How to Do Sun Salutation A Sequence in Yoga (Surya Namaskara A)

A Sun Salutation sequence is a set of yoga poses that flow almost seamlessly one into the next. Each movement is typically accompanied by a change in breath.

The origin of the Sun Salutation sequence is attributed to Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga style was designed to be practiced early in the morning, facing East and “greeting” the Sun. The Sun Salutation sequence is performed at the start of the practice to awaken the body and prepare it for yoga.

Did You Know…
The Sanskrit name of the sequence, Surya Namaskara, can be translated as greeting or saluting the Sun.

As time went on, other styles of yoga began incorporating Sun Salutations into the lessons, and now there are many forms and variations of this sequence.

In Ashtanga primary series, there are two incarnations of Sun Salutations performed one after the other: Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara B.

Surya Namaskara A is a shorter sequence consisting of 11 poses from start to finish. The first and the last poses are the same, reflecting the solar movement’s cyclical nature. Each pose is synchronized with a breath. Lifting and lengthening asanas are performed on the inhale, while downwards moving and “closed” poses are aligned with the exhales.

Step By Step Instructions for Sun Salutation A

1. Samasthiti or Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Steady breaths while finding the groove

Before you start the sequence, it’s important to get established on your mat. Surya Namaskara A begins in Mountain Pose, with the practitioner’s feet firmly grounded near the front of the yoga mat. Although Samasthiti looks simple, a lot of work is happening below the surface. One must “activate” the body by engaging the muscles in the arches of the feet, thighs, hips, glutes, back, core, and shoulders.

Beginners’ Tip: To ground your feet, try lifting the toes off the ground to experience the muscle engagement in the foot arches. Hold on to that feeling as you lower the toes back down.

2. Upward Salute (Urdva Hastasana)

Inhale

Raise your arms, bringing the palms together at the top. Lift the gaze to the thumbs without dropping the head back. You may add a small curve in the thoracic spine as long as the balance can be maintained.

Beginners’ Tip: Avoid compression in your spine. This is especially common in the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) parts of the spinal column. To protect your lower back, keep the core and glutes engaged at all times. You may keep the gaze forward if looking up hurts your neck or throws you off balance.

3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Exhale

Soften the knees as you fold in half. Bring your belly in contact with your thighs. Allow the upper back to soften and round. Relax your neck. Hands may come in contact with the ground, or you can wrap the arms around the back of the legs.

Beginners’ Tip: Many people think that the main focus in Uttanasana is to stretch the back of the legs. As a result, other aspects of this asana are often neglected, and the hamstrings are overstretched. Instead, try focusing on bringing the belly close to your thighs and bowing your head forward. The knees can be bent as generously as is required. The fold should originate from the hip.

4. Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)

Inhale

To perform half forward bend, lant your fingertips on the mat slightly ahead of you. Keeping the fold at the hip, raise your head and chest, elongating the entire spine forward. The body should resemble the number seven in shape.

Beginners’ Tip: If it is already difficult enough to reach the floor, shift the position of your hands. Plant the palms on your shins, with the base of the palm just under the knee. This will also allow you to push your weight up and forward through straight arms. If you feel pain in your hamstrings, keep a slight bend in the knees.

5. Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

Exhale

From the previous pose, plant the palms firmly on the floor. Step back or hop your feet towards the back of the mat. This transition is tricky, so some practitioners insert Plank Pose between Half Forward Bend and Four-Limbed Staff Pose. Keeping the body stiff and engaged, bend the elbows at 90 degrees, bringing the torso parallel to the ground. Press the elbows towards your ribs, aligning the elbow joint above the wrist.

Beginners’ Tip: Chaturanga Dandasana can take a long time to master, especially if your goal is to practice safely. One way to modify this pose is to add an extra point of contact by lowering the knees to the ground. Alternatively, you can either perform a substitute pose (such as Plank or Knees-Chest-Chin) or come into the prone position after hopping back.

6. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Inhale

From Chaturanga Dandasana, untuck the toes, pressing the tops of the feet into the ground. Pushing the weight through the palms, straighten the arms, and open the heart forward. Pull the shoulders away from the ears. This should create a curve in the spine, so keep the core and glutes engaged to protect your lower back. With the body floating, the only parts of your body touching the floor should be your hands and feet.

Beginners’ Tip: Not engaging the right muscles can lead to injury. It’s best to take it slow. The alternative to Upward-Facing Dog is Cobra Pose. The latter is performed with the thighs, hips, and in some cases, stomach on the floor. Cobra Pose can also be modified if it is too harsh on the spine. Try keeping the elbows bent and tucked into the ribcage, focusing instead on opening the chest and lifting the crown of the head.

7. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Exhale to enter, stay for five breaths

Flip your toes once again to get established on the balls of your feet. Push the hips back and find the iconic “inverted V” shape. Relax your neck, let the head hang freely, and bring the gaze towards your mat’s back and beyond. Stay here for five breaths, taking care to maintain your form.

Beginners’ Tip: In a classic Downward Facing Dog shape, the legs are perfectly straight, and the heels touch the ground. However, not everyone’s body is capable of this shape (at the very least, not straight away). Feel free to soften the knees and/or lift the heels off the floor. Focus on pushing through the palms and lengthening through the spine.

8. Half Lift (Ardha Uttanasana)

Inhale

From Downward Facing Dog, soften the knees and turn the gaze forward. Hop or step towards the front of the mat, taking a breath in and lengthening the spine parallel to the floor.

Beginners’ Tip: You can move forward a bit slower, gradually stepping the feet towards the front. As you lift the torso, you may press your palms into the shins.

9. Standing Foward Bend (Uttanasana)

Exhale

Release the tension in your torso and allow the upper body to spill across the front of your legs. Soften the neck and shoulders, and choose an appropriate hand position (on the floor or wrapped around the legs).

Beginners’ Tip: Don’t forget that you’re allowed to bend your knees!

10. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)

Inhale

From the Standing Forward Bend, shift the weight fully into the soles of your feet. Engage the muscles in your back to lift yourself into the upright position. At the same time, raise your arms in a large circle, connecting the palms together (or facing each other) once you are fully upright. You may look up at your thumbs or add a gentle backbend in the upper spine.

Beginners’ Tip: It can be challenging to rise up with a straight back. As an alternative option, you may keep the spine round and slowly uncoil it, one vertebra at a time. Once you reach the top, raise your arms. Once again, be careful with your neck and lower spine!

11. Samasthiti or Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Exhale

Return your arms to be positioned on either side of your hips. Reestablish the connection with the ground and realign your spine.

Beginners’ Tip: Usually, the sequence is repeated immediately, with the finishing Samasthiti merging into the start of the Sun Salutation sequence. However, you may take a short break before repeating Surya Namaskara A.

In a traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, Sun Salutation A is repeated five times, followed by Sun Salutation B.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Sun Salutation A and B?

However, other types of practice may shorten or increase the number of repetitions depending on the goal that they are trying to achieve.

Common Mistakes

One of the most common errors when practicing Sun Salutation A is disregarding the breaths. The breath plays an important part in this sequence of poses. It is strategically cued to help you enter the pose, and the necessity to keep breathing creates a certain rhythm of the practice.

In the independent Mysore practice, the pace of the Sun Salutation A is determined by the frequency of the practitioner’s breaths, as opposed to the teacher’s cues.

Finally, breathing sustains our body, and it is important to take conscious breaths with every movement.

The other common mistake is rushing the progress. There is nothing wrong with substituting or modifying poses. And even as you master the asanas themselves, don’t rush into the more complex transitions until you feel ready.

For example, jumping from Ardha Uttanasana to Chaturanga Dandasana requires great coordination and good timing, neither of which can be developed overnight.

Safety Precautions

  • While repetition has its benefits, it can also cause injury, especially if a certain body part is already vulnerable.
  • If you have an injury or condition that affects you physically, be sure to speak to your yoga teacher to help you modify your Surya Namaskara A practice.
  • If you are pregnant, make sure your physician clears you for the practice and be ready to significantly modify the sequence to suit your changing body.

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