Yoga Pose of the Week: Sun Salutations

A weekly series to guide you through new yoga poses, and teach you something about ones you might already know. 

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) means to “bow to the sun”–to welcome the day and offer a part of your practice as gratitude for the warming energy of the sun. This sequence of eight postures can be used to begin an asana practice, transition between larger poses, or stand alone as its own movement. There are many modifications and variations to this traditional sequence. The practice outlined below serves as just one way to honor yourself and the sun with greater awareness.

As you follow these steps, be sure to honor your body and move with your breath–so that the movement becomes a devotional dance with your breath as your guide.

1. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Root down through the center of your heels and into each pinky toe and big toe mound evenly. Energize your legs, aligning your knees over your ankles and your hips over your knees. Tuck your tailbone slightly and begin to lift your chest fully. Keep your lower ribs drawing in as your shoulders soften down and back away from your ears. Now, lengthen the back of your neck as if you are holding an egg beneath your chin. Let your palms rest open by your sides, an invitation for practice.

2. Inhale to raise your arms out to the side and above your head. In Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), gaze towards your fingertips and greet the sun.

3. Keep your spine long as you hinge from your hips, exhaling to fold over your legs and into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Release and bow to the earth.

4. Inhale for Ardha Uttanasana (Halfway Lift). Lengthen your spine by lifting your gaze and lifting your hands to your shins or out in front of you. Exhale, bring your left foot back into a lunge and inhale as your lift your heart and your arms to the sky.

5. Next, step your right foot back to meet your left and exhale into Plank Pose. Your palms should be shoulder-width apart. Press into your knuckles and your fingertips to release strain on your wrists. Hug your low belly in and extend out through your heels. On your inhale, allow your shoulders to move forward slightly, keeping the heels strong and the back supported.

6. Exhale to lower yourself into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Keep your elbows close to your ribs, pointing to the sky and lead with your heart as you lower. Modification: If the elbows do not hug toward the ribs and the low back feels strained, drop your knees to the earth and lower from here.

7. Inhale, press into your palms, straighten your arms, engage your legs, and lift your heart into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). Let your shoulders draw away from your ears and keep the back of your neck long here. Modification: Choose Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) instead, a smaller back bend that keeps you safely aligned. Keep the belly on the floor and activate through your legs to draw your shoulder blades back and peel our heart forward.

8. Exhale, keep your belly strong to support your lower back, roll onto the balls of your feet, release your head between your shoulders and settle into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).

9. Inhale to step your left foot forward into a Lunge. Exhale to bring your right foot forward to meet your left. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).

10. Root down into the earth and inhale to lift your arms up toward the sky. Let your heart be open and your gaze lifted. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute).

11. Exhale to release your arms by your sides for Tadasana (Mountain Pose). A sweet option here is to hold your hands at the heart center for Samasthiti (Equal Standing). This becomes a reminder to draw inward and move from your heart.

This concludes one half round of a sun salutation. To complete the round you need to perform the same sequence, leading with the opposite foot. This time, your right foot would step back first before plank pose, and would also step to the front first (before your second standing forward bend). Surya Namaskar is a devotional practice. It is an opportunity to move gracefully and bow to the sun. As you become more comfortable with the shapes you can add variations to personalize your salutation for the feeling inside any given moment.

Traditionally, this sequence is practiced outside, early in the morning, facing east. If your life and current routine allows for that, wonderful. And if not, move through this series anytime you feel like you need a sweet, stretching, devotional dance to refocus, gaze inward and offer some love to the sun.

Emily Buchholtz is a yoga instructor in Portland, OR. She believes everyone can benefit from a little more yoga.