What is a Sun Salutation?

Mattie downdog

You may have been in a class and heard the instructor say something like, “That was our Sun A,” “That was our Sun B”, or “We’ll move into our sun salutation.” And maybe you found yourself thinking…what?

A sun salutation is a series of poses in a set order to create a flow. The sun salutation is typically one of the first set of standing poses in a sequence to help get the body moving, start to warm up, and to become more aware of and coordinated with our breath. There are some slight variations to the sun salutation, but most often it consists of the below poses.

Sun Salutation Poses

Mountain pose- standing tall on your mat with a strong foundation, core engaged, shoulders relaxed. Hands can be at prayer at heart center or extended to the sky with fingers spread wide and pinky fingers rotated toward each other.

Standing Forward Fold– from mountain pose, inhale to bring your hands to prayer at heart center or open them wide to swan dive and exhale as you fold forward bending from the hips.

Halfway Lift- inhale as you trace your palms up to the shins or thighs as you lift so your back is in a flat line

Standing Forward Fold– exhale back down hinging forward from your hips.

High Plank Pose– plant your hands in front of your feet in your forward fold then step your feet to the back of the mat. Hands are under shoulders, feet are hip-width distance apart.

Low Plank– from your high plank pose, you can take a variation of Chaturanga. This means lowering your body down to the floor. From high plank, start to shift your weight forward so your shoulders are slightly forward of your wrists. Keep your elbows tucked into your side body as you lower down. Keeping your knees lifted off the mat as you lower down to a low plank is full Chaturanga, but you can always lower your knees down to the mat as you lower your upper body down for half Chaturanga. Another great option is lowering all the way down to the belly rather than low plank. If you lower to the belly with knees down, you may hear the instructor cue “lower knees, chest, chin.” Exhale as you lower down.

Upward Facing Dog or Baby Cobra– from your low plank or from your belly, as you inhale, lift your chest forward. For upward facing dog, your thighs and belly are lifted off the floor, toenail side of the foot is pressed into the mat and your shoulders are drawn back, elbows tucked in. In baby cobra, your belly is on the mat, and the rest of the alignment is the same as upward facing dog- toenails pressed down, shoulders drawn back as you lift your chest and your elbows are pointing back behind you as they are tucked to the side body. You may hover your palms off the mat to engage more through the lower back.

Downward Facing Dog- you have the option to come back through table top pose (knees and palms on the mat) or straight from your upward facing dog or baby cobra to your downward facing dog by tucking your toes and sending your hips high and back. Ground down into your hands by spreading all fingers really wide and lengthening your spine. Your heels do not have to touch the mat, but still press into the heels and the outer edges of the feet.

To repeat the sun salutation, from downward facing dog, inhale as you take your gaze up to your palms, and then on your exhale, make your way to the top of your mat in standing forward fold. You can inhale halfway lift, exhale fold, then inhale rise back to mountain pose and repeat the sequence.

Each sequence may vary, but typically we flow through 2-3 rounds of Sun Salutation to give our bodies a chance to warm up so we are prepared for the next set of poses.

So then what is a Sun B?

A sun salutation B is the next round of poses following Sun A.  Sun B includes poses from Sun Salutation A but typically includes a warrior pose. This can be the same set of poses as above, but from downward facing dog, we lift one leg high for three-legged dog. Next, we step that foot up to meet our hands for low lunge. Now we are ready to plant the opposite foot as we set up for a warrior 1 or warrior 2 pose. Whatever the poses are that are included in the Sun Salutation B for a given class, we repeat it on the other side so the body is even. We also typically repeat the Sun B at least once to give our bodies a chance to feel into the pose. In our vinyasa classes, we often speed up the second round of Sun B, flowing one breath to one movement.

The Sun Salutations are a great way to both strengthen and lengthen the body while connecting our bodies to our breath. They’re important to ensure our bodies are warm and stretched and prepared for any other poses we’ll do after.  You’ll most likely notice yourself doing Sun Salutations is almost all of the classes at Oak as it is such an important foundation to our yoga practice. Sun Salutations are also a great thing to practice at home!