Let’s talk about sun salutations. Those wonderful flows that we all love (or perhaps we have yet to learn to love them). There’s just something about getting lost in a good sun salutation flow.
And yet, when you are taking your first steps in the yoga community, sun salutations can be quite challenging to grasp.
This can be especially true if you have a fast-paced yoga teacher, where it all seems to be “inhale”, “exhale”, “one leg there and the other leg in a different position”- and what are you supposed to do with your arms?
Don’t even get me started on differentiating between left and right as we’re linking breath and motion and keeping alignment in mind, all the while.
So, here we go. I’m here to provide you with a simplified guide to the classical sun salutations.
But first… a few notes:
The most important thing to remember is the connection between breath and movement. That is the reason it is all one breath, one motion (and therefore, a little difficult to follow from the beginning).
There are different sun salutations. The classical sun salutations are what you would perhaps do in a slow flow class, or for beginners, or if you were going to attempt 108 of these bad boys! This is what we’ll be covering today. However, there is no rule really, and you can always do these in a more fast-paced manner, as well. Other sun salutations are sun salutation A, and sun salutation B, that are taught in traditional Ashtanga classes (and I have seen the classical sun salutations termed sun salutation C).
This is the way that I, personally, teach the classical sun salutations. You will probably see different versions and different styles, as you explore different yoga classes and yoga styles. That’s why many people will call a sun salutation a “variation”.
Start at the top of your mat
Inhale and reach your arms up (maybe looking up to your fingers for a tiny back bend), coming into mountain pose.
Exhale and fold forward
Bend your knees accordingly, especially depending on your flexibility.
Inhale and step your left leg to the back of your mat
Drop your left knee to the ground. Place your fingertips on either side of your right leg, opening through the chest and looking forward. Note that the back heel stays lifted.
Exhale to downward facing dog
As you exhale, you ground your palms, tuck your left toe under and push yourself back to downward facing dog, grounding through the palms and heels.
Inhale to plank, exhale through knees, chest and chin (or chaturanga)
Next, you bring your knees, chest and chin down to the mat. I highly encourage you to do it this way, although you can do chaturanga here, as well. Knees, chest and chin is especially useful if you use these sun salutations to warm up, or in the morning.
During knees, chest and chin: Important cues include keeping your backside in the air, and elbows close to your body. Even if this modified pose, it is still working your upper body, and you will gain strength over time.
Inhale, roll your shoulders back and open your chest to cobra pose
Can you see that my elbows are bent, below? That part is important.
When you do cobra pose, you want your elbows bent, pelvis to remain on the ground, and most of the lifting should come from your back muscles (not your hands) as this is considered to be a spine strengthening pose.
Note: Upward facing dog, with your arms straight and hips lifted- placing weight only in your palms and tops of your feet- is an entirely different pose.
Tuck your toes and exhale your way back to downward facing dog
Inhale and step your left leg between your hands
Drop the right knee, place your fingertips on either side of your leg and open your chest.
A word on left and right: What was very confusing to me when I started yoga, was the use of left and right in these sun salutations. I would be stepping the right leg back, and then the left leg forward, and it never really made sense. Until I realized that it was actually ridiculously simple. You are always using the same side.
That means that after you fold down, you step your left leg back. And again, from down dog, you step your left leg between your hands (magically though, you are doing both sides!).
So, all you have to do is to do one round of sun salutations with the left leg, and then one round with the right leg!
As you exhale, step your right leg up next to the left and fold forward
Inhale and rise to extended mountain pose
Exhale and place your hands together at hearts center
And from here, you can either start the next sun salutation (on the right side this time) on your next inhale, or take one breath in between rounds.
Why should I do sun salutations?
I feel that for a super short yoga session, they give you (almost) everything you need. In fact, it’s been said that if you can do no other yoga in your day, that five sun salutations is the best practice to offer yourself for comprehensive benefits.
Start your day with three rounds of sun salutations on each side and see how it feels.
You could also try to do the sun salutations with your eyes closed, and see how it feels. This may challenge you more, or let you be more cognizant of your breath and surroundings.
And finally, I highly recommend trying…. at least once… to do 108 sun salutations! This is typically practiced, all over the world, on the seasonal equinoxes.
I hope that you have a clearer picture of the classical sun salutations by now.
And please, if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, drop me a comment 🙂