Yoga masterclass: gentle sun salute

The sun salute is one of the most common sequences you may come across in a yoga class. This sequence of postures sees you flow from one pose to the other, using the breath as a focus. It’s normally placed towards the beginning of a class as it helps to warm up the body.

Multiple variations of the sun salute (also known as surya namaskar) have evolved over the years. We’ll go through a gentle variation here. Read the whole sequence before you begin and, once you feel more confident, work on linking the breath to your movement.

This sequence is intended as a guide. If something doesn’t feel right for your body or causes you pain, come out of the pose.

How to do a gentle sun salute

Step 1: Start in mountain pose (tadasana)

Mountain pose (tadasana) is the first step in the sequence. It may look as simple as standing, but this is a great opportunity to engage your muscles, stand tall and bring your attention to your breath.

  1. Stand at the top of your yoga mat. Relax your shoulders, engage your core and gently squeeze your bottom to support your lower back. Arms are down by your sides, palms facing forwards. Spread the toes and ground down through your feet. Inhale.
  2. Exhale and bring your hands into prayer in front of your chest.
  3. Inhale and lift your hands up over your head
  4. Exhale and bring your hands back to your chest, hinging forwards at the hips as you do so to bring yourself into standing forward fold (pose two). Keep your spine long.

Step 2: Exhale to standing forward fold (uttanasana)

Standing forward fold (uttanasana) stretches the length of the back body – you may feel this one in your hamstrings. Start with a generous bend in your knees to help bring your hands down by the side of the toes. As you become more flexible, you may be able to begin to straighten your legs to increase the stretch in the back of your legs, but do this mindfully.

  1. In uttanasana, bring the hands down by the sides of the toes, palms flat on the floor. Rather than rounding through the spine, think belly to thigh, chest to knee and face to shin. Bend the knees as much as you need, reaching the crown of your head towards the mat.
  2. Inhale and bring your hands onto your shins (or thighs if you need them a little higher), taking the gaze forward and the spine long. This is gazing pose (also known as ardha uttanasana).
  3. Exhale back into uttanasana, bringing the hands back down by the sides of the toes.

Step 3: Step back to table top

From your standing forward fold, inhale and step back into table top.

  1. Bring the shoulders in line with the wrists.
  2. Hips in line with the knees.
  3. Keep the spine neutral, engaging the core.

Step 4: Breathe through cat and cow pose

These next two poses are often sequenced together from table top to warm up the spine. Cat pose (marjaryasana), stretches the back and massages the abdominal organs, while cow pose (bitilasana) warms up the spine and gently stretches the abdominal muscles.

  1. Exhale and lower the head down, tucking the chin towards the chest and rounding up through the spine. Gently push the shoulder blades to the sky into cat pose. Keep your knees and shoulders in position.
  2. Inhale and lift the chin and tail-bone towards the sky while dropping your belly towards the floor for cow pose.

Step 5: Lift your hips into downward-facing dog

From cow pose, exhale back to downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana). Downward-facing dog strengthens the arms and shoulders, while stretching the full length of the back body.

  1. From table top, step the feet back as if you were going into a plank position.
  2. Lift your hips and bottom up to the sky.
  3. Bend your knees to begin with to help tilt your tail-bone up to the sky. Then, it it feels okay for your hamstrings to maintain this position with your tail-bone, begin to move towards straightening the legs.
  4. Reach the heels down towards the mat.
  5. Inhale and exhale slowly here three times.

Finish the sequence

  • On your next inhale, look forward to your hands and step or walk the feet back to your standing forward fold. Exhale here.
  • As you inhale, lead with the chin as you lift back up to a standing position, keeping the spine long with a gentle bend in the knees. Sweep the arms back and up as you do so, until they’re over your head when standing.
  • Exhale and bring the hands back down into prayer at your chest, completing the sequence.

Repeat this sequence two or three times initially, adding more repetitions as you feel ready to.

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