Beginner's Guide: Surya Namaskar A

Otherwise known as Sun Salutation A, this is one of the sequences that will show up one way or another in almost all yoga classes. It’s a great sequence to get the body moving and start to warm it up. It is used to “worship” the sun and connect with the earth. It can be done slowly, taking a few breaths in each pose or done as a flow – finding one movement on the inhale, and the next movement on the exhale. Here, the poses are broken down with what to do and, in some cases, what not to do so as to avoid injury. The most common misalignment for some poses is below, too. Practicing incorrectly over time can lead to injury, so it’s very important to make sure that you have the proper alignment. If you aren’t sure of the way a pose might work best with your body, feel free to ask a teacher before or after class one day and they should be happy to help!

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

  • Stand strong and root down through the heels
  • Joints from shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles all stacked in alignment
  • Feet together (if unstable, you can separate feet hip-width)
  • Arms down by sides with palms facing forward
tadasana

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

  • Arms reach up and connect overhead
  • Drishti or gaze point is up at connecting hands
  • Lower body does not move (still in Tadasana)
upwardsalute

Uttanasana (Forward Fold)

  • Let upper body (back and neck) relax downward
  • Hands reach toward mat or toes/ankles
  • Press down through the heels, engage thighs
  • Look between legs

Ardha Uttanasana (Halfway Lift)

  • Straighten spine and look down at mat
  • Hands press into thighs, shins, mat, or blocks
  • Most common mistake: people rounding their spines upward. Keeping the spine straight allows for a smooth and safe transition into Chaturanga Dandasana, especially if you are jumping back.
What to do

What to do

What not to do

What not to do

Optional: High Plank/Pushup

  • Plant hands down on mat on outside of feet at shoulder width
  • Step feet back, send energy out through the heels
  • Keep wrists underneath shoulders and press up strong from the mat
  • Body makes a straight line from head to heels
  • Modification: drop down onto knees, still keeping straight line from head to knees
  • Most common mistake: Hips rising up too high or low. If you’re struggling to hold the pose (no shame!) it’s always better to modify and keep your form great. Drop down to the knees and keep the body in a line

Chaturanga Dandasana (Low Pushup/Low Plank)

  • Shift forward a few inches on your toes as you lower down halfway
  • Keep the elbows bent in towards the ribcage, creating a 90 degree angle with your elbow
  • Eyes look ahead
  • Keep shoulders in line with hips as you lower down
  • Modifications: KNEES! Always bring the knees down like in plank if you are struggling with Chaturanga.
  • Most common mistake: dropping the hips to the ground and then bending the elbows outward
  • This is a really tough pose – it’s important to keep the form in order to grow and prevent injury. It can take a while to find your full expression of the pose and build up enough strength. Don’t cheat – your hard work will pay off in the end!
What to do

What to do

What not to do

What not to do

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog)

  • Straighten the arms and send the heart forward, keeping the palms by hips
  • Shoulders, elbows, and wrists stacked on top of one another
  • Untuck the toes, so the tops of your feet are resting down on the mat
  • Hips and knees stay lifted off the mat, but drop down to the earth if you need to modify
  • Press up through the floor, and send the shoulder blades towards one another

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

  • Curl the toes under, and send the hips up and back, creating an inverted V with your body
  • Hands are shoulder width apart, feet are hip distance apart (2 fists width)
  • Gaze towards feet
  • Energy down through the heels, even if knees are bent and heels cannot touch floor
  • Most common mistake: taking too long a stance, and not sending hips back and up enough
What to do

What to do

What not to do

What not to do

“Vinyasa” can refer to multiple things, but within the context of a flow-based class, it typically refers to the 3 pose sequence: Chaturanga - Up Dog- Down Dog. If a teacher instructs you to take a vinyasa, go for it! If you can’t possibly take another vinyasa and you need a break, go right away to Downward-Facing Dog or take a breath and head into Child's pose. We’ve all been there. Listen to what your body is telling you.

Note: There is only one post this week due to busy life circumstances (preparing for an out-of-state move on just about two week's notice, apartment-searching and all). Next week, I'll dig a little deeper into Surya Namaskar B, and after that, it will be back to the regular post schedule 3x per week. :) Happy Practicing!