How To Do Sun Salutation Yoga Poses (Safely + In Alignment)
Sun Salutation A is one of the most common flows we see in a Vinyasa style yoga class.
Practicing a simple sun salutation sequence is a great to warm up the body, build strength and loosen up the body. The following guide and tips are designed to help you feel confident about your posture alignment and help to keep your body safe throughout this sequence.
Note: The following video is part of this yoga video series which you might like – check it out.
Follow along as I introduce the sun salutation yoga postures step-by-step, in both video and picture/text format (below the video).
Can’t watch the video? Here’s a pictorial on how to do sun salutation A:
1. Mountain sweep
Start with your hands by your sides. Inhale, roll your shoulders up and back and allow your palms to face forward. Draw your belly button to your spine and lightly shift your pelvis forward. Inhale to sweep the arms up overhead, palms will touch. Keep the chest lifted as well as your gaze. Keep belly button engaged to the spine and keep your legs strong.
2. Forward fold
Exhale to hinge at your hips and dive to a forward fold. Keep the knees bent a lot here (remember, we are warming up!) Let your head hang heavy as the neck relaxes down. With a generous bend with your knees, aim to touch your belly to your thighs. This opens up the lower back. With the belly contacting the thighs, maybe lift the hips towards the ceiling to straighten out legs. Only do this while maintaining the contact between belly and thighs.
3. Halfway lift
In this pose we straighten out legs and place our hands on our shins. Often yogis want to keep their hands on the mat, but if the spine is not straight, the pose isn’t accurate. Inhale as you gaze forward and feel the length happening in the spine.
Tip: Yogis often forget to care for their back in many poses, leaving me to correct this verbally, by telling students to focus on lengthening their back and keeping the knees bent. Often, we want to feel more “advanced” by getting our knees locked and heels flat on the ground, but by doing this (if the back is still rounded) the therapy of the pose has been compromised. Always work on the back, let the legs be your last concern.
4. Forward fold
Exhale as you melt back down, again allowing the knees to bend so the belly can rest on the thighs. Plant the hands down to prepare for the next pose.
Step or hop the feet back to the plank pose. Honestly if it is the beginning of class, stepping back would be what I would recommend. Remember, we are warming up. Inhale as you keep the shoulders stacked on top of the wrists, move your hips in line with your body (often a little lower to the ground than you think is straight) and keep your legs strong.
6. Knees-chest-chin (option 1)
This is option one. We exhale as we lower our knees, chest and chin to the ground. Notice that the hips stay high, to keep length in the lower back. This option is great for back pain and can give the arms a break.
6. Chatarunga (option 2)
This is option two. From plank, we exhale and lower the whole body down, but slightly forward. This allows us to keep our elbows stacked on top of our wrists, which is much better for our joints. The legs stay strong as we stay calm and controlled this movement.
7. Cobra (option 1)
Often used in version one but can be used whenever the arms need a break. Inhale to lift the chest and gaze, using back strength to achieved this. No weight in the hands! This is a great pair to use after knees-chest-chin as the one creates flexibility and the other focuses on back strength.
7. Upward-facing dog (option 2)
This is the second option after Chatarunga, where we extend the arms straight, lift the hips and the thighs off the mat and lengthen our chest up. Although you might come across teachers who suggest knees-chest-chin to up dog, I wouldn’t recommend it. That would be too aggressive for some students’ lower back. This is my opinion, but I believe we should create balance in the poses. Chatarunga to up dog is a much better flow, as we are building strength in the arms while still lengthening our back at the end.
Tip: Notice the differences in upward-facing dog and cobra. I often see students doing some sort of combination of both. Choose one and aim to perform it properly to feel the therapeutic benefits of either.
8. Downward-facing dog
As we exhale we lift the hips to the ceiling and bring our chest towards our knees. We hold here for five deep breaths. Remember, start with the back. Do this by bending the knees a lot, so the hips can raise towards the ceiling. This will take the round out of the lower back. Next, draw the forward closer to the mat which will open up the shoulders and create a beautiful line from the arms to the hips. Once the back is nice and long, we can start to straighten the legs and bring our heels down to the ground (as seen in the smaller photo below). Again, this is a final step, and should not be aimed for until the back is straight. If the back begins to round, the pose is compromised. Aim to do it the correct way.
9. Forward fold
Exhale to bend the knees, look towards the hands and step both feet forward into this fold. Again knees are bent and head is relaxed. Try your best to keep the belly to the thighs!
10. Half way lift
Inhale to the lift, hands on the shins as the spine is straight and gaze is forward.
11. Forward fold
Exhale to forward fold with the knees bent.
12. Mountain pose
Inhale to sweep the arms up over head, palms touch, and meet back at the centre of your chest.
Tell me, did you find these step-by-step instructions on how to do sun salutation A (vinyasa style) helpful? I’d love to hear about your experiences, so pop in them in the comments below.
P.S. Who do you know that would benefit from reading or watching this sun salutation for beginners? Be a yogi pal and share this with them now. They’ll thank you for it later!