Through the years I have had the personal pleasure and honor to lead many a Yoga Mala. I have been heavily influenced by my esteemed teacher Shiva Rea in this process. She has been generous in her guidance and I in return want to pay it forward to help others.
There are different ways to lead a Yoga Mala which is 108 Sun Salutations. Here is what has worked best for me but please know there are many approaches to leading a 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 communicating about your Yoga Mala or half Yoga Mala be clear if you are making it accessible to all levels of practioners or not. For instance do not hesitate to include if previous experience is recommended or not. It is important to set the expectation in order to create shared dialogue.
KEY THINGS TO KNOW/COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
How long will a full 108 Sun Salutation Yoga Mala take?
3.5 to 4 hours
How long will a half 54 Sun Salutation Yoga Mala take?
Do I have to do only Sun Salutation A?
No, you could do 7 A’s and 2 B’s in groups of 9. This will total 3 groups of 9 salutes to total 27 in each set.
What is Sun Salutation A?
This is formally known as Surya Namaskar A, from Krisnamacharya's sequence and Ashtanga.
How do I keep everyone safe?
I highly recommend not jumping, have everyone step forward and back. Other kind modifications include: Bent knees in forward folds (there are 216 forward bends in a 108 mala); â€¨2) Modified Plank with knees down; Cobra instead of Upward Facing Dog
How do I count the Sun Salutations and not lose track?
If you are doing 108 Salutations then have ready two bowls to count from. Bowl One with 27 seeds, beads, beans - Bowl Two - Empty. Every time you go into a forward bend put one seed into the empty bowl. This way you will not lose your count. The 27 will equal 4 sets of salutations for the Full Mala. If you are doing a half mala then you will do only 2 sets of 27 salutations.
The other method is if you are doing 7 A Salutations and 2 B Salutations in each mini set then having just 9 seeds, 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 may want to start speeding up. Stay the course with mindful movement and kind economy of effort.
Decide in advance how you want the mats set up and just like for any workshop put some mats down to give nonverbal direction. Also helpful if you have a yogi friend there to offer direction how to set-up as folks 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 begin by taking 2 minutes for everyone to casually introduce themselves to yogis around them. Then we formally begin with a unity meditation or Anusara invocation or chanting of Om’s. You’re already 5 minutes in at this point.
Before we begin I like to show the options for the practice. That it is more important to stay in the intention of 56 or 108 of something than it is to do the physical practice. So I give options to OM 108 times, to count breaths, to recite mantra 108 times as all equal to moving meditation of 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. I ask for questions or clarifications and then we begin.
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.
HALF MALA SETS:
7 Sun Salutation A’s:
2 Sun Salutation B’s:
*Downward Dog is only held a complete breath cycle: inhale/exhale
*Instead of jumping in order to be kind to our wrists and low back we step forward mindfully.
Once the Salutations are completed depending on the amount of time we have I transition the group to seated and do some wrist stretches, easy forward folds and twists. Final wave of practice is lying back where we do gentle supine twists and supine child’s pose to relieve any tension in the low back. Keeping strong core for 54 or 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 or note making folks mindful that if they are sore (most common are 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 And I include some interesting facts about the magic of 108 as below
The Significance of the number 108