Learn to Do the Sun Salutation Sequence

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Sun Salutation Basics

Tadasana and Urdhva Hastasana
Ben Goldstein

Sun salutations are a key part of any vinyasa flow style yoga practice. You may not even realize you are doing them, but many teachers use them as a warm-up at the beginning of class or even base whole classes around them. If you learn this sequence, it will really help you out if you ever want to practice at home, since one of the biggest obstacles to doing yoga on your own is figuring out what to do when you first get on your mat. Sun salutations are the obvious answer.

The Breath

The breath is a very important part of this sequence. Movement from one pose to the next is always done in conjunction with either an inhalation or exhalation of the breath. You can control the pace of the sequence by altering the number of breaths in each pose, just make sure to always move to the next pose on the correct breath.

Begin in Mountain Pose

To begin, bring yourself to the front edge of your mat in mountain pose (tadasana) with the hands in anjali mudra at your heart. This is traditionally where you might stop and set an intention for your practice if you choose to.

Inhale. Bring the arms out to the sides and up to the ceiling to join your palms above your head in raised arms pose (urdhva hastasana). Lift your gaze to your thumbs and slide your shoulders away from your ears.

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Uttanasana to Flat Back

Flat Back
Ben Goldstein

Exhale. Release your arms to either side and forward bend over your legs (as if you were doing a swan dive into a swimming pool) to come into a forward bend (uttanasana). Alternatively, you can keep your palm together and pass them in front of your heart as you fold forward.

Place your fingertips in line with your toes. Flatten your palms if possible or tent your fingers. Place your hands on blocks if they don't reach the floor when your legs are straight. You can also bend the knees a little if that makes you more comfortable.

Inhale. Lift your head as you come to a flat back (ardha uttanasana), coming onto your fingertips or placing your hands on your shins, whichever allows you to get your back really flat.

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Plank Pose

Plank Pose
Ben Goldstein

Exhale. Plant your palms and step or jump back to a plank position. In plank, make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your butt is neither sticking up nor drooping down. A straight line from the crown of your head to your heels is what you are going for. Take an inhale here.

As an alternative for more experienced yoga students, you can plant the palms in uttanasana, jump back directly to chaturanga dandasana on an exhalation, and go through your vinyasa from there.

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Knees, Chest, and Chin or Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana
Ben Goldstein

If you are a beginner:

Exhale. Lower to your knees, chest, and chin. Keep your butt high and your elbows hugging your ribs.

If you are more advanced:

Exhale. Shift your shoulders forward a few inches and lower down to four-limbed staff pose (chaturanga dandasana). Bringing the shoulders slightly in front of the wrists before lowering helps you get the alignment right in the final pose. If you are getting tired, lower to your knees since doing chaturanga incorrectly can injure your shoulders over time. 

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Cobra or Upward Facing Dog

Cobra or Upward Facing Dog
Ben Goldstein

If you did knees, chest, and chin in the previous step:

Inhale. Come forward to a low cobra. Anchor your pelvis and the tops of your feet to the floor but try not to press into your hands as you come up into the backbend. 

If you did chaturanga in the previous step:

Inhale. Roll over your toes (if possible) to come into an upward facing dog. Bend your elbows out to the sides at first in order to bring your shoulders down and away from your ears. Then straighten your arms. Make sure your legs are straight and your knees are lifted off the floor.

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Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana
Ben Goldstein

ExhalePush back to downward facing dog. You can come through hands and knees on the way if necessary.

Stay here a few breaths (or more) if you need to take a break. If you are going for a brisk pace, just stay one breath.

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Step or Jump to a Forward Bend

Flat Back
Ben Goldstein

Exhale. Step the right foot next to the right hand and then bring the left foot to join it in standing forward bend (uttansana). You may also choose to jump forward instead. To do this, bend the knees on an exhalation and jump your feet to meet your hands. Try to land with your toes in line with your fingertips.

Inhale up to a flat back and then exhale back to uttanasana.

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Finish the Sun Salutation

Mountain Pose - Tadasana
Ben Goldstein

Inhale. Lift your arms out to the sides and up, reversing the swan dive to return to raised arms pose.

Exhale. Come to stand in mountain pose with your hands in a prayer position at the heart

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