SUN SALUTATIONS by Lex Smith
The Sun Salutations play a key role in most yoga classes and sequences. They are primarily used as a flow of specific poses repeated at the beginning of a class as a warmup or seen throughout an entire class with certain poses added or taken away. Below are listed the general sequence of poses in the Surya Namaskar (Sanskrit for Sun Salutations) and breakdown of the alignment of each pose so you can practice on your own!
Sun Salutation A:
Mountain Pose –> Upward Salute —> Forward Fold —> Half Forward Fold —> Plank —> Chatauranga —> Upward Facing Dog or Cobra —> Downward Facing Dog —> Half Forward Fold —> Forward Fold —> Mountain Pose
This is one cycle of a Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A). Please note that sometimes Low Lunge is added after Downward Facing Dog on both the right and left sides. From this sequence we build on to create Surya Namaskar B.
Surya Namaskar B:
Mountain Pose —> Upward Salute —> Chair —> Forward Fold —> Half Forward Fold —> Plank —> Chatauranga —> Upward Facing Dog or Cobra —> Downward Facing Dog —> Warrior 1 (right side usually is done first but not always) —> Plank —> Chatauranga —> Upward Facing Dog or Cobra —> Downward Facing Dog —> Warrior 1 (left side is usually done second but not a requirement) –> Plank —> Chatauranga —> Upward Facing Dog or Cobra —> Downward Facing Dog —> Half Forward Fold —> Forward Fold —> Chair —> Mountain Pose
Important points to remember:
- The sequence of poses, Plank—>Chatauranga—>Upward Facing Dog or Cobra—> Downward Facing Dog is often referred to as a “Vinyasa”. If you hear a teacher say “Vinyasa through” or “Flow through” this is the sequence of poses they are instructing.
- Sometimes you will hear or read about a Sun Salutation C, this is any Surya Namaskar that the instructor adds their own creativity to while still having the class flow through vinyasa.
- YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE! I cannot stress this enough and you will see me write and say it many times. Your practice and your body are your own, they are unique and change from day to day. You are allowed to leave out a pose or modify.
- If you modify a pose it DOES NOT make you any less of a yogi. It actually mean you are listening to your body and building mindfulness. By listening to your body you are actually allowing more strength and expansion in!
- Modifications include but are not limited to:
- Taking knees to the mat in poses such as Chatauranga or Plank
- Doing Cobra or Baby Cobra instead of Upward Facing Dog
- Taking Child’s Pose in of Downdog
The Breath, Ujjiyi Breath
There is an important breathe practice that goes along with the Sun Salutations. The Ujjiyi Breath (pronounced “Eww-Ji-Eeee”) or Fire Breath allows the practitioner to warm up the muscles in an effort to expand and invite in flexibility.
How to Practice:
Come to a comfortable sitting or standing position with a tall spine. Keeping the mouth closed, take an inhalation through the nose and as you exhale (still with the mouth closed) create a slight constriction in the throat as you breath out of the nose. The breath will be audible, you should be able to hear the exhalation and feel it in your throat. Keep practicing with both the inhalation and exhalation by keeping the throat slightly constricted.
Another way to practice this breath is to out the palm of you hand in front of your nose and mouth. As you exhale, with the throat constricted, imagine you are tryin to fog up a mirror (your hand) with your mouth closed.
Some people like to compare this breath to Darth Vader breathing because the audible noise of the inhalation and exhalation sound like our favorite Star Wars villain.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
1.) Come to standing with feet hip-width-distnace apart.
2.) Starting from the bottom, bring awareness to the feet. Attempt to put all your weight equally into the 4 corners of the feet. (The average person tends to distribute weight into only 1 or 2 places on the feet which can lead to achiness or poor posture). Next imagine the inner arches of the feet are lifting upward as the 4 corners of each foot are rooting down into the earth.
3.) Move awareness mindfully up to the calves. Begin to engage the muscles by keeping the legs flexed. Zip the inner thighs inward, and draw the hip points together. This will not look like much movement but you should be feeling a lot of the inside.
4.) Engage the core muscles by drawing the abdominals towards the midline and the rib cage toward inward toward the sternum.
5.) Allow the heart and chest to be open and reaching out and upward.
6.) Let the shoulders roll down the back and let there
7.) Finally, find a drishti, or focal point, by softy gazing down the bridge of the nose.
-Promotes self confidence and self-esteem (by standing with shoulders back and a broad chest we walk powerful in the world)
-Strengthens the entire body
-Promotes healthy breathing which reduces stress and anxiety
To the unknowing eye, Mountain Pose looks like just standing, but to those that practice yoga this is a power pose with a lot going on. The entire body should be working. Take one step at a time and eventually you will begin to feel your posture (as well as your confidence) begin to shift!
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
1.) From Mountain Pose, sweep the arms up overhead either with hands clasped together or palms facing one another.
2.) Reach upward from the midline or heart but watch to see if the lower front ribs are sticking out. If so gently tuck the ribs back into the belly toward the spine.
3.) Reach with elbows and fingertips as you begin to look up at the hands, protecting any constriction in the neck.
-Expands and elongates the spine, chest and belly to promote healthy digestion, posture and breathing.
-Promotes the relief from congestion by allowing space in the neck
-Strengthens the feet and legs
-Expands shoulders and back muscles
-Awakens the mind and reduces fatigue
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
1.)Begin standing with feet hip-width-distance apart. Depending your own body (everyone is different), either bend your knees a little or a lot.
2.) Begin to henge and fold at the hip points and let your torso waterfall over your legs. Bend your knees enough that your belly comes in contact with your thighs.
3.) Ground down into the earth with you feet and legs as you gently raise your hips towards the ceiling.
4.) If it feels like there is pulling in the hamstrings bend the knees even more.
5.) Allow the head and neck to be heavy, with the crown of the head pointing toward the floor. Allow arms to either dangle as dead weight or grab opposite elbows and picture frame your head.
-Releases the low back and eases low back pain
-Great stress reliever!
-Takes tension out of the head and neck.
-Allows expansion in hamstrings, calves, and hips
Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward Fold)
1.) From Forward Fold, with feet hip-width-distance apart, creating a flat back that is parallel to the floor by either keeping fingertips on the ground in front of the feet or walking hands up the shins.
2.) Keep the core engage to support the lower back.
3.) Squeeze the shoulder blades together and point the chest toward the floor.
4.) Protect the knees, do not let them lock. Instead keep a gentle micro-bend in the knees
5.) Let the neck be in line with the spine by letting the gaze come to the floor and the crown of the head pointing forward.
-Stretches and expands the calves, hamstrings, and hips
-Promotes good posture and strong back muscles
-Stimulates the core
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
1.) From a Forward Fold, bring fingertips to the floor outside of the feet. Take a step back with one foot and let the knee and top of the foot rest on your mat or ground.
2.) Let the front knee be bent and in line with the ankle. Begin to press into the earth with both feet and let the legs be active and supporting.
3.) Come up with the torso and allow the heart and chest to be reaching up and forward. The arms can be raised with palms facing one another or in prayer hands at the heart.
4.) Once you feel stable in the pose let the hips sink deeper toward the mat.
5.) Repeat on the other side
-Improves balance and posture
-Allows for opening in the hip flexors
-Strengthens feet, calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings
1.) Begin on hands and knees. Let the shoulders and wrists be in line while allowing the knees to be hip-width-distance apart and in line with the pelvis.
2.) Press strong into the mat with your palms while engaging the muscles of the arms to create an arch in the upper back. Imagine having space between the shoulder blades.
3.) Engage a strong core in the belly and back as you lift your knees off of the mat and direct the heels of the feet back coming onto the toes. Engage the thighs and buttocks for even more support and strengthening.
4.)Your body should look like an even diagonal line. Check to make sure your hips are not drooping to the floor or lifting too high up. This might signal that you need to work on core or shoulder strength. You can always modify this pose with knees down.
-Plank is a powerful strengthening pose, affecting all the core muscles of the abdominals, chest, back, and spine.
-Strengthens muscles of the arms and legs
-Improves endurance and willpower
1.) From a plank position begin to rock forward bringing the chest out beyond the hands. You will come onto your toes more.
2.) Hug you elbows close to the rib cage as you lower down half with your entire body.
3.) Gaze out about six inches in front out of you to help find alignment in the pose. Once you are in the pose your body will be straight and parallel to the ground and elbows will be at about 90 degrees.
Side Note: This pose is what is sometimes referred to as a Yoga Pushup. The elbows are not splayed out like you would see in a normal pushup, they are hugging the side body. This pose uses the Pectorial Minor muscles that many of us are not used to using on a day to day basis (this of course is not true for everyone) so for many people this pose can take time to feel comfortable in. In the meantime practice on your knees!
-Enhances strength in the core muscles for stability, as well as the chest, arms, buttocks, and thighs.
-Prepares the body for more dynamic arm balances and inversions
Cobra Pose (Bujangasana)
1.) Come onto your belly with legs together and the tops of the feet resting on the mat.
2.)Bring the palms to the ground just below the shoulders with elbows facing back.
3.)Root down with the pubic bone and tops of the feet. Firm the buttocks and tops of the thighs as you press the palms into the earth and lift the chest up and forward.
4.)Keep the elbows in by the sides and let the neck be in line with the spine. Gaze down the bridge of the nose.
-Backbends reduce anxiety and depression while waking up the mind and body
-Allows for expansion in the abdominals, lungs, chests and neck while strengthening the spine and improving posture
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
1.)Lie on your belly and bring the palms of your hands next to your shoulders with elbows facing back.
2.)Let the palms of the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders be in one straight line. Push into the earth with the hands and tops of the feet as you lift the whole body off of the mat.
3.)Direct the heart/chest forward as you sink the hips down to create a backbend. Keep the buttocks and tops of the thighs engaged.
4.)If you feel crunching or pinching in the lower back ease gently out of the pose.
-Improves posture by strengthening the spine
-Invites expansion in the belly, abdominals, chest, neck and lungs promoting digestion and breathing
-Backbends reduce fatigue and can energize the body and mind.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
1.)Come into this pose beginning on hands and knees placing wrists in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips.
2.)Lead with the hips as you press them up and back toward the ceiling or sky.
3.)Allow the heels of the feet to work toward the ground but know that they might not go all the way down. As long as you feel the calves and hamstrings come into sensation then you are doing the pose.
4.)Push the mat away with the hands and ground down with the index finger and thumb to take weight out of the wrists.
5.)Imagine that your collarbones are reaching away from one another and imagine your elbow creases are being pulled closer together by an invisible magnet.
6.)Feel into the length of your spine and allow your rib cage to be tucked in.
-This pose gets into all parts of the body, building both strength and flexibility in the wrists, arms including biceps and triceps, shoulders, back, chest, abdominals, hips, buttocks, legs including quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, ankles, and feet
-This pose is known as a resting pose, meaning the practitioner can easily find the breath if they have lost it throughout a practice
-Reduces stress and anxiety
-improves posture by encouraging a long spine
-increases willpower, concentration, focus, and endurance
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) – Surya Namaskar B
1.) Come to a standing position and take a step back with one leg. Allow the back leg to be at about 45 degree angle (give or take depending on what is comfortable for each individual). Ground down into the earth with the outer edge of the back foot and feel the back leg turn on.
2.) Allow the front foot, ankle and knee to be in one straight line with the knee bent and the thigh parallel to the ground. To prevent knee injuries, do not let the front knee come out in front of the ankle, this puts too much pressure on the knee.
3.) Begin to the twist the torso so that it is facing the front leg or the top of your mat. Square off the hips as much as possible to top of your mat without moving the back foot. Don’t worry, the hips will not be completely square, you just want to feel the general direction.
4.) Bring the arms up over head or let them rest in prayer hands at the heart.
5.) Life the heart up and forward and keep both the core and glutes engaged.
-Improves balance and focus
-Encourage opening in the hips
-Builds strength in the feet, calves, and thighs
-Builds strength in core including abdominals, back, and chest
-Promotes detoxification and digestion