The practice of yoga has become one of the most popular forms of movement in the world. It’s estimated that over 20 million people practice yoga in the USA alone.
Yes – that number is correct and probably outdated but it gives you an idea of how many people are down dogging, up dogging, and omming #everydamnday. And like with any popular trend, variations exist. People like to dabble in different experiences, try a little bit of this, and possibly take a taste of that.
This is also true in the yoga community!
A neighborhood might have five yoga studios within a three mile radius but trust me, they’re not all the same. But regardless of the studio and it’s style, one thing will always remain constant in the yoga world – the sun salutation sequence!
The sun salutation sequence can be thought of as the meat or protein in a sandwich. All of the other stuff – bread, veggies, condiments, how it’s prepared – are built off of whatever the meat is.
Are you following me here?
The creative sequencing, yummy yin postures, and balancing moves are all built around the sun salutation sequence. Yes, some classes might not include the entire sequence but all of these postures are usually practiced during a yoga class.
The following photos are a breakdown of this important and common sequence. Pay close attention to the cues and the alignment of my body then adjust yours!
Listen to your body in each posture and discover where adjustments can be made. By tuning into your yoga practice, the postures become clearer, the body more expansive, and an overall ability to create change and growth begins to occur.
If you’re ready for all of that goodness, let’s start saluting the sun.
*Always remember: move with your breath, move with patience, move with purpose, move with control, move with ease, and most importantly – move the way you want to!
1. Tadasana – Mountain Pose
- Begin with both feet together.
- Stand up tall and elongate the body from the toes up through the crown of the head.
- Feel the entire surface of your feet connecting to the ground – all five toes, the ball of the foot, and the heel.
- Activate and engage the legs – knee caps will gently lift as the quadriceps engage.
- Zip up through the midline – bring the belly button towards the spine and gently tuck the tailbone towards the ground.
- Roll the shoulders back and down.
- Keep arms active with energy pulsing through the fingertips.
- Gently tuck the chin towards the chest to help lengthen the back of the neck.
- Softly gaze out in front of you.
Once the body integrates all of the above cues, you’ll notice that the body feels like a mountain – strong, supported, and unwavering. This posture is the foundation of many yoga postures and it should be treated with the utmost respect and attention. Do the work here and you’ll begin to notice the harder poses becoming easier.
2. Urdhva Hastasana – Upward Salute
- Continue to do all of the above alignment cues plus….
- On an inhale breath, bring the palms of the hands to touch overhead.
- Lengthen your body from the toes all the way up through the fingertips. You are one long line of energy here!
- Gaze at your fingertips.
- Stand tall, stand proud, stand firm – you are one beautiful yogi!
3. Uttanasana – Forward Fold
- On an exhale breath, fold forward towards the ground.
- The arms can either come to prayer at the heart, stay lengthened to the front of the mat, or fan out to the sides and then down as you forward fold to the ground.
- On the descent, feel free to take a bend in the knees to soften the pull on the low back and hamstrings.
- If keeping the legs straight, keep them engaged during the entire transition to protect the hamstrings from being overworked.
- Always hinge from the hips – imagine your hips are the middle section of a see saw here – they control the movement.
- Once down, hands can come to wherever is comfortable – the floor, backs of the ankles, or blocks.
- Let the head and neck completely relax and let go.
- Enjoy this mild inversion by swaying from side to side, cupping both elbows with the hands, interlacing hands around the backs of the thighs, or by simply finding stillness.
4. Ardha Uttanasana – Halfway Lift
- On an inhale breath, bring the body into a “halfway lift” position….
- The fingertips will come to the shins or stay connected to the ground.
- Bring your back into a flat position with the idea that an object can rest on your back without falling off.
- The legs can stay straight and engaged or keep a slight bend in the knees. I prefer a slight bend in the knees, it feels amazing.
- Zip up through the middle and keep the low belly up and in.
- Roll the shoulders onto the back and pull the heart through – think baby backbend here.
- Gaze is slightly forward and comfortable for the neck.
5. Plank Pose
- From the halfway lift position, step back to plank pose.
- Spread the fingers wide and use the entire palm of the hand to connect with the ground beneath you.
- The legs are engaged, active, and working together to create one line of energy.
- Zip up through the midsection from the pubic area up to the breastbone as you melt the tailbone down towards the heels.
- Use the hand to ground connection to push the Earth away and create a small cobra hood in the upper back region.
- Gaze gently forward and lengthen the back of the neck.
Plank pose, like mountain pose, is another building block yoga posture that creates a foundation for your practice ahead. Take the time to set up the posture correctly. If looking to strengthen your practice and physical abilities, hold this posture for at least 10 breaths and then work up to a minute or two hold. Both plank pose and tadasana pose are building blocks for headstand, forearm stand, and handstand.
6. Chaturanga Dandasana – Low Plank Pose
- From plank pose, take an inhale breath and slightly roll forward onto the tippy toes.
- On the exhale breath, bend at the elbows and lower down halfway.
- The elbows must stay close into the body and will brush the sides of the ribs as you lower the body down.
- Never let the shoulders dip lower than the elbows as this places extra strain on the shoulders and will eventually lead to injury over time.
- Engage, engage, and then engage some more!
- The body is so strong and very capable but only when working as a team. Continue to remind yourself of this every time a pose becomes difficult or overwhelming.
Low plank pose is a strong posture that requires upper body strength and core strength. If new to the practice of yoga, please bring the knees down and focus on building the strength to do the pose correctly.
This is also a posture where alignment can be hard to feel. I suggest checking yourself out in a mirror as you lower down and watch the angle of the elbows and shoulders. Or ask a friend to observe your body alignment and then give you some pointers.
Remember – safety over injury always!
7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward Facing Dog
- From the above posture, flip one foot at a time so that the toenail sides are facing down.
- Push into the hands and extend the arms straight up as you pull the stomach and heart through.
- Keep the knee caps lifted off the ground by engaging the legs.
- Roll the shoulders onto the back and let the collarbone broaden and expand.
- The neck can gently fall back or stay upright – do whatever feels comfortable.
Upward facing dog is a beautiful heart opener that reverses a lot of our daily sedentary lifestyles. The posture encourages the heart to shine forward which creates a state of openness, vulnerability, and truth. I urge you to feel every movement in this posture and tap into your emotional being here.
If new to the yoga practice, keep the knees on the ground and take cobra pose instead.
8. Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
- From upward facing dog, flip one foot at a time and plant them back into the ground.
- Engage the low belly area and send the hips back and high towards the back of the mat.
- Let the chest melt down towards the thighs.
- Relax the head and neck but keep it aligned with the biceps.
- Push the hands down and forward to create space and length – this will help relax the shoulders away from the ears.
- Imagine the body is a V shape with equal energy from the hands and feet meeting in the middle.
As I’ve said above, this posture is also a building block in the yoga practice. Downward facing dog is practiced across the board in all yoga classes and plays an incredibly integral role for the body. The pose strengthens the hands, wrists, arms, and abdominals while lengthening the back and legs.
When first introduced to yoga, this pose will be difficult and awkward. Take the time to learn this pose – break it down bit by bit, practice it, hold it, breathe into it. In time, downward facing dog will become a resting posture during your practice and provide a foundation for so many poses ahead.
9. Ardha Uttanasana – Halfway Lift
- From downward facing dog, inhale to gaze forward and take a bend in the knees.
- On an exhale breath – walk, step, or hop to the front of the mat.
- On an inhale breath, lift halfway.
- Remember to practice all of the above posture cues for this pose.
10. Uttansana – Forward Fold
- On an exhale breath, fold forward.
- This is a quick transition, there’s no need to take your deepest expression of the pose.
11. Urdhva Hastasana – Upward Salute
- On a big inhale breath, engage the legs and low belly, and lift all the way up with palms touching overhead.
- Gaze at the fingertips.
- Remember to practice all of the above posture cues for this pose.
12. Tadasana – Mountain Pose
- On an exhale breath, release the hands back down by your side.
- You’re back at the starting position – mountain pose – strong, firm, resolute, grounded, and so damn beautiful!
Yogis – that was a lot of posture cues, alignment to-dos, instructions, etc, etc. If you made it this far, thanks for sticking around and saluting the sun with me!
If you’re a seasoned yogi, then hopefully this was a great reminder to pay attention and zone in on your current sun salutation practice. If new to yoga, introduce one posture at a time and genuinely work at the shape you’re making. Don’t ever force a shape onto the body.
Persistent practice and patience will always yield a beautiful asana practice, there’s no need to rush it, ever!
Let’s Talk – What do you love about sun salutations? Which postures are the most challenging? Which postures are the most rewarding? You know the drill – questions, comments, suggestions, and all general love goes below.
Until next time- xoxo.