I was watching a group of beginning yoga students struggling with sun salutations. It wasn’t my class. The students looked stressed and perplexed as the teacher told them to do things that clearly were physically impossible for them to do. The teacher kept going, ignoring the obvious fact that no one in the class could keep up.
Some students looked discouraged; some looked scared, some worried. I was worried someone would get hurt. It shouldn’t go that way!
You should know that neither sun salutations, nor any other yoga practice, are inherently easy or difficult, impossible or dangerous. They can be, dependent on context.
Poses exist along a continuum. For any yoga pose, there are stages that anyone can do. The skillful teacher will show students how to achieve more than they thought they could, by breaking down the sequence into graduated steps that build on each other, leading to the finished version of the pose, while allowing whatever version is available to a given student on a given day. In that way, a student who has gone past their ability can be satisfied practicing and perfecting the previous steps, and will not feel left behind.
Anyone can strike their best version of almost any posture once they understand the pose and their relationship to it. For a student to do a pose safely, they need to be shown the correct alignment of the body in the pose, what the pose is meant to do for them, the proper sequence of skills and steps needed to get into it. They need to know what it should look and feel like. Then they can grow.
The student must understand the strengths and limitations of their own body. They must take responsibility for informing the teacher of any injuries or concerns. They must protect themselves from harm, by not attempting more than they know they can do on a given day, just because someone is telling them to. It’s up to the student to carefully learn what’s is available to their body at a given point in time., and push themselves enough to grow but not enough to get hurt.
A good teacher is one who works skillfully with the actual students in front of them. They pay careful attention to conditions and capabilities of their students, modifying poses to make them accessible, while still showing what to aspire to with practice.
Sun salutations can be wonderful practice when done correctly. In my opinion, they are not always great for beginners when they are done so quickly that it’ tough for them to strike the correct pose. All poses require a level of precision that takes time to acquire. In the Iyengar method, sun salutations are not practiced until students can move through the basic postures correctly. With practice and understanding, sun salutations are an invigorating practice.