logo

The Basic Vinyasa Sun Salutation: Surya Namaskar

The transition from posture to posture is facilitated by either an inhalation or an exhalation. As you move through the sequence, watch your breath closely. Slow your pace or stop and rest entirely if your breathing becomes labored or shuts down altogether. Always breathe through your nose, not your mouth: Nasal breathing filters and warms incoming air and slows your breathing down, thereby lending the sequence a meditative quality and reducing the risk of hyperventilation. Remember, this is only a half-round; you'll need to repeat the sequence, switching left to right and right to left to complete a full round. If you're just starting out, it might help to work on the poses individually before you put them together.

Poses NOTES
1

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Step 1

Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.

Step 2

Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps, without hardening your lower belly. Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches, then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groins, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel.

Step 3

Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.

Step 4

Balance the crown of your head directly over the center of your pelvis, with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, throat soft, and the tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Soften your eyes.

Step 5

Tadasana is usually the starting position for all the standing poses. But it's useful to practice Tadasana as a pose in itself. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing easily.

2

Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)

Step 1

Stand in Tadasana. Turn your arms outward (or laterally) so your palms face away from your torso and thumbs point backward. With an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and up toward the ceiling.

Step 2

If you're tighter in the shoulders, stop when your arms are approximately parallel to each other. But if possible without hunching your shoulders forward, press your palms firmly together by, touching the bases of your palms first, then the palms themselves, and finally the fingers.

Step 3

Extend your elbows fully and reach up through your pinkies so your thumbs turn slightly down toward the crown of your head. Making sure not to compress the back of your neck, tip your head back slightly and gaze at your thumbs.

Step 4

Don't let your lower front ribs protrude forward. Bring your front ribs down (toward your pelvis) and in (toward your spine), and lengthen your tail bone toward the floor. Then lift your rib cage evenly away from your pelvis to stretch the circumference of your belly. Hold for a few breaths.

Step 5

Exhale and, as you sweep your arms out to the sides, tip your torso forward from the hip joints to fold into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).

3

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Step 1

Stand in Tadasana, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend draw the front torso out of the groins and open the space between the pubis and top sternum. As in all the forward bends, the emphasis is on lengthening the front torso as you move more fully into the position.

Step 2

If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn't possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Turn the top thighs slightly inward.

Step 3

With each inhalation in the pose, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates almost imperceptibly with the breath. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

Step 4

Uttanasana can be used as a resting position between the standing poses. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It can also be practiced as a pose in itself.

Step 5

Don't roll the spine to come up. Instead bring your hands back onto your hips and reaffirm the length of the front torso. Then press your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.

4

Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Step 1

From Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), exhale and step your right foot forward between your hands, aligning the right knee over the heel. Then lower your left knee to the floor and, keeping the right knee fixed in place, slide the left back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the left front thigh and groin. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor.

Step 2

Inhale and lift your torso to upright. As you do, sweep your arms out to the sides and up, perpendicular to the floor. Draw the tailbone down toward the floor and lift your pubic bone toward your navel. Lift your chest from the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back torso.

Step 3

Take your head back and look up, being careful not to jam the back of your neck. Reach your pinkies toward the ceiling. Hold for a minute, exhale your torso back to the right thigh and your hands to the floor, and turn your back toes under. With another exhale, lift your left knee off the floor and step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana. Repeat with the left foot forward for the same length of time.

5

Plank Pose

Step 1

Kneel upright, with your knees slightly narrower than hip width apart and your hips, shoulders, and head stacked directly above your knees. With your hands, press down against the back of your pelvis.

Step 2

On an inhalation, tuck your chin toward your sternum and lean your head and shoulders back as far as you can without pushing your hips forward. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and lift the top of your sternum. When your chest is maximally lifted, gradually release your head back.

Step 3

Before you arch all the way back and place your head and hands on the floor, bring your palms together in front of your sternum in Anjali Mudra. Then separate your hands and reach them overhead toward the floor behind you. Bring your hips forward enough to counterbalance the backward movement of the upper torso and head. Keep your thighs as perpendicular to the floor as possible as you drop back. Place your palms on the floor, fingers pointing toward your feet, then lower your crown to the floor as well.

Step 4

Press your palms, lift your head slightly off the floor and raise your hips, opening your front groins as much as possible. Lifting your pelvis as much as possible, lengthen and extend your upper spine and walk your hands to your feet. As you do, lower your forearms to the floor. If possible, grip your ankles (or, if you're very flexible, your calves). Draw your elbows toward each other until they're shoulder width apart, and anchor them firmly on the floor. Extend your neck and place your forehead on the floor.

Step 5

Take a full inhalation to expand your chest. Then, exhaling softly but thoroughly, press your shins and forearms against the floor; as you do, lengthen your tailbone toward the knees and lift your top sternum in the opposite direction.

Step 6

Hold the pose for 30 seconds or longer, further expanding the chest with each inhale, softening the belly with each exhale. Then release your grip, walk your hands away from your feet, and push your torso back to upright with an inhale. Rest in Child's Pose for a few breaths.

6

Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

Step 1

Perform Adho Mukha Svanasana, then Plank Pose. Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and press your tailbone toward your pubis.

Step 2

With an exhalation slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor. There's a tendency in this pose for the lower back to sway toward the floor and the tailbone to poke up toward the ceiling. Throughout your stay in this position, keep the tailbone firmly in place and the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.

Step 3

Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don't let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. Lift the top of the sternum and your head to look forward.

Step 4

Chaturanga Dandasana is one of the positions in the Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Release with an exhalation. Either lay yourself lightly down onto the floor or push strongly back to Adho Mukha Svanasana, lifting through the top thighs and the tailbone.

7

Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Step 1

Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your waist so that your forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.

Step 2

Inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep the thighs firm and slightly turned inward, the arms firm and turned out so the elbow creases face forward.

Step 3

Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel. Narrow the hip points. Firm but don't harden the buttocks.

Step 4

Firm the shoulder blades against the back and puff the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Look straight ahead or tip the head back slightly, but take care not to compress the back of the neck and harden the throat.

Step 5

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is one of the positions in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually, holding it anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor or lift into Adho Mukha Svanasana with an exhalation.

8

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Step 1

Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.

Step 2

Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.

Step 3

Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.

Step 4

Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don't let it hang.

Step 5

Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It's also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Child's Pose.