Sun Salutation Steps
- Pranamasana (Salutation Pose): (It is a variation of Tadasana with namaste hands). Begin the sequence by joining the palms in namaste hands near your chest and have your feet placed together and stand close to the edge of the mat. Close your eyes and take a few breaths pulling in the abdominal muscles and expanding the chest while keeping the back straight. Calm the breathing if it is too fast or too short. This pose helps with calming the breath and relaxing the body.
Beginner tip: If closing the eyes brings giddiness or feels uncomfortable, then keep the eyes open and focus on any one point while continuing breathing.
Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arm Backbend Pose): (It is a variation of Standing Backbend with raised arms and namaste hands). Inhale and stretch both the arms above the head holding the palms in a namaste. Curve the head, chest and shoulders towards the back in the form of an arch. Feel the stretch at the chest, upper abdominal muscles and the middle back. The energy is carried upward through inhalation to the upper part of the body with the back bend. Make sure the feet are firm on the floor and as you take the upper body backwards, breathe deeply and feel the chest expanding.
Beginner tip: If throwing the head back leads to giddiness or breathing gets difficult, then one can just raise the arms up and behind the body without moving the shoulders and the chest beyond their comfort zone. One can also bring two toe distance between the feet to avoid losing balance.Hasta Uttanasana meaning: ‘Uttana’ means intense stretch and ‘hasta’ means hands. Thus with the arms stretched, the shoulder muscles and the neck muscles are opened up giving strength to the arms and chest to go into the deeper postures of Surya Namaskar.
Uttanasana (Hasta Padasana aka Hand to foot Posture): As you exhale bring the entire body from Hasta Uttanasana to Uttanasana (Hasta Padasana) by bending at the hip and stretching forward to reach for the feet with your palms. Exhale completely and place the palms on the mat close to either side of your feet and reach for the knees with your forehead. If this is difficult, one could bend the knees a bit or take the body forward as per the comfort level.
Remember to breathe as this will help in moving the body forward easily. This wonderful stretch brings a great beginning to the opening of the lower back, opening of the calves and the hamstrings. This yoga pose massages the abdominal organs and hence the power of digestion increases, and menstrual disorders or irregularities are relieved. There is fresh blood flow to the brain and the spine. A complete exhalation throws out the toxins in the body. Continue breathing while feeling the spine expand with inhalation and exhalation.
Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose): Inhale, bend the right knee, extend the left leg back and drop the left knee on the ground while continuing to place the palms on the floor close to the right foot. Push the spine downwards, feeling the stretch in the inner right thighs and press the pelvic deep towards the floor raising the chest, head and the shoulders backwards. Gazing towards the sky, exhale completely and begin slow breathing taking the energy upwards to the head. If placing the palms on the floor completely is difficult, bring the tips of the fingers on the floor, but make sure the posture is correct.
Feel the stretch at the lower back, the inner thighs, the shoulders and the chest. This yoga pose also works as a great eye exercise if the gaze is towards the roof or the sky. Pressing of the abdominal muscles and pulling in the abdominal muscles will help in toning and reducing the excess fat around the abdomen and also strengthen the abdominal muscles. As this pose distributes the weight of the body evenly, it gives an overall toning of the body making it look fresh and beautiful.
- Plank Pose (Phalakasana): Inhale and as you lift the body a bit, place the right foot close to the left foot behind you. As you exhale, raise the chest, shoulders and the spine by extending the arms and elbows and continue placing the palms on the floor where they were placed earlier at the second step. This pose will have the entire body balancing on the toes and on the palms bringing all the energy to the shoulders and arms. Looking up, extend the stretch of the neck and the entire body making sure the abdominal muscles are tightened. Build endurance here and hold the pose with smooth breathing while feeling the spine move with every breath. If this pose is difficult, one can go a bit lower with the knees for a half plank pose or bend the forearms to give the shoulders a better support. This posture brings great strength to the chest, shoulders and the arms if the alignment is kept in mind. The abdominal muscles too should be kept in mind while in this pose.
- Ashtanga Namaskara (Salutation with eight limbs): Inhale and as you exhale bring both the knees to the mat and slide the body down bringing only the chest and the chin to the floor with the face straight. Make sure the lower back (buttocks) is raised up and balance the body on the toes and bend elbows. After complete exhalation in this pose, begin the normal breathing and remain focused with the attention to the core. The eight limbs, the toes of both the feet, both the knees, chest, both the palms and the chin are placed on the floor/mat without putting all the body weight on them. The body weight should be evenly distributed and using the back and abdominal muscles strength, this pose can be done smoothly. This yoga pose helps in relieving tensions around the back and spinal nerves. The expansion of the chest and the abdominal area gives room for curing ailments like asthma, constipation and indigestion. It also works to reduce the excess fat at the buttocks when tightened.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): On inhalation, lower the hips while pushing the chest forward and upward with the hands pushing the palms deeper into the mat and bring the spine fully arched and look up taking the head back. Exhale completely in this Cobra Pose and fix the gaze upwards which is also a good eye exercise. The knee and the thighs can remain close to the floor or for a deeper stretch take it a bit above the floor. Taking the focus to the lower back and spine, feel the tensions as you pull the spine forward with every exhalation. If one finds it difficult to hold in this pose, you could bend the elbows a bit, not putting too much weight on the shoulders and the arms. This pose gives dynamic expansion to the organs of the chest and abdomen. The spine here is expanded beautifully removing blockages and thus helping a good flow of energy to all parts of the body from the spine.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana or Parvatasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose): As you exhale, bring the entire body up placing the feet on the floor and the palms on the floor. Raise the entire spine and back taking it deep upwards and bring the chest and the head deep inwards and aim for the mat/ loor with the head. Complete exhalation here and begin the deep breathing by pushing the head deeper inside and the lower back deeper upwards. If placing the feet on the floor completely is difficult one could balance on the toes, but with practice, work on placing the feet firm on the floor. Feel the stretch at the lower back, the entire leg and the arms and take the focus more to the core and tuck-in the tummy. This pose tones the spine, relieves varicose veins and eases the shoulder stiffness. This is also considered a great posture for athletes to give better strength to the hamstrings.
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose): Inhale and raise the body bringing the right foot close to the palms bending the right knee and place the left knee on the floor behind you giving the hip a push downwards. Exhale completely and push the right hip down bending the right knee forward. Take the chest and shoulders up and gaze upwards.
- Uttanasana (Hasta Padasana aka Hand to foot Posture): Inhale and stretching the right leg completely bring the left foot close to the right foot and place the head close to the knees bending the upper body at the hip. This pose will be far easier to do now than at the beginning as the muscles have opened up with the various other yoga poses. Hence one can go deeper by touching the entire chest and the face close to the thighs and the knees. Exhale completely in this pose and watch the breath as the spine expands.
- Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arm Backbend Pose): Inhale deeply, look up first and then extend the arms in front of you keeping the palms in Namaste and raise the head and the upper body upwards taking the stretch backwards with the arms in Namaste and exhale completely in this pose. This stretch should take you deeper backwards as the spine, by now, would have expanded enough. Breathe taking the energy upwards to the throat as this pose works wonders for the thyroid glands. With inhalation, expand the stretch.
- Pranamasana (Salutation Pose): As you exhale, release the stretch and bring the body in Mountain Pose and completely exhaling with the palms in Namaste position close to the chest. Calm your breath and close your eyes. Give the body two breaths to relax and start the sequence again going into the 11 postures with proper breathing and taking the energy at each pose to a different level.
The practice of this sequence could be done in 12 rounds (6 times for each leg) at the beginning of the yoga session as this opens the muscles and brings enough warmth to the body to go further with the other asanas. One must bring the body to relax before starting with the other yoga poses after completing Surya Namaskar. If one wants to do these poses more for cardio, then doing 24 rounds would help in toning the body along with strengthening the cardiac muscles.