top of page
Search

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar): From Beginner to Advanced

Updated: May 12

A Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar, is the most common way to start a vinyasa-based yoga practice. However, because the flow of yoga postures that make up a Sun Salutation is repetitive and at the start of your yoga practice, too often, Sun Salutations are only used as a physical warm-up for the rest of your practice.


In this blog, we'll explore how you can use Surya Namaskar as a tool to establish a steady rhythm of your breath, bring more mental focus and awareness to your practice, and refine your technique in the postures and transitions to improve your physical practice and help prepare for more advanced yoga postures.


We'll also explore different variations of Sun Salutations that you can use as a beginner to a more advanced yoga practitioner. This will help you intentionally work on improving aspects of Sun Salutation, such as your breath capacity, breathing quality, mental focus, flexibility, stability, strength, and alignment in the various yoga postures and transitions.


If you're looking for more gentle salutes that focus on opening your hips and shoulders, try practicing some Moon Salutations instead.


Sun Salutations for Beginners



Despite Sun Salutations being one of the first things you learn as a beginner, it is challenging to move dynamically through the series of postures. This is because we move through each pose on an inhale or exhale, making it hard at first to get familiar with the technique of each posture and find a steady flow of your breath.


Therefore, starting with a Half-Sun Salutation consisting of four yoga postures is helpful. This will make learning the technique required for each pose and the flow between each posture easier.


You'll find that once you've repeated the Half Sun Salutation enough times to learn it by heart, it will be much easier to regulate your breathing and find a meditative flow through your practice. But to begin with, feel free to move more slowly through the salutes and take extra breaths when you need.


You can choose to practice along with my YouTube video on Half-Sun Salutations. You can also look at the four yoga postures below and start using these pictures of the different elements of a Sun Salutation as a guide when practicing at home.


Mountain Pose, Tadasana


The Mountain Pose, Tadasana, is the starting point for all Sun Salutations. Once you've found your way into this pose, spreading your weight evenly across both legs and standing tall with your torso, take a few slow breaths. 


Sun salutation positions

Standing Arms Overhead, Urdhva Hastasana


From here, inhale as you reach your arms up and over your head. This is your second posture in the Half-Sun Salutation. In this pose, you want to actively reach your arms up and open through the front of your shoulders while keeping your belly firm and ribs in.


sun salutation

Standing Forward Fold, Uttanasana


Use your exhale to fold all the way forward over your legs. You can bend your knees here as much as you need so your hamstrings don't feel overstretched. Your back can round a little, and your head can be heavy.


sun salutation surya namaskar

Halfway Lift, Ardha Uttanasana


Inhale as you lengthen your spine and legs. Hands can slide up the legs so that you have the space to lengthen out of your lower back and firm through your belly. Gaze of your eyes looking forward.

 

sun salutation in yoga

Learning the Half-Sun Salutation


We then finish the Half-Sun Salutation by returning through the same few postures. Exhale as you come back into the Standing Forward Fold. Inhale, come all the way back up to standing with arms overhead. Exhale, bring your arms back alongside your body for the Mountain Pose.


The biggest confusion I see with people learning Half-Sun Salutations is understanding the difference between the techniques and actions you apply for the Standing Forward Fold and Halfway Lift. 


If your hamstrings are not very flexible, allow your knees to bend slightly in the Standing Forward Fold and your back somewhat rounded. This will also make it easier for your fingertips to touch the floor. However, for the Halfway Lift posture, we're looking to straighten the legs and back as much as possible and lift up through your chest.  


Benefits of Sun Salutation A and B


Once you feel comfortable with these four yoga poses and can smoothly flow through the Half-Sun Salutations without guidance, you can progress to the full Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B, which include a few additional postures.


Sun Salutations are a great entry point for building your home yoga practice. They give you a clear and straightforward framework to do without the guidance of a teacher. So try practicing a few rounds at home on your own. If you enjoyed learning these Sun Salutations at home, you can continue with the seven days of yoga challenge to help develop a home yoga practice.


Physically, Sun Salutations warm up your body by dynamically moving through a series of yoga postures. After a few rounds of Sun Salutations, you will feel the heat rising in your body, your heart beating a little faster, and you start to feel more flexible and strong.


On a more subtle level, Sun Salutations help you focus on linking your breath with each movement. Allowing you to focus your mind on your yoga practice and feel more focused and less stressed.


As you start to practice sun salutations more regularly, you’ll quickly learn the movements by heart. Once you don’t need to be guided through the sun salutations A and B and can practice independently, you can really allow yourself to flow with your movement and breathe meditatively.


Once you’re familiar with the physical yoga postures and transitions, you can start to focus more on maintaining a full and steady breath. Learn more about the importance of the breath in yoga.

 

How to Do Sun Salutation A for Beginners

 

Below are the seven different yoga postures that make up a Sun Salutation A. You’ll notice that the first four yoga poses are the ones you already practiced in a Half-Sun Salutation. The other three yoga poses have different variations you can practice depending on what feels accessible for you.


I recommend that complete beginners start with the Table Top Pose, Cobra Pose, and Child’s Pose. And then, as you get more experienced, you can start to progress to the Plank Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward Facing Dog Pose, and Downward Facing Dog Pose — all of which require significantly more strength and flexibility.


Remember, there's no rush to do this! So if the first versions of the postures feel better for your body, you can continue practicing the Sun Salutation A without these poses.


Want to jump straight into a guided practice? Follow my Sun Salutation A YouTube Video for beginners. Or use the pictures of the yoga poses and practice sheet below for Sun Salutation A.


The first part of the Sun Salutation starts with the same four yoga poses and flow as shown above for the Half-Sun Salutation. This means that you start in Mountain Pose, use an inhale to Standing Arms Overhead, exhale to the Standing Forward Fold, and inhale to the Halfway Lift.

 

Table Top Pose, Bharmanasana or Plank Pose, Phalakasana


sun salutation a benefits

This time, on your exhale, ground your palms and spread your fingers as you step back to a Tabletop or Plank Pose and then lower down to lying on your belly. You can start by lowering down through your hands and knees and, over time, build up the strength to lower through Chaturanga Dandasana with the knees lifted.


 sun salutation 12 steps


Cobra Pose, Bhujangasana or Upward Facing Dog Pose, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana


Inhale, lengthen through your spine, reach your chest forward, and keep your feet heavy. You could leave your hips and lower belly on the ground for a less deep backbend in the Cobra Pose.


Or you can press your hands and feet into the ground and lift your hips slightly up from the ground for the Upward Facing Dog Pose.


108 sun salutations

 

Childs Pose, Balasana or Downward Facing Dog Pose, Adho Mukha Svanasana


sun salutation how to

Exhale as you press your hands into the ground and move your hips back. You could come with bent knees back into the Child’s Pose or lift your hips up and back for the Downward Facing Dog Pose. Staying here for five breaths.


Sun salutation yoga sequence

Learning Sun Salutation A


From here, you start walking your feet forward to the front of the mat and coming back to your Halfway Lift Pose as you inhale. Exhale for your Standing Forward Fold. Inhale to come up to Standing Arms Overhead. Exhale arms alongside the body for your Mountain Pose.


You could start by doing anywhere between 3 – 10 rounds of the sun salutation A. Perhaps moving a little slower and pausing in the postures during the first round and then gradually progressing to a pace that allows you to transition to one slow breath (counting to around 3 or 4).


See if you can find a routine where your practice these several times a week. This will help you progress in your ability to first remember the sun salutation A sequence, and then notice other benefits such as breathing consistently, increased flexibility and strength.  


Sun salutation classic

Learning Sun Salutation B


Sun Salutation B includes only two additional yoga poses compared to Sun Salutation A. However, since we transition through several yoga postures to do both sides of this standing pose, it is noticeably longer and more strenuous. This means that we’ll usually start our practice with a few rounds of Sun Salutation A before moving on to Sun Salutation B.


As for the other Sun Salutation variations, you can choose to practice along with my Sun Salutation B video or use the guidance below.


You will start again in the Mountain Pose, Tadasana.


Chair Pose, Utkatasana


Inhale as you sit down low with your hips and reach your arms up and overhead in Chair Pose, Utkatasana.

 

Sun salutation pose yoga

Exhale for your Standing Forward Fold. Inhale, open your chest for the Halfway Lift. Exhale, step to Table Top or Plank Pose, and lower down to your belly. Inhale, reach your chest forward for Cobra Pose or Upward Facing Dog Pose. Exhale for Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog Pose.


Warrior 1 Pose, Virabhadrasana 1


At the end of your exhale, step your right foot forward. Inhale as you come up to Warrior 1 Pose and reach your arms up and overhead. Feel free to take an extra breath to enter the posture if necessary.


sun salutation in yoga

Exhale to lower down through your hands and knees or Chaturanga. Inhale for Cobra or Upward Facing Dog Pose. Exhale for Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog Pose. At the end of your exhale, step your left foot forward. Inhale for Warrior 1 Pose on the left side. Exhale to lower through Table Top or Plank Pose. Inhale again for Cobra or Upward Facing Dog Pose. Exhale for Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog Pose.


This time pausing in Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog Pose for five slow breaths. On your next inhale, step to the front of your mat and open your chest for the Halfway Lift Pose. Exhale for your Standing Forward Fold. Inhale as you sit low with your hips and reach your arms overhead for the Chair Pose. Exhale to lower the arms and come back to the Mountain Pose.

 

How to Best Practice Sun Salutation B


As a general rule—that you’ve likely heard me say before 😊—the breath is the most important aspect of your yoga practice.


Therefore, even if you’re practicing along to a guided Sun Salutation video on YouTube, you want to make sure you keep breathing freely, even if that means taking extra breaths and moving a little slower between each posture.


Watch out particularly for the breath speeding up as we transition between Warrior 1 Pose, Chaturanga, and Upward Facing Dog Pose. Since these postures tend to be the most challenging and can result in our breath getting much shorter.


Sometimes, experiment with taking an extra breath in each pose to allow your breath to remain at a regular rhythm and avoid holding it.


Like any yoga sequence, you can use different options and modifications to suit your body. Try starting with the simpler postures shown in the above practice sheet, where you move from your hands and knees to step one foot forward and come up into Warrior 1. Detailed instructions on this can be found in my sun salutation B video tutorial.


As you build strength, flexibility, and familiarity with the steps of the Sun Salutation, you can experiment with transitioning forward from a Downward Dog to Warrior 1. You can use the below Sun Salutation B practice sheet to reference these more complex postures and transitions.


Sun salutation pictures

Develop Your Technique and Strength Throughout the Sun Salutation Sequence


Bringing the right focus and attention to your yoga practice can build arm and shoulder strength in all your Sun Salutations. This can be difficult to work on during your first few years of yoga practice and can be hard to develop without dedicating some focus to building your strength in the Low Plank Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, and the jumps that can be incorporated into your Sun Salutations.


If you want to improve your Chaturanga, jumps, and overall upper body strength, I suggest focusing on this each time you practice your Sun Salutations. You can practice along with my YouTube video focused on building strength in your Chaturanga.


In this practice, you will learn the technique and alignment for each yoga pose that makes up the Sun Salutation A to effectively build strength in your Chaturanga.


Building strength in Sun Salutations is possible not only through practicing the action of lowering down into Chaturanga but also in all aspects of the Sun Salutations where arms and shoulder strength are used.


Plank Pose and Chaturanga help you engage your arm and shoulder strength. The movements within the Sun Salutation, that can be repeated several times to isolate the areas in your body you need to engage for a good technique in your Chaturanga pose. This is very helpful to understand when developing from beginner Sun Salutations to more advanced versions.


sun salutation a yoga

Sun Salutation 12 Steps with Traditional Counting


As you progress with your yoga practice and become familiar with Sun Salutations A and B, you might be interested in learning the traditional Sanskrit count. Sanskrit is an ancient language that forms the root of many Indian languages and is used in classical yoga.


If interested, try my guided video of the classic Sun Salutations A and B (Surya Namaskar A and B) with the traditional Sanskrit count. See if you can link your breath to one breath per movement, allowing each movement to take the same amount of time over time.


This practice includes little cues and guidance, allowing you to focus on the movement and your breath and learn the Sanskrit count. However, it's recommended that you've already spent sufficient time learning the techniques of Sun Salutation A and B to practice this.


Happy practicing!

💛⁠ Irene


 
Sun salutation beginner

Receive Personal Guidance from Irene


Would you like personal guidance to help dive deeper into your yoga practice?


Email Irene via info@antarayoga.nl to book your free consultation call and discuss what type of private class would best suit your needs.



Sun salutation yoga benefits

Start a Home Yoga Practice


Do you want to develop a home yoga practice but not sure where to start? Follow the three steps in this free guide to start practicing yoga consistently at home.


Complete your details below to receive your free guide with tips for a home yoga practice. In this guide you'll also receive cheat sheets and links to guided videos for seven short sequences, as well as a practice calendar to get started.



bottom of page