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Yoga for Beginners

How To Do The Sun Salutations: A Step By Step Guide

August 18, 2022

There are specific foundational postures that every beginner yoga practitioner should seek to learn. The sun salutations are a sequence consisting of some of these fundamental asanas. They are present in Ashtanga, Hatha, or Vinyasa classes, so if you’ve done a few sessions of these yoga styles, you’ve probably already practiced the sun salutations.

If you’re new to yoga, one way to reduce “asana overwhelm” is to focus on a small number of postures before attempting the entire selection. The sun salutations are an excellent place to start. 
In this article, we provide step-by-step instructions on mastering this iconic yoga sequence. However, our PlayPauseYoga course features specific in-depth lessons on sun salutations if you want to perfect these flows.

What are the Sun Salutations?

The sun salutations are a sequence of yoga postures performed dynamically to build heat in the body and increase prana. The poses are performed in a set sequence, each linked to a breath (either an inhale or exhale).

The sun salutations date back to an ancient Indian transition where Hindi practitioners would perform similar movements in a morning ritual to express gratitude to the sun. This is where the name comes from (the Sanskrit name is Surya Namaskar which translates to “salute the sun.” 

In the 21st century western world, sun salutations are practiced with a different purpose than saluting the sun. Nowadays, they form the warm-up part of many styles of yoga practice, including Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hatha. 

You can also practice sun salutations as a short yoga practice. Because the postures are strengthening and energizing, the sun salutations make an ideal quick morning yoga routine

san salutations

Benefits of doing Sun Salutations

Sun salutations have many benefits for the body and mind, which is why you will find them in most dynamic yoga classes. Some of these benefits include:

  • They are energizing – If you wake up groggy or tired, practicing sun salutations will help raise your energy and lift your mood. 
  • They increase the fire element in the body – The fire element is associated with the third chakra, the Solar Plexus. So practicing sun salutations can help cultivate qualities of this chakra like confidence, willpower, and courage.
  • They increase flexibility – They work all major muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and legs. Thus, you will quickly notice an improvement in your flexibility if you do a few rounds each day.
  • They build strength – Sun salutations include strength-building postures that target the upper body and core. 
  • They help you prepare for advanced asanas – Sun salutations are a quick and effective way of warming up the entire body. Therefore, doing sun salutations before attempting more challenging postures will reduce the chance of injury.
  • They can improve your focus – As each posture connects to each breath, the sequence requires you to maintain awareness of what you are doing. Over time, performing sun salutations can become a moving meditation. 

Sun Salutation A

sun salutation A
Sun Salutations A card 11 from PlayPauseBe Deck

In the Ashtanga lineage, there are two versions of sun salutations. The first version, Sun Salutation A is the shortest and most gentle of the two, so it is the best one to start with. The Sun Salutation A sequence features 11 asanas, as shown below.

  1. Start in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Press all corners of the feet firmly down, stand with a straight spine and bring your hands to the heart center.
  2. Inhale to reach your arms overhead into Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana). Palms should come to touch and look up.
  3. Exhale into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana). Bend from the hips with knees slightly bent. Fold your upper body over your legs and release your arms. 
  4. Inhale to straighten your legs, bringing your hands to your shins in Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana). Straighten your spine and look forward.
  5. Exhale to step or jump back to Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana). Bend your elbows, hugging them into your ribs as you lower your body halfway in one straight line.
  6. Inhale to straighten your arms and drop your hips into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Arch your back with your chest and gaze facing forwards. Keep your knees off the ground. 
  7. Exhale to push your hips back to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), rolling over your toes. Press your chest to your thighs, keep your back straight and hold 5 breaths
  8. Inhale to step or jump forward to Half Forward Bend.
  9. Exhale to Standing Forward Fold.
  10. Inhale to rise up to Upward Salute, bringing your arms overhead.
  11. Exhale to Mountain Pose.

For follow-along instructions, check out the PlayPauseBe Sun Salutation A Youtube video.

Sun Salutation B

Sun Salutations B card 12 from PlayPauseBe Deck

Sun Salutation B features 19 poses, making the sequence longer and more strenuous. 

  1. Start in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
  2. Inhale to bend the knees and sink the hips into Chair Pose (Utkatasana). Reach the arms overhead, bringing the upper arms in line with the ears. 
  3. Exhale to Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana).
  4. Inhale to Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana).
  5. Exhale to Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana).
  6. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
  7. Exhale to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). In this variation, do not hold; instead, move straight into the next asana. 
  8. Inhale to step your right foot forwards in between the hands into Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I). Press the back heel down, square the hips and bend the front knee to stack over the ankle. Reach your arms up, upper arms in line with the ears. 
  9. Exhale to Four-Limbed Staff Pose.
  10. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog.
  11. Exhale to Downward Facing Dog.
  12. Inhale to step the left foot forward between the hands for Warrior 1 on the other side. 
  13. Exhale to Four-Limbed Staff Pose.
  14. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog.
  15. Exhale to Downward Facing Dog. This time, hold for 5 breaths
  16. Inhale to step or jump forward to Half Forward Bend.
  17. Exhale to Standing Forward Fold.
  18. Inhale to Chair pose.
  19. Exhale to Mountain pose.

For follow-along instructions, watch the PlayPauseBe Sun Salutation B Youtube video.

Final tips on practicing Sun Salutations

The sun salutations are traditionally taught breath to movement, but feel free to slow the pace down when learning the sequence. Either consciously breath slower or hold each posture for 3 to 5 breaths to avoid fatigue and focus on your alignment. Once you get the hang of it, you can quicken the pace but always keep your breath smooth and natural. 

If you’re a visual or interactive learner, you’ll surely find the PlayPauseBe yoga deck super beneficial. In the deck, you’ll find cards showing the Sun Salutations A and B sequencing order, along with specific cards detailing the alignment for each posture. Line the asana cards up at the top of your mat as an effective way to practice the sun salutations, without getting lost or confused!

The PlayPauseBe Yoga Deck

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Beginner: no or little experience in yoga
Intermediate: a few years of experience in yoga
Teacher: you teach yoga or you are in YTT