I have been influenced by a combination of factors including: the energy of the students; the time of year; time of day and the community intention for the Mala. As a student attending my first Yoga Mala, it was the first time I truly felt the interpretation of yoga as a “moving meditation.”
For Students: What is a Yoga Mala?
A Yoga Mala is comprised of 108 Sun Salutations practiced in 9 sets consisting of 12 Sun Salutations A’s. Sun Salutation A is the classical Surya Namaskar series of twelve physical poses linked together with breath.
Sun Salutation A: Tadasana, Uttanasana, Urdhva Mukha Uttanasana, Dandasana, Chaturanga Dandasana, Bhujangasana or Urdva Mukha Svanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Urdhva Mukha Uttanasana, Uttanasana, Tadasana, Samasthiti
For Teachers: How do I lead a Yoga Mala?
There are different ways to lead a Yoga Mala. For instance, the simplest way is to do 9 rounds of 12 Sun Salutation A’s per round. Another option is you could lead 9 sets comprised of nine Sun Salutation A’s and three Sun Salutation B’s per round for a total of 108. Alternatively you could practice 12 rounds of 9 Salutations (7 A’s and 2 B’s). You could also lead a half or a quarter Mala as well.
What are some of the benefits of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation):
:: Promotes healthy digestion and gets rid of constipation and dyspepsia.
:: Strengthens and tonifies abdominal muscles by the alternate stretching and compression of abdominal organs.
:: Ventilates the lungs, and oxygenates the blood.
:: Acts as detoxifying agent: rids body of enormous quantity of carbon dioxide & other toxic gases.
:: Quiets the nervous system and improves memory.
:: Promotes sleep and calms anxiety.
:: Normalizes the activity of the endocrine glands - especially the thyroid gland.
:: Improves muscle flexibility.
:: Helps reduce fat.
:: Improves grace and easeful movement of the body.
:: Keeps your spine flexible.
What is the Structure of the Yoga Mala?
It all starts with intention. What is the Mala dedicated to? An equinox, a charitable event, a way to build community. All reasons are honored.
In promoting your Yoga Mala be clear if you are making it accessible to all levels of practitioners. For instance, do not hesitate to include in your communications if previous experience is recommended or not. It is important to set the expectation in order to create a safe space.
Decide in advance how you want the mats set up and just like for any workshop put some space holder mats down to give nonverbal direction. It is also helpful if you have a couple designated yogi ushers to offer direction on how to set-up as students entire the space. I find it helpful for best flow if lines of energy are organized, whether in a classroom style, river format or circle. In this way no one feels left out of the community. Also, plan on the time it will take to introduce the intention of the Mala.
I like to start by taking 2 minutes for everyone to casually introduce themselves to yogis around them. Then we formally begin with a unity meditation, invocation or chanting of Om’s. You’re already 5 minutes in at this point.
Before we initiate the Mala I talk about the options for the practice explaining it is more important to stay in the intention of 108 of something than it is to do the physical practice. As a result I give options to OM 108 times, to count breaths, to recite mantra 108 times as all equal to the moving meditation of Sun Salutations.
I also demonstrate the physical options of not doing the half vinyasa of Plank, Chatarunga, Updog, Downdog but instead to hold Malasana for those 5 breaths and pick back up when folks step forward again to finish that Salutation. Finally, I ask for questions or clarifications and then we start the Mala.
To start the practice I like to offer a dedication which could be a reading, a poem, at the beginning of every set of salutations based on the larger intention or theme of the event. In regards to organized dedications throughout the Mala you could divide it into 4 sets of 27 and offer guidance for each group of Salutations. Remember the 27 are comprised of mini-sets which are 9 Salutations: 7 Sun Salutation A’s & 2 Sun Salutation B’s.
Round 1—Dedication to letting go of the past. Dedication to yourself as the focus.
Round 2—Dedication to being present. Dedication to your family and friends.
Round 3—Dedication to setting an intention. Dedication to the world. all beings everywhere; recognizing our interconnectedness
Round 4-Dedication to manifesting your intention in the future. Dedication to Spirt and higher consciousness, to source energy.
Once the Salutations are completed and depending on the amount of time we have I transition the group to seated and do some wrist stretches, easy forward folds and twists. The final wave of the practice is lying back where we do gentle supine twists and supine child’s pose to relieve any tension in the low back. Keeping a strong core for 108 salutations is challenging for everyone.
And finally Savasana: I do a brief closing reading before and after but have complete silence during final relaxation. I am also careful to allow enough time for everyone to process their own emotions.
The next day I send a thank you email and post a note on facebook making students mindful that if they are sore (most common places are the hamstrings and low back) to do some gentle yoga. I also offer my time to them if they have felt an energetic shift or just want to talk about their experience.
Key things to know/Commonly asked questions:
How long will a full 108 Sun Salutation Yoga Mala take?
3.5 to 4 hours going at a mindful, moderate pace
How long will a half 54 Sun Salutation Yoga Mala take?
2 hours going at a mindful, moderate pace
Do I have to do only Sun Salutation A?
No, you could do 7 A’s and 2 B’s in groups of 9.
What is Sun Salutation A?
This is formally known as Surya Namaskar A, comprised of 12 postures.
How do I keep everyone safe?
:: Bent knees in forward folds to be easier on your low back (remember there are 216 forward bends in a 108 Mala);
:: Modified Plank with knees down;
:: Cobra instead of Upward Facing Dog
:: Downward Dog is only held a complete breath cycle: inhale/exhale
:: I highly recommend not jumping. Instead of jumping be kind to your wrists and low back and step forward and back.
As a Teacher how do I count the Sun Salutations and not lose track?
If you are doing 108 Salutations then have ready an easy way to count the salutations. For instance, you could have a bowl with 27 beads, beans, rocks and every time you go into a forward bend put one counter out of the bowl to the side. This way you will not lose your count. The 27 will equal 4 sets of salutations for the Full Mala.
The other method is if you are doing 7 A Salutations and 2 B Salutations in each mini set then having just 9 pennies, beads on one side of your teaching mat and simply moving one over to the other side every forward fold works brilliantly.
Should I use music?
There are lots of options, no music, a live band, music that fits the intention of the event. It is whatever you feel will be the most powerful. I like to start in silence and then bring music in, and end in silence for savasana.
How do I teach the Salutations to stay within the time allotted?
Remember this is not so much an alignment driven experience where we are breaking down the poses instead you are guiding the practice and holding the space to lead the rhythm. The pacing is the challenge for you as the teacher: to stay easeful and steady for the group which may want to start speeding up. Stay the course with mindful movement and kind economy of effort.