One of the core sequences in yoga is the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). It’s wonderful for warming up the body, helping to create and foster the mind-body connection, and helping you control your breath as you flow between the different asanas, or yoga poses. But, full Sun Salutations can be tough if you’re new to yoga and are still building strength. This post will walk you through some of the basics on Sun Salutations for beginners to help you get started on your yoga journey.
What are Sun Salutations?
Sun Salutations are a series of postures that are practiced in many different styles of yoga, originally intended to help the yogi honor the sun. The history of the Sun Salutation goes back millennia, so there are some very slight variations in the sequence that can vary with who’s teaching the sequence, but the basics of the sequence are the same.
Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A):
Mountain Pose (Tadasana) → Forward Fold (Uttanasana) → Halfway Lift → Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana) → Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) → Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) → move to the top of your mat → Halfway Lift → Forward Fold → Mountain Pose
In some styles of yoga, you step one leg back to Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) before stepping the other foot back and coming to plank pose. As you move forward to the top of your mat, you step the opposite leg forward first for a low lunge, then step the back foot up, coming to your Forward Fold.
Sun Salutation B (Surya Namaskar B):
Chair Pose (Utkatasana) → Forward Fold (Uttanasana) → Halfway Lift → Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana) → Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) → Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) → Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), right foot forward → Low Plank → Upward Facing Dog → Downward Facing Dog → Warrior I, left foot forward → Low Plank → Upward Facing Dog → Downward Facing Dog → move to the top of your mat → Halfway Lift → Forward Fold → Chair Pose
If you’re looking to see how this all looks as it all flows together, I’d highly recommend watching Candace’s (of Yoga by Candace fame) Sun Salutation B video.
How can I modify the asanas in Sun Salutations?
As you’re working up to building strength to flow through a full Sun Salutation, it’s best to modify and fully perform modified asanas instead of partially performing unmodified asanas. It’s absolutely possible to injure yourself while practicing yoga, and pushing through full poses your body’s not ready for won’t earn extra credit or help you win the lottery.
In any Forward Fold variation, you can always keep your knees bent as much as you need to, particularly if you have tight hamstrings. In general, if you take a deeper bend in the knees you’ll be able to release the back and the neck a little better, so if your back is feeling tight, consider deepening your bend. If you prefer to have your hands supported in your forward fold, you can bring blocks beneath your hands to make the pose more accessible.
One of the toughest parts of the Sun Salutation is what’s sometimes called the vinyasa, the High Plank to Low Plank to Up Dog to Down Dog sequence. Luckily there are some great ways to modify these poses. Whichever version you choose, make sure to keep proper alignment in the poses to reduce your risk of getting injured. Keep your joints stacked, shoulders over hands and wrists, and so on to avoid injury.
High Plank can be modified by coming to your knees. Try to keep your weight shifting forward slightly and keep your hips in line with your shoulders and knees. Don’t bring your hips up out of alignment so that you’re almost in a hybrid between a tabletop and a plank.
You can stay on your knees for Low Plank. No matter what version of Low Plank you come into, be sure that you’re keeping your elbows hugged in, which reduces your risk of shoulder and elbow injuries. You should feel your upper arms grazing the sides of your ribcage.
Instead of coming into full Upward Facing Dog, you can come into Cobra Pose, keeping your stomach on the mat and just gently lifting your heart and shoulders. For an extra challenge you can try hovering your palms just over your yoga mat, or you can keep your hands on your mat. Be sure to keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine—you can gaze up gently, but don’t crank your head up and put extra stress on your neck.
If full Downward Facing Dog is too much for you, try bringing your hands to blocks or even to a chair in front of you. As you build upper body strength, you’ll be able to work up to full down dog for a breath or two, gradually building the time you can hold the pose for.
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Any questions about Sun Salutations that I didn’t answer?
Let me know in the comments!