Yoga Sun Salutation
By Julie Schoen
The Sun Salutation (aka Surya Namaskar) is performed frequently in yoga classes to help heat the body while strengthening the muscles, improving flexibility, and also connecting one’s movements to the breath. Sometimes simply referred to as a “vinyasa”, there are many variations of the sun salutation depending on style of yoga being practiced and personal preference.
In the most traditional form of the Sun Salutation (this comes from the Ashtanga lineage of yoga and is known as Surya Namaskar A) there are nine movements and nine breaths. Each movement is linked to a breath, helping the student focus their attention while moving.
*See Video Below*
Begin – Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Stand tall at the top of your mat with your feet together, heels slightly apart. Press down evenly through all four corners of your feet while lifting the center of the foot up. Engage the quad muscles by gently lifting your kneecaps up. Rotate your upper inner thighs back to help create space in your lower back. Create a neural pelvis by lifting your front hip bones up and slightly taking your tailbone down towards your heels. With a long spine, try to line up your ribcage so it floats just above the pelvis. Relax your shoulders away from ears. Allow your arms to rest by your sides with the palms of your hands facing forward. All four sides of your neck should have equal length. Draw your chin back slightly so your head feels like it is floating directly above your spinal column. Stay in this pose until you are ready to begin.
- Inhale – Urdhva Hastasana In Tadasana (Upward Salute in Mountain Pose). Keeping everything the same from Tadasana, reach your arms up over your head, touching your palms together if possible and bringing your gaze up at the height of your inhalation.
- Exhale – Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold). Pull your navel in towards your spine as you hinge forward from your hips. Keep the legs strong and engaged just as they were in Tadasana. If your hands are able to touch the ground, line your fingers up with your toes and press through the heels of your hands. If you are unable to touch the ground, you can use two blocks under your hands or reach the hands to the backs of your legs and pull in from there. Resist the tendency to place all of your weight in your heels by bringing your awareness into your toes and shifting forward slightly so that your hips stack directly over your ankles.
- Inhale – Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Fold). Come onto your fingertips or place your hands on your shins as you shine your heart forward. Continue to draw the navel in as you work to find as much length in the spine as possible.
- Exhale – Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose). With the core strongly engaged, squeeze the elbows in towards the ribs. Your wrists should be directly under your elbows and your elbows in line with your shoulders. Do your best to keep the body level with the ground, not allowing the hips to sag or elevate towards the sky. Keep your gaze forward as you reach your tailbone down towards your heels.
- Inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). Press into your hands and lift your hips and tops of the thighs off the ground. Roll onto the tops of your feet and press through all ten toenails. Do your best to not allow the heels of your feet to fall out to the sides. Draw the shoulders away from the ears as you move your shoulder blades down your back. Open the throat by bringing your gaze up to the sky.
- Exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). Lift your hips up towards the sky as you come onto the soles of your feet. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart with fingers spreading wide. Press firmly down through the hands as you lift the wrists and forearms away from the ground. Rotate your upper inner arms in and back to create more space in the upper back and neck. Work to get your ears in line with your biceps while gazing either at your feet or your navel. Draw your heart towards your thighs and pull the navel in towards the spine. Engage your thighs by lifting the kneecaps up. Spiral your upper inner thighs back as you reach down through your heels.
- Inhale – Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Fold). Repeat.
- Exhale – Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold). Repeat
- Inhale – Urdhva Hastasana In Tadasana (Upward Salute in Mountain Pose). Repeat
End – Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Repeat
For more instruction and tips for beginners, watch the entire instructional video here: