and recovery. However, if we are unable to find the correct biomechanical position for our lower joints, then we risk creating further pain and damage.


Vertigo:  If suffering from vertigo, any attempt to balance on our toes while bringing our gaze up and down may trigger dizziness. We simply adjust by keeping our head still and our gaze fixed to the front.




 



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