How to Do Sun Salutations in Yoga (Surya Namaskar A and B)

Sun salutations are a great way to warm up for your yoga practice, and are the traditional way to begin an ashtanga yoga practice. Surya namaskar (as it’s known in Sanskrit) is a common beginner sequence, as it contains a variety of fundamental standing poses, like downward-facing dog and chair pose, and teaches you to link breath and movement.

But more than a yoga warm-up, sun salutations hold a deeper purpose. Surya means “sun” in Sanskrit, while namaskar comes from nama (to bow). The sequence we know as the sun salutation evolved from an early morning practice that honored the sun, which has long been seen as the center of light and energy. (Of course you can still do them at night.)

Following are the basics, including step-by-step guides for the two common types of sun salutation, plus instructions on how to make them harder or easier.

 

How to Perform Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A)

Different types of yoga each have their own spin on the sun salutation. That’s one of the beauties of yoga sequences; you can customize them as your own.

  1. Stand tall in mountain pose near the top of your mat, with your palms together in front of your chest.
  2. Inhale: Sweep your arms out and extend them overhead, shoulder-distance apart. Gaze toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulder blades down.
  3. Exhale: Hinge at your hips into a standing forward fold. Direct your gaze at your shins.
  4. Inhale: Lift your torso into a half-forward fold, keeping your back flat with your hands on your shins or your fingertips on the floor. Gaze forward.
  5. Exhale: Plant your hands on the mat, step or jump back into high plank, then lower your body into chaturanga dandasana. (Think: low push-up position, with your core engaged and your elbows, shoulders, and hips at the same height.) Gaze a few inches in front of your mat to keep your neck long.
  6. Inhale: Press the tops of your feet into the mat and lift your torso into either cobra pose (elbows and thighs on the mat) or upward-facing dog (arms straight, thighs lifted off the floor with quads engaged). Direct your gaze forward.
  7. Exhale: Tuck your toes, and lift your hips into downward-facing dog (arms straight and externally rotated, spine and knees straight without locking). Look back at your feet, and hold here for five breaths.
  8. Inhale: Step or jump your feet forward between your hands, and lift your torso into a standing half-forward fold, as in Step 4.
  9. Exhale: Hinge at your hips into a standing forward fold, as in Step 3.
  10. Inhale: Rise back up to standing, extending your arms overhead, as in Step 2.
  11. Exhale: Return to mountain pose with your hands at your heart or arms by your sides.

 

How to Make Sun Salutation A Easier

Surya namaskar A involves the whole body, so you’ll feel it quickly — especially chaturanga. Here are some ways to make sun salutation A easier.

  • Keep your hands on your shins in standing half-forward fold.
  • Bend your knees slightly in standing forward fold.
  • Step forward and back instead of jumping.
  • Take cobra pose instead of upward-facing dog.
  • Drop to your knees as you lower into chaturanga.
  • Swap table pose or child’s pose for the five breaths in downward-facing dog.

 

How to Make Sun Salutation A Harder

The easiest way to make surya namaskar A harder is to simply do more of them. It’s a yogic tradition to do 108 (a sacred number) of them on special occasions, or to honor changes in the seasons. Here are other ways to make sun salutation A burn a bit more.

  • Bring your fingertips to the floor in standing half-forward fold.
  • Keep your legs straight (without locking your knees) in standing forward fold.
  • Jump into chaturanga, and from downward-facing dog into standing half-forward fold instead of stepping.
  • Press your palms together overhead instead of keeping them shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold an extra breath in chaturanga, or “double dip” by pressing back up into plank on an inhale and returning to chaturanga as you exhale.
  • Some types of yoga add a low lunge on one side as you step back and the other side as you step forward. Feel free to add if desired.

 

Bonus Tip for Doing Sun Salutation A

Sun salutations are found in many styles of yoga, but that familiarity can breed apathy among yogis. “The bad thing about that consistency is that we repeat them so frequently they often get sloppy,” says Stephanie Saunders, executive director of fitness at OpenFit and a certified yoga instructor. “Really think about each position as you flow through it, and make sure you are maintaining your form.”

 

How to Perform Sun Salutation B (Surya Namaskar B)


Sun salutation B is similar to the A sequence, but it’s longer and adds two poses: chair and warrior 1. Here’s how to perform a basic sun salutation B:

  1. Start in mountain pose near the top of your mat.
  2. Inhale: Bend your knees and extend your arms overhead while keeping your back flat to transition into chair pose (utkatasana). Gaze toward the ceiling.
  3. Exhale: Straighten your knees and hinge at your hips into a standing forward fold. Direct your gaze at your shins.
  4. Inhale: Lift your torso into a half-forward fold, keeping your back flat with your hands on your shins or your fingertips on the floor. Gaze forward.
  5. Exhale: Plant your hands on the mat, step or jump back into high plank, then lower your body into chaturanga dandasana. (Think: low push-up position, with your core engaged and your elbows, shoulders, and hips at the same height.) Gaze a few inches in front of your mat to keep your neck long.
  6. Inhale: Press the tops of your feet into the mat and lift your torso into either cobra pose (elbows and thighs on the mat) or upward-facing dog (arms straight, thighs lifted off the floor with quads engaged). Direct your gaze forward.
  7. Exhale: Tuck your toes, and lift your hips into downward-facing dog (arms straight and externally rotated, spine and knees straight without locking). Look back at your feet, and hold here for five breaths.
  8. Inhale: Step your right foot inside your right hand, and slowly rise up into warrior 1 pose, keeping your left knee straight and your arms extended overhead as you sink into a lunge. Gaze toward the ceiling.
  9. Exhale: Plant your hands shoulder distance apart on either side of your right foot, return to high plank, and lower into chaturanga.
  10. Inhale: Press the tops of your feet into the mat and lift your torso into either cobra pose (elbows and thighs on the mat) or upward-facing dog (arms straight, thighs lifted off the floor with quads engaged). Direct your gaze forward.
  11. Exhale: Transition back into down dog. Hold for five breaths.
  12. Inhale: Step your left foot forward and rise up into warrior 1.
  13. Exhale: Lower into chaturanga. (Last time!)
  14. Inhale: Rise into cobra or up dog.
  15. Exhale: Transition into down dog. Hold for five breaths.
  16. Inhale: Step or jump your feet forward between your hands, and lift your torso into a standing half-forward fold, as in Step 4.
  17. Exhale: Hinge at your hips into a standing forward fold, as in Step 3.
  18. Inhale: Bend at your knees, and rise back up to chair pose, with your arms extended overhead, as in Step 2. Gaze toward the ceiling.
  19. Exhale: Relax your arms at your sides and return to mountain pose.

 

How to Make Sun Salutation B Easier

You can use the same modifications offered for sun salutation A to make the B sequence easier. In addition, the following tips are specific to surya namaskar B.

  • “Remember that warrior 1 does not have to be done on a tightrope,” says Saunders, so take your feet wider than your hips. That “might allow you to square off your hips much more easily and get a bigger bend into the front knee.”
  • Skip the middle chaturanga and backbend, and head straight to down dog before moving through the left side.

 

How to Make Sun Salutation B Harder

As with sun salutation A, do more sun salutation B repetitions to make it harder, among the other tips. Or, you can:

  • Lunge deeper in your warrior 1 to fire up the thigh and glutes. Or stay longer in your warriors.
  • Jump into handstand on your way back to the top of the mat.
  • Slow them down! “Try to extend each inhale and exhale to the length of each pose to get the greatest benefits, and to get your breathing and moving in sync,” suggests Saunders.

 

Benefits of Doing Sun Salutations

In addition to helping build total-body strength and flexibility, sun salutations introduce the concept of vinyasa, linking breath and movement. And, through repetition, they help build muscle memory, which allows you to turn your mind off and helps create a moving meditation.

“Yoga is often described as connecting to the breath,” says Saunders. “There is no better place to start that process than in a sun salutation, as every breath is choreographed to the movements.”

How many calories can you burn in one sun salutation?

Sun salutations also count as cardio! Surya namaskar A takes about a minute, with surya namaskar B taking about 90 seconds — though that will depend on the length of your breath. While a single sun salute won’t burn more than a few calories, sun salutations really get your heart pumping. In 30 minutes of sun salutes, research has found that a 130-pound person would burn roughly 230 calories.

 

Take your practice further with Openfit’s Yoga52, a collection of 52 elegantly-produced yoga classes from beginner to expert taught by five of the world’s leading yoga instructors.