How to Do Yoga Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar A)
Sun Salutations are at the heart of vinyasa flow yoga. Although there are any number of creative variations in contemporary yoga classes, the classic sequence comes from the Ashtanga Primary Series. Moving from the front to the back of the mat in conjunction with the rhythm of the breath creates the framework for vinyasa practice. Sun Salutations build the internal heat that facilitates the opening of your body. The focus on breath and movement absorbs your attention, clearing your mind. If you ever get on your mat and you’re not sure what to do, Sun Salutations are the answer.
The sequence begins when you come to stand in Mountain Pose at the front of your mat. Even if you’ve done thousands of Sun Salutations, take this time to align your body and bring your attention to the present moment. To find your body’s most neutral alignment, stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing forward. Bring your hands to Anjali mudra at your sternum if you want to set an intention for your practice.
2. Inhale to Raised Hands Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)
On an inhalation of breath, lift your arms out to the sides and up toward the ceiling. If bringing your palms to touch overhead causes your shoulders to shrug up then it’s better to keep your palms separate. Keep your hands active so that energy flows to the tips of your fingers as your feet ground into the earth,
3. Exhale to a Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
On an exhalation, lower your arms to either side in a wide arc as you hinge at the hips to forward fold over your legs. Shift some of your weight in the balls of your feet to keep your hips over your ankles. Let your hands come to the floor and relax your neck.
4. Inhale to a Flat Back (Ardha Uttanasana)
On an inhalation, come up onto your fingertips or bring your palms to your shins in order to bring your spine flat. Lift your head so that it’s the natural extension of your spine and let your gaze come to the floor about a foot in front of your toes.
What happens next depends on if you are jumping or stepping your feet to the back of your mat. If you are jumping to Chaturanga, do that on your next exhale and join us at step 7.
5.Exhale to a Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
On an exhalation, return to a forward fold. Maybe you can go a little deeper now that you’ve been stretching your hamstrings for a bit. Make sure to let your head hang freely.
6. Inhale to Plank Pose
On an inhalation of breath, step one foot at a time to the back of your mat to come into a Plank position. If the feet don’t land exactly right, make adjustments so that they are equidistant from the Central Line and your shoulders are over your wrists.
7. Exhale to Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Stop! Before you lower to Chaturanga, set yourself up for the safest alignment in that posture. To do this, come forward on your tippy-toes. This has the effect of shifting your shoulders in front of your wrists so that when you lower you can bring the forearms perpendicular to the floor.
On an exhalation, bend your elbows back to lower your chest. Keep the elbows hugging your ribs and stop lowering when your upper arms are parallel to the floor. It’s fine to stop before the upper arms come to a parallel position but do not allow your shoulders to dip below the level of your elbows. If you feel yourself collapsing toward the floor, drop your knees to the mat.
8. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
On an inhalation, move to your heart opener by pressing into your palms to straighten your arms, dropping your hips toward (but not touching) your mat and moving from toes tucked to the tops of your feet. Though rolling over the toes is popular, it often causes your shoulders to move in from your wrists, so try flipping the feet one at a time. Keep a little softness in your elbows so you can roll your shoulders back and hug your shoulder blades onto your back to move your chest through your upper arms in an open position. Let your gaze lift a bit naturally, but don’t throw your head back. Low Cobra (Bhujangasana) is always a great alternative heart opener.
9. Exhale to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
On an exhalation, press into your palms and flip to the balls of your feet (one at a time or simultaneously) to lift your hips up and back, coming into the inverted V shape that is Downward Facing Dog. Keep pressure in your palms as you roll your upper arms externally to broaden your shoulder blades and release your neck. Release your heels toward the floor. You may take several breaths in Downward Facing Dog or move on after a single inhalation if you’re going for a brisker pace.
10. Exhale to a Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
On an exhalation of breath, step or jump your feet to the front of your mat. Land in a forward fold.
11. Inhale to Flat Back (Ardha Uttanasana)
On an inhalation, come to your fingertips or bring your hands to your shins to come to a flat back in your forward fold.
12. Exhale to a Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
On an exhalation, return to a full forward fold.
13. Inhale to Raised Hands Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)
On an inhalation, take your arms out to the sides and up to the ceiling as you return to standing with the arms overhead.
14. Exhale to Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
On an exhalation, release your arms to a neutral position on either side on your body.
Sun Salutations get your body moving and your heart pumping so they make an excellent warm-up for any type of yoga practice. Start with three rounds if you are practising at home. Once you get going, other poses often flow naturally.