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How to Make Sun Salutes Your Own

What are Sun Salutes?

Sun Salutations are, in Sanskrit, Suryanamaskar.

  • Surya = Sun

  • Namaskar = Praise or 'I Bow to You'

Sun Salutations are essentially a form of prayer, devotion, or meditation.

While Yoga as a philosophy and practice may be old, the origin of Sun Salutations - as we know them - is relatively recent. Prostrations of devotion and single poses of this common sequence date back thousands of years, the reinvigoration, and popularization of physical asana in India and the subsequent emergence of asana practice in the West was forever marked by this codification of postures. 

Naturally, this sequence has also evolved as different styles have evolved.

Why We Practice

In 2023 an estimated 34.8 Million people practiced Yoga. With the acculturation of Yoga, especially in Western countries, it is often first as an effort to increase flexibility or improve fitness - appropriating the practice and stripping its deeper meanings rather than appreciating the depth that Yoga has to offer.

However attitudes are changing arguably for the better. In 2016 most Western practitioners noted they wanted to practice for improved flexibility. Now stress relief is a more common answer. This demonstrates that more people are feeling not only the physical benefits of Yoga but also the benefits the practice offers for mental and emotional health. Whether it's naturally the course things with asana being a gateway to more, or if Western culture really is changing to embrace non-Western ideas, it feels promising that more people are open to experiencing Yoga as more than just a stretching routine.

Sun Salutes are, very often, the first "flow" or sequence of poses that a person new to Ashtanga, Power, or other Vinyasa Yoga is introduced to.

Personally, I think they can be some of the most powerful sequences to perform as well - simple to memorize, highly adaptable, and helpful for mind, body, and spirit.

Reframe Your Modifications

As a physical practice Sun Salutations work in our sagittal plane of motion, which is our primary plane. So this includes flexion and extension. This also means it gets some of our biggest joints and muscles involved - from head to toe. Dynamically stretching and strengthening our body while syncing up our breath to regulate the nervous system.

Their are three primary areas of difficulty that I see for those new to Sun Salutes:

  • Upper Body Strength

  • Glute & Core Strength

  • Tight Calves & Hamstrings

Here are some modifications for the above:

  • Soften knees in Down Dog

  • Skip Chaturanga and hold high plank

  • - or - lower all the way down instead of holding halfway

  • Cobra instead of upward dog

  • Widen your feet when standing

  • Take Table Top Instead of Down Dog

  • Do Half Sun As to remove the upper body holds all together

Here are some ways to train for the above.

  • Train for down dog with table top and bird dog variations

  • Build the Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana with high plank, increasing range of motion by lowering all the way to the ground, or trying the pose kneeling

  • Find range of motion needed for downdog with arms overhead standing, and child's pose

  • Focus on using your glutes and try to engage your abs (it will feel counter intuitive but try it) in updog to support your back

  • Turn on your glutes in glute bridge or bridge marches

  • Practice "Good Mornings" or Half Sun As focusing on using your glutes and hamstring as you rise back up

  • Spend time in high plank, forearm plank, and bird dogs to build core strength that will support your chaturanga dandasana

Stick To Your Rhythm

The breath in Sun Salutations can be Ujjayi (here's a tutorial for that) but it can also simply be diaphragmatic breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. The key though is letting the duration of the inhale and exhale to match the time it takes to transition to the next pose.

This gives you a soothing, almost rocking sensation which calms the nervous system. Rhythmic breathing not only helps you create fluid motion which is safer, it also will encourage your to use your core (also safer) and more quickly drop the mind chatter. Simply monitoring our inhales and exhales has profound physiological and mental-emotional benefits.

Faster is not better. If you're having a hard time keeping up in a class, go with your own pace. And if you're having a hard time taking deep enough breath to match the time it takes for you to transition thinking about cutting the transition in half, or just focusing on the breath in Half Sun As so that you can find your own dance.


As a spiritual practice (including secular spiritual practice) Sun Salutations are an opportunity drop into meditation. Much like a mantra can be recited many times to help focus the mind, the asana can be a vehicle for prayer/mantra/intention. The key is devotion to a personal understanding of the Divine. Yoga does not determine for us what that needs to be.

Ready to Practice?

Sun A Tutorial with Modifications

Sun A Playlists - Practice Sun A Everyday for 2 - 6 weeks (or more!)

  • 2 Week Method: Try a Sun A, then repeat it the next day before moving on. Skip Sundays

  • 6 Week Method: Take 1 Sun A from the Playlist everyday for a week before moving on.

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