Everything You Need to Know About Sun Salutations | appencode.com

Everything You Need to Know About Sun Salutations

If TikTok has had any influence, you already have a robust morning routine replete with tongue scrapers, eye-brightening patches, green powders, and skin serums. But if you want to promote low-stress levels all day long, improve your mobility, and quietly improve strength, yoga instructors recommend saluting the sun — better known as sun salutations.

Sun salutations (or Surya Namaskar) is a specific, set sequence of yoga postures that are linked together with breath into a yoga flow, says Rachel Hirsch, yoga instructor and co-founder of Empowered Yoga, a yoga studio in Los Angeles, California. 

But what poses does a sun salutation consist of, exactly? Ahead is your complete guide to incorporating sun salutations into your routine, featuring insight from certified yoga instructors.

The Sequence of Sun Saluatations

This flow served as a moving prayer, through which practitioners gave thanks to the sun, explains Ashley Galvin, a yoga instructor with Alo Moves. “Traditionally yoga is practiced first thing in the morning before breakfast as the sun rises.”

Over time, however, as yoga has become more and more Westernized, this sequence has become divorced from its religious roots. These days, sun salutations are regularly used at the beginning of yoga classes to warm up the body or as the primary section of the class, Galvin explains. 

So, which yoga poses make up the sun salutation sequences, exactly? It varies. There are three different sun salutation sequences — demarcated as A, B, and C — each of which builds off the other. Typically, Sun Salutation A is considered the most basic and beginner-friendly, while Sun Salutation C is considered more advanced. 

Ahead, Chelsea Williams Hofer, RYT, a registered yoga teacher and expert with Hyperice, offers a step-by-step guide for moving through Sun Salutation A. Note, too, that while each of the poses is explained separately below, the poses are designed to be linked together in a flow. 

Sun Salutation A

1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

A. Stand with your feet slightly apart and parallel to each other. 

B. Release your arms down alongside your torso, palms turned out, shoulders relaxed.

2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

A. Inhale and sweep your arms overhead in wide arcs. 

B. Bring your palms together, drop your head back, and gaze up at your thumbs.

3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

A. Exhale and release your arms in front of your body as you hinge at the hips to fold forward. 

B. Release your neck so that your head hangs heavily from your upper spine.

C. Bend your knees if you feel pressure on your lower back and support your hands on blocks if they don’t reach the floor. 

4. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)

A. Inhale and push your fingertips down into the floor (or rest on your shins if your hamstrings are


B. Straighten your elbows, then lift your front torso away from your thighs. 

C. Lengthen the front of your torso as you arch evenly along the entire spine length.

5. Plank Pose

A. Exhale and step your feet back into the top of a push-up.

B. Adjust so that your shoulders are directly over your wrists and your feet are hip-distance apart. 

C. Lower knees to the mat if needed. 

D. Gaze down and slightly forward, keeping the back of your neck long.

E. Inhale and lengthen through your back.

6. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

A. Exhale and hug your elbows tight to your body. Bend your elbows as you slowly lower your entire body toward the ground. 

B. Continue lowering until your elbows make a right angle, then pause. 

C. Gaze down and slightly forward. 

7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) 

A. Inhale as you roll forward over your toes onto the tops of your feet.

B. Press the tops of your toes into the mat, keep your legs strong, and relax your glutes. 

C. Pull your shoulders back and broaden through your collarbones. 

D. Gaze straight ahead or slightly up. 

8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

A. Exhale as you lift your hips up and back so that your body assumes an upside-down V shape. 

B. Press down through your palms, lengthen through your back, and release your heels toward

the mat. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees as much as needed. 

9. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)

A. Inhale and push your fingertips down into the floor (or rest on your shins if your hamstrings are


B. Straighten your elbows, then lift your front torso away from your thighs. 

C. Lengthen the front of your torso as you arch evenly along the entire spine length.

10. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

A. Exhale, release your arms as you hinge into a fold forward. 

B. Release your neck so that your head hangs heavily from your upper spine.

11. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

A. Inhale and sweep your arms overhead in wide arcs. 

B. Bring your palms together, drop your head back, and gaze up at your thumbs.

12. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

A. Release your arms down alongside your torso, palms turned out, shoulders relaxed.

Benefits of Sun Salutations

The benefits of incorporating sun salutations into your routine — whether you’re a self-described yogi or not — are numerous. Below are just a few of the potential mental and physical benefits of sun salutations.

Provides a burst of energy in the morning 

Sun salutations have a history of being used to help people jump-start their day, says Hirsch. “[They] can get the heart pumping and blood flowing, which creates warmth in the body that adequately prepares it for deeper postures, as well as the rest of your day.”

The modern practice called “morning movement” relies on a similar science. Experts claim that a spiking heart rate as soon as you wake up supports hormone levels, relieves stiffness, and starts the day on the right note. 

Improves cardiovascular capacity 

Anytime you take your body from laying down to standing up, your heart rate increases. And guess what? That exact thing happens throughout sun salutations once or twice, depending on the specific sequence. 

Exactly how fast your heart rate gets from doing a sun salutation is going to depend on a variety of factors, such as your current fitness level, the temperature of the room, how hydrated you are, how quickly you are transitioning from pose to pose, and how much time you are spending in resting positions. Regardless, sun salutations will get your heart rate up in such a way that you’re working toward the recommended 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week.  

Increases full body strength 

Sun salutations also can increase strength, says Hirsch. Each of the poses in the salutation builds strength in slightly different portions of the body. While cobra excels at building strength in your chest and shoulders, for example, downward dog excels at strengthening your back-side body.

Improves muscular endurance 

You don’t just build muscular strength doing sun salutations, however. You also build muscular endurance. But how long you hold each pose in the sequence will vary based on the type of yoga you are taking, as well as the instructor who is teaching, says Hirsch. Some flows — for instance, fast-paced vinyasa flows — will involve holding poses for just a breath or two. Meanwhile, slower flows — like those done in hatha yoga — will have you hold the poses for more than 10 breaths. Regardless, you will increase your muscular endurance. 

Increases flexibility

Your connective tissues — in particular, your muscles — become more pliable when they are pumped full of nutrient-dense blood. So, performing the blood-pumping sequence of a sun salutation can also improve flexibility, says Hofer. “It eases stiffness,  increases flexibility, as well as improves range of motion and mobility.”

Promotes better mobility

Mobility is defined as strength within your flexibility. You can actively move your muscles through a range of motion — as opposed to passively — with the help of someone’s hand or your own (which is flexibility). Because you are building strength and flexibility at the same time, notes Hofer, you are also improving your mobility. 

Reduces stress

After you roll out your yoga mat, you have no choice but to turn your brain off to the outside world and instead tune into your body and your current flow, says Hirsch. “When postures are challenging, physically and mentally as they are during sun salutation, it instantly provides mental clarity and alleviates stress.” 

You have to focus to push through something, so your mind is naturally taken off the externally stressful factors and forced to focus on the task at hand, she says. When pushing through an intense sun salutation sequence, you have no option but to focus on that. “The stressors of the outside world seem to fall away and your energy is focused on how to move through the sequence in the present.”

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Improves mind-body connection

Each pose in the salutation is linked together with breath, says Galvin. “When you intentionally sync your movements with your breath the way that sun salutation prescribes, you increase your mind-body connection.” Beyond the yoga mat, this strengthened connection can reduce your risk of injury, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, and more.

Variations and Modifications

Sun salutations aren’t like 300-level university classes. Meaning there are no prerequisites for giving them a whirl.

“The best part of sun salutations — and more broadly yoga in general — is that there is no prerequisite experience, body type, or physical mental status that you have to occupy,” says Hirsch. No matter your current physical abilities or health, you are capable of moving through some variation of a sun salutation, she says. 

Each of the poses in sun salutation can be modified to meet a person where they are on that particular day. For instance, during downward dog, you might scale the movement to a bent-knee variation if your hamstrings are tight or your backside is otherwise out of commission. Meanwhile, if your wrists are the limiting factor, you might scale it to dolphin pose. 

During the chaturanga yoga push-up, you might reduce the intensity of the movement by dropping to your knees. Or, you might increase the muscular demand of the movement by doing two consecutive yoga push-ups.

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Breathing Techniques

While the specific shapes that your body makes during sun salutation matter, so does your breath, especially as you progress through the movement sequence. When you are first getting started with yoga and sun salutations, there is no wrong way to breathe, says Hirsch.

“There is so much to learn that your number one focus should be on moving pain-free,” she says. “As you progress through the sequence, however, you can add layers of detail (like your breathing) that you can and should focus on.” 

Typically, sun salutation is meant to be done breath-to-movement, says Hofer. “The start of an inhale initiates your transition from one pose to the next, followed by a lull in both the breath and body as you come into the pose. Then, the beginning of an exhale acts as a cue for your next transition.”

In practice, this means that the fullness of your lungs sets the pace as you flow. Once you do focus on your breath, you’ll start to reap a whole new set of benefits of sun salutation — including feeling the stress leave your body, Hofer says.

“Intentional, deep breathing is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and, when turned on, decreases stress hormones and leads to feelings of relaxation,” she says.

Practical Tips for Beginners

If you are brand new to yoga, it’s best to start by attending a beginner-friendly local class. The in-person verbal and hands-on instruction can be incredibly useful for yogis who are just learning how to access the shapes with their body, says Hofer. Plus, an instructor gives you instant access to scaling suggestions based on your particular strength, mobility, and health limitations, she says. 

Don’t be shy about letting your instructor know what kind of injuries, aches, or pains you’re currently navigating. If, for example, you have wrist pain, ask your instructor to include wrist-friendly modifications in their instruction. Only do what you can do without pain, says Hirsch. There is plenty of time to advance to higher-level variations of the positions, she says.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake people make during yoga of any kind is going deeper into the poses than their body can currently handle. Again, this can be avoided by leaving your ego at the door and embracing a beginner mindset. Remember that longevity (not perfection!) is your goal.

During your first few months, Hirsch says that your intention is simply to build a foundation of strength and mobility that allows you to continue layering new elements of intensity and focus on top of it. 

It’s exactly as Maren Morris puts it in The Bones: When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter. Well, baby yogis, it’s time to build some good bones that you can build on for years and years to come.

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