Jump Forward in Sun Salutations: What's the Technique?
In our last sun salutation article we left off in downward facing dog. Now we need to jump forward. With the exception of the jumping (assuming you practice a style of asana that actually jumps), returning to tadasana or samastitihi is rather straightforward. It’s the reverse of what I have already written about in the fifth article of the Sun Salutation Series. But, also take a look at the first, second, and third sun salutation articles to see how we got there.
For those of you who do jump, let’s continue to break this down.
There are a few key components that are important to focus on. Sure, you could argue that you do the reverse of what I discussed in the jump back article. There is one very important difference. When you jump back to either high-plank or chaturanga, you have gravity on your side. When you’re jumping forward, gravity is working against you.
The key components that we are going to look at are all about working on jumping forward.
- How to resist gravity through the entire arm
- Working with your center of gravity (the physical part of bandhas)
- How your hamstrings work against you when you jump forward
Resisting Gravity With Your Arms
What’s the Feeling?
The feeling of jumping can be scary for many practitioners. The fear that I hear most commonly surrounds the feeling of jumping so far forward that their shoulder may “give out” or that they feel like they are going to “fall on their face”. Both are scary propositions.
It’s for this reason that I started the conversation about serratus anterior back in Sun Salutations, Part 4. Let’s stay with the feeling and the most common instruction I give to students at this point. The feeling that you’re after is that you’re pushing the earth away from you the entire time you’re jumping through the air, that is, until your feet land on the floor.
The other part of this is establishing a pattern that gets your hips in the air so that they are supported by those arms that are pushing the earth away. This pattern began back in Sun Salutations, Part 4 where we were leaning our body weight into our hands and resisting from our armpits. The work should happen at that stage of sun salutations for a while, so that you are establishing the right neuromuscular patterns while gravity is on your side and the proposition of falling on your face is less…in your face. You may also want to read/watch Bakasana to Handstand Which Muscles Do I Use? or So, You Want To Do A Handstand.
The Jump Forward Itself
What most people do is think about jumping forward instead of jumping up and forward. When the center of gravity stays low, the momentum takes the body forward, but down too quickly. The amount of time that you’re actually fighting gravity is limited in this case. You also never get a chance to get the center of gravity in a position that is supported by the arms.
If a student needs to work on this, I often sit next to their mat, stick my leg out so it’s about a foot and a half behind their hands while they are in down dog. They often look at me like, “Are you serious?” I am, and I’ve never had anyone land on my leg when they try to jump over my leg. It’s a very simple way to point out the direction of the jump. When faced with the potential of landing on the teacher’s leg, the student will almost always make sure they are jumping up as well as forward! Of course, if you’re trying this out by yourself, you could use a rolled up yoga mat or even a block and avoid the potential of landing on, or having someone land on, your leg.
If you want to up the game a little more, you could even put the yoga mat or block where the feet are going to land. Then see if you or your student can land on top of it. That will also give you a feeling for the direction that your center of gravity needs to be heading when you jump up through the air.
Working With Your Center of Gravity
I have written numerous articles on all things related to the psoas, center of gravity, core and the like. What’s most important at this point is learning to work with your center of gravity. People will experience this in different ways. People will also have different ways of visualizing, intending, and working with their center of gravity. You should definitely check out the psoas resource page, if you need more information on this topic.
For our purposes in this article, I just want you to intend that your movement is coming from, is controlled by, and is dependent on your center of gravity. In other words, put all of your attention and awareness on your center of gravity, which is located a few fingers above your pubic bone and in front of your sacrum. This attention will recruit all the tissues you need quite naturally, even if it does take some time to learn. Of course, there will be times to focus on more specific areas, but generally, for jumping forward you want to find the experience of moving your center of gravity through space in a direction which is both up and forward. It is at that point that the resistance from the serratus anterior, and the armpits more generally, needs to kick in and support the center of gravity as it goes up and forward.
There is another part of the jump forward that you should keep in mind in order to get the feet close to the hands. I know it well. Even with the amount of time I’ve been practicing, my hamstrings seem to have hit the edge of how much they are going to open or lengthen.
When we jump forward and have our center of gravity going up and forward with our armpits pushing our hands into the floor, at some point our legs are going to have to swing forward a little to get those feet to land close to the hands. Because the feet are not on the ground already, it is hard to get leverage to pull in the legs, which is what we would describe as flexion of the hip joint.
The only thing that we have is the strength of the quadriceps and other hip flexors versus the flexibility of the hamstrings. Remember, the hamstrings are hip extenders as well as knee flexors (benders). If the hamstrings remain tight, as in my case even after so many years of practice, what happens when I jump forward is, it is extremely difficult to keep my knees straight. I don’t see this as a rule as much as I see it as an ideal. As a result, my knees bend when I jump forward in order to accommodate the tension remaining in my hamstrings.
It is possible that my hip flexors are not strong enough, or in particular, my quadriceps are not strong enough, to both keep my knees straight while also flexing the hip joint. For me, the sign that this has to do with the hamstrings is that, as my knees bend, they also want to point outward slightly. What this shows me is that my body is turning the legs out externally to, in a sense, avoid the tension of the hamstrings.
By rotating the legs in this way I am decreasing the line of tension in my hamstrings. That line is increased as my legs straighten. It’s not so dissimilar to why students often let their knees fall out in postures such as urdhva dhanurasana or back bending. With the knees falling out, the line of tension of the hip flexors is reduced. It’s the same idea here, just the opposite side of the legs and the opposite direction of movement.
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David summarizes research which suggests that the leg muscles which stabilize the ankle are important in maintaining standing balance poses.