When our good friend, Yoga Journal, put out the call for its 21-Day Yoga Challenge, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. If you do, too, join us by signing up on Team HuffPost's Social Workout page. Or, you can follow along by tracking our progress through daily updates on Health and Fitness.
Over the past couple of days, the yoga poses from Yoga Journal's 21-Day Yoga Challenge have focused largely on standing poses and, in particular, the sun salutation series, Surya Namaskar. The series is meant to be energizing, with a profound stretch that brings length throughout the body. As each pose ends, we bring our hands back to the center, over our hearts. That's not an accident, according to Richard Rosen at Yoga Journal. He wrote:
The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying "rivers, seas, mountains, fields ... stars and planets ... the sun and moon" (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own "inner sun," which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).
From a fitness standpoint, the sun salutation series helps to stretch and open the spine, chest, hamstrings, calves and hips. It provides strength training (especially Utkatasana, or chair pose, which is basically a modified squat) and ramps up blood circulation as we flow through the poses. Sun salutations have always been my favorite. Because it's a flow series, it can have very different purposes depending on the day. For example, you can move quickly through the series for a pulse-quickening cardio/strength workout. Or you can move slowly, with a greater emphasis on the breath for a moving meditation.
And while the energizing stretch around the core and limbs feels wonderful, there is also something strengthening and solid about the way the feet and hands must quickly root into the ground to support the alignment of hips, spine and shoulders. After a series, I feel strong and somehow more balanced, as if the mirroring poses has added symmetry to my day.