If you’re new to your yoga practice, you might have heard your instructor call out a sun salutation and then suddenly gone through a chain of invigorating, revitalizing, and especially challenging postures. It’s completely normal for the whole sequence to feel confusing, especially if you’re a beginner—but rest assured it will get easier and more familiar with dedicated practice.
If you’re a seasoned practitioner, though, your sun salute may already feel like home. But still, you might wonder where this iconic sequence originated from and what exactly it does to your body. Below, we break down your surya namaskar for you!
What is a Sun Salutation?
A sun salutation—or surya namaskar—is a seamless chain of poses or asanas. It builds internal heat and energy in the body, and is typically practiced in synchronization with the breath. It has a meditative quality to it, and promotes focus and concentration across the sequence.
According to Yoga Journal, this sequence is argued to be at least 2,500 years old (or possibly older) and was once practiced as a ritual performed at dawn. The ancient yogis believed that “each of us replicates the world at large,” and that we each embody nature.
The sun, in particular, represents our subtle heart. This is why each sun salutation begins and ends with a hands in prayer against the heart—the heart is the seat of wisdom.
That said, a sun salutation should be performed with love, devotion, adoration, and acknowledgment of our emotions. It is a flow that attunes us to our “inner sun.”
What Makes up a Sun Salutation?
There are different variations of the sun salute. Below is Surya Namaskar A, which you can find in any Vinyasa Flow class.
Stand tall at the top of your mat. Ground down through your feet, engage the quadriceps, and squeeze the inner thighs. Draw the tailbone down and lift the lower belly up. Relax the shoulders away from your ears. Energize your fingertips down, as you lengthen the crown of the head up to the sky. Feel yourself grounded to the earth, yet connected to the sky.
2. Urdhva Hastasana
Still standing in Tadasana, inhale and lift your arms up towards the sky. Keep the ribcage hugging in and the shoulders drawing away from the ears. Spread the fingertips as you lengthen the spine and the arms up.
As you exhale, dive down and fold forward. Bend the knees, as you take both palms down flat on the mat. Shift your weight to the balls of your feet. Keep your spine long and press the belly towards the thighs. Reach the crown of the head down to the floor.
Ground down onto the palms and push with the arms. Inhale, step one leg back followed by the other until you come into your high plank. Reach the heels of the feet back behind you. Squeeze the glutes and the inner thighs. Hug the belly and the ribs in. Continue to push with the arms.
5. Chaturanga Dandasana
Squeeze the inner thighs and the glutes, hug the triceps into your ribs, as you exhale and shift forward and lower all the way down with control. You may modify this by taking your knees down onto the mat.
6. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Inhale, press the palms onto the mat and straighten the arms. Lift your thighs off the mat, reach the heart forward and open up the chest. This backbend is also known as upward facing dog.
7. Adho Mukha Svanasana
From upward facing dog, tuck the toes underneath you. Push down with the hands and engage the arms, as you lift the hips up and exhale to come into downward facing dog.
Press the heels of your feet down to the earth. Push your hamstrings behind you and squeeze the inner thighs. Press the hips up towards the sky. Bring the chest closer to the thighs as you create an inverted V shape with your body. Hug the ribcage in. Broaden across the upper back as you mindfully push with both arms.
From downward facing dog, complete the sequence by looking forward and stepping one foot forward followed by the other. You will find yourself briefly in your uttanasana or forward fold.
Then, press down through the feet and inhale to reach the arms up towards the sky. Exhale and seal your palms together with gratitude. Release your hands back down on either side of your hips. You will find yourself in tadasana once again.