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How to do a Basic Sun Salutation

Updated on November 12, 2013

Do you struggle to find time for exercise? This gentle routine known as “The Sun Salutation” is a flowing series of twelve poses that can be done anytime and anyplace. It is traditionally performed facing east with the idea of honoring the rising sun and its glorious, life-giving energy.

Many slightly different variations of this routine exist. But you will find that all forms perfectly contain the essentials of great yoga. Rhythmic and meditative, this sequence will leave you feeling revitalized both physically and spiritually.

Benefits include:

  • Inner balance
  • Stress relief
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased blood flow and respiratory function
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Weight loss


The most important aspect of any yoga practice is linking the movement with the breath. All breathing should be done through the nose only. Concentrate on long, deep and controlled breaths. This not only helps oxygenate your blood, but when combined with movement it helps bring that beautiful life force to all the spaces around your organs and muscle groups.

Traditional Sun Salutation

The poses (see above illustration for guidance)

1. Mountain pose: Begin by standing tall. Bring your big toes to touch, heels slightly apart. Ground through your feet and engage your core muscles. Gaze forward, lift your chest, and roll your shoulders back and down. Hands can be at your sides with palms facing out or in prayer position at your heart center. Take a few deep breaths here to center yourself and silently set your intentions for the day.

2. Extended mountain pose: Inhale through your nose and reach long with the fingertips as you raise your arms overhead. Make sure to stay grounded through your feet as you gently bend backwards and lengthen your spine.

3. Forward bend: Exhale as you gracefully swan dive forward with your arms out to your sides. Bend your knees in this one. Forward bends are very challenging. Bending your knees will protect your back and will also help if you have tight hamstrings. Only go as far as you feel comfortable with. Hands can rest on the floor, ankles, or shins.

4. Lunge: Inhale deeply as you step back with your right foot coming into a lunge position. Come on to your fingertips here and make sure your front knee is directly over the ankle. Allow your hips to gently sink down and open. Feel the sense of length from your back heel all the way to the crown of your head.

Watch these three variations in motion

5. Plank pose: Exhale as you bring both feet back and set up in a “push-up” style position. Straighten your elbows and position your wrists under your shoulders. Engage your leg muscles and your abdominals. Elongate your spine.

6. Chaturanga: Continue to exhale as you slowly lower yourself down until your elbows form a 90° angle and stop there. Hug your elbows into your sides as you are lowering and lean forward on your toes. The result should be what looks like the middle of a push-up. Your core muscles should be super engaged here.

7. Upward facing dog: From chaturanga, begin inhaling as you roll forward over your toes until the tops of your feet are flat on the ground, toes pointing back. Straighten your arms and lift your chest to the sky. Sink your hips and allow the tops of your thighs to barely rest on the floor. Shoulders back.

8. Downward facing dog: Exhale as you raise your hips to the ceiling. Press your palms into the mat shoulder width apart and allow your head and neck to hang loose. Slowly press your heels to the floor as far as you can and begin to straighten your legs. Lifting from your thighs should alleviate pressure on your shoulders. And you should feel a nice stretch down the length of your spine.

9. Lunge: Inhale as you step your right foot forward and once more come into a lunge. Again, your front knee should be directly over the ankle and fingertips should be aligned on both sides of the front toes. Press your back heel back and really strive for a lengthening stretch.

10. Forward bend: Exhale your back foot up to meet your front. Bend your knees as much as you need to while folding forward to whatever degree feels comfortable. Let your head and neck hang.

11. Extended mountain pose: Inhale and bend from your hips with a flat back as you slowly rise to standing. Reach your fingertips long into the sky and bend slightly backward.

12. Mountain pose: Exhale as you return to the starting position of mountain pose. Hands either at heart center or at your side with palms facing forward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

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Final thoughts

For those of you who are new to yoga this is a great introduction to many of the building blocks of any good session. This sequence is often times used as a warm-up, but can certainly stand on its own as an effective exercise routine.

One nice thing about this series of poses is that you can do three to five rounds in the morning as a simple way to create some blood flow; or you can do twenty or more rounds for an intense workout.

The pace you practice at can also be altered. Try it nice and slow and focus on your breath for a moving meditation, or more briskly to generate a little sweat and body heat.

If you practice yoga for any length of time, you will find there is much more to it than simply a physical exercise. To many it is a path towards enlightenment. However you decide to do it, the Sun Salutation is a perfect way to get in shape and also harmonize your mind, body, and spirit.


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