Whenever anyone asks me where to start yoga from, or to teach them yoga while we’re physically together, I always start with sun salutation a. I do this for a couple of reasons: sun salutation a is a very easy flow and it helps people learn how to link their breath to movement. In addition, it’s a great base for subsequent poses. Once one has mastered sun salutation, more poses can be added to the basic sequence to create a more elaborate flow.
The history of the sun salutation isn’t too clear. Some experts say that the sequence dates to at least 2,500 years old while others insist that it was created in the early 20th century in India. While there are many variations, sun salutation A and B are the two most common variations; they also form the opening sequence of Ashtanga style yoga. Quite a few yoga teachers also use sun salutations as a warm up for students before getting into the deeper stretches and asanas.
The sun salutation a sequence I’m sharing today has 11 “movements” that consist 7 different poses. The last four poses are the same as the first four poses performed backwards. The 7 poses in sun salutation a are: tadasana (mountain pose), urdhva hastasana (upward salute), uttanasana (standing forward bend), ardha uttanasana (standing half forward bend), chaturanga (four-limbed staff pose / yoga push up), urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog) and adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). The breath is a very important part of sun salutations. Each movement and transition is guided by a breath. While practicing, always breath through your nose; breathing through your nose helps with breath control and also filters and warms up the air. I’ll share the flow first and then proper form for each posture at the end.
Sun Salutation A
To start this flow, begin in mountain pose with your hands by your side, take a moment to slow down and control your breath. Try to breath in and out for 4 slow seconds each. On an inhale, lift your arms overhead to upward salute pose, then exhale and lower your arms and upper body into a standing forward fold. On your next inhale, lift your upper body into standing half forward bend and on the same exhale, step back into plank and then yoga pushup. On an inhale, straighten your arms and push into your palms and the top of your feet to arch your torso into upward facing dog. Exhale, lift your hips and step your feet forward to dowanward facing dog. Stay here and take about 5 breaths, on an exhale, walk your feet to your palms. Inhale and lengthen your spine in standing half forward bend, exhale into a forward fold. Inhale and float your arms up and straighten your torso into upward salute. Exhale while lowering your arms down and return to mountain pose. Take a few moments to enjoy the sensations you’ve just created from that movement.
I would suggest that you practice each pose individually first before attempting to link them into a flow. See below for a few tips on proper alignment for each pose.
This pose looks deceptively simply, but there’s a lot going on in this basic standing pose. Stand with your big toes touching, but with your heels slightly apart to get your feet parallel to one another. Activate your legs by lifting your knee caps slightly and pulling your thigh bones backwards. Next, you want to eliminate the natural curve of your spine by drawing your belly in towards your spine and dropping your tail bone. To do this, imagine pushing your pelvis forward slightly, just enough to make sure there’s no curve in your lower back. Ensure that your shoulders stay relaxed and down away from your ears while elongating your neck by reaching the crown of your head upwards. Imagine there’s a rope attached to the top of your head and someone is pulling it upwards.
From mountain pose, reach your hands upwards actively; when you reach up, your shoulders naturally lift towards your ears. Pull them down consciously creating space between your shoulders and ears.
Standing Forward Bend
Lower your torso towards your legs while you exhale, leading with your chest and hinging at your hips. Don’t force your head towards your legs, instead, exhale slowly and let gravity pull your body lower. The more you stretch, the easier it’ll get for you to get your torso lower. Place your palms on the back of your ankles or calves to support you while you lean forward slightly to get your hips right above your ankles and lift your sitting bones upwards. If the stretch in your hamstrings is too much and bordering on painful, ease out of the pose by bending your knees a little bit.
Half Standing Forward Bend
From forward bend, lift your torso till your upper body is parallel to the ground. Elongate your spine by reaching your head forward and keep your gaze straight down. While in this pose there are 3 options for your hands: place them on your thighs, on your shins or fingertips on the ground. Do not place them on your knees.
Yoga Push Up
From standing half forward bend, place your plams on the floor and step back into plank and lower to yoga push up in one breath. While in yoga push up, your upper body should be a few inches from the ground, in line with your upper arms and parallel to the floor. Your upper arms should be at a 90 degree angle with your forearms and hug your elbows in close to your body.
Upward Facing Dog
From yoga push up, press down with your palms to straighten your arms and lift your chest, flip your feet downwards to press strongly into the top of your feet. Your thighs, hips and upper body should all be lifted off the floor. Roll your shoulders backwards and downwards and push your chest out, up and forward, press your tailbone under slightly to help elongate your spine and protect your lower back.
Downward Facing Dog
Tuck your toes under and press into your palms and feet to lift your hips high towards the ceiling. Spread your fingers and press strongly into your hands to elongate your spine. Lift your hips up and back while reaching your heels towards the floor to stretch the backs of your legs. Press your upper body towards your thighs, relax your neck and send your gaze to your thighs. Imagine your body making an inverted V in this position and it’s ok if your heels don’t touch the floor. Walk your feet closer to your hands to modify this pose.
Repeat this sun salutaion 3-5 times when you first begin and then slowly increase your repititions as you get stronger. Remember that the more you practice, the stronger and more open your body gets. Don’t force yourself to move through pain and practice consistently.