Sun Salutation 101: Your Basic Guide to Learn the Age-old Yoga Sequence

Get ready for a daily yoga practice with this guide to sun salutations. Learn 12 poses of Surya Namaskar and start your journey in yoga today!

Updated by : Sejal Shah, August 07, 2020

If you're looking for a simple, enjoyable way to start your day that provides a diverse range of health benefits, consider practicing Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation. It is a special sequence of yoga postures, breathing, and chants that together comprise the traditional Sun Salutation. It is a wonderful gift of yoga to the whole world having all kinds of physical, mental, spiritual benefits -stimulating and rejuvenating every system of the body, relaxing and calming the overworked mind and renewing spirits. For people with limited time, this is the best wholesome workout.

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar - pronounced Sur-yah-Namah-skar​) is a sequence of 12 powerful yoga poses with profound benefits that have been written about for thousands of years.

At the physical level, the practice of Sun Salutation stimulates the metabolism and the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and reproductive systems. It provides a good cardiovascular workout, stretches every part of the body, lubricates and strengthens joints and muscles. This sequence takes your spine through almost every possible range of motion and when integrated with the breath (the pattern in which we inhale and exhale with each pose), it encourages deep and rhythmic breathing, increasing blood to the brain and bringing mental clarity. 

Significance of the Sun:

Ancient scripture of India mentions this beautiful shloka (rhyme) about the Sun.

Surya (sun) is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings. - The Rig Veda

Remember those school lessons on how the sun makes life possible on this planet? As a kid, we all learned about the indispensable role sun plays in our lives - casting away darkness, breathing life into the whole of creation. Nothing is more important to us on Earth than the Sun. Without the Sun's heat and light, the Earth would be a lifeless ball of ice-coated rock. The Sun warms our seas, stirs our atmosphere, generates our weather patterns, day-night cycles, and gives energy to the growing green plants that provide the food and oxygen for life on Earth. The Earth’s relationship with the sun also maintains day-night cycles, thanks to it we go into the cycle of rest and activity. The sun also affects our mood and emotional well-being. Research shows that too little exposure to sunlight can lead to so-called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - a type of winter depression. Sunlight also helps our bodies to form vitamin D underneath the skin. This vitamin helps us to build and maintain teeth and bones and helps the body to absorb calcium.

Just imagine life without the Sun!!! If the sun never existed, nothing in this world would have existed either. Primitive people and our ancestors worshiped the sun as a symbol of the core of the universe, source of life, and health. Many traditions still continue to honor the sun in various ways.

Besides good health, the practice of Sun Salutation provides an opportunity to express our gratitude towards the Sun that sustains life on the Earth. As we perform Sun Salutations to honor the sun, we also celebrate and honor life, our inner light and our connection with the universe. 

The yogic science behind Surya Namaskara:

It has been said that the different parts of the body are governed by different Devas (deity or divine light). The Solar plexus (located behind the navel, which is the central point of the human body) is said to be connected with the Sun, that is why it is called solar plexus. When the first rays of the sun fall on the solar plexus, it is very good for your body. This is why it is good to do Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) in the early morning.  This is the main reason why the ancient Rishis recommended the practice of Surya Namaskar because the regular practice of this sequence expands the solar plexus, which increases one’s creative and intuitive abilities. The contemporary sequence we know has its origins in the ancient Vedic period in India when the Sun was worshipped as a powerful symbol of health and immortal life.

The solar plexus has a profound impact on the central nervous system, optic nerves, stomach, and what we usually call our “gut feeling”. It is the second brain in our body.  When the solar plexus contracts, one feels horrible, sad, depressed, all the negative feelings come. When the solar plexus expands, the intuitive mind awakens, the mind becomes clear and focused. 

All our emotions get stored in the solar plexus, and it is also the point where one's gut feelings arise. The size of the solar plexus is said to like the size of a small gooseberry. However, for those who do yoga, meditation, and Sudarshan Kriya breathwork, it becomes much bigger - almost three to four times bigger than the normal size. The more expanded your solar plexus, the greater is your mental stability and your intuition.

- Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Download our FREE e-book on Sun Salutation: Your Full Guide to Master the Age-old Yoga Sequence and learn how you can prepare yourself for doing the 108 Sun Salutations!

The Sun Salutation Sequence: Know-How

Surya Namaskar is a graceful sequence of twelve poses linked by a continuous flowing motion and accompanied by deep breaths. Each pose counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate and harmonize the breathing. One round of Sun Salutation consists of two sets/sequences, the first leading with the right leg, and the second leading with the left in the 4th and 9th positions. Start by doing two to four rounds and gradually build up to twelve rounds. 

This sequence of movements and asana can be practiced on varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise in various styles to a complete sadhana (spiritual practice) which incorporates asana, breathwork, mantra and chakra awareness. The latter form is practiced slowly, gracefully, gently, rhythmically, with a lot of involvement and conscious breathing by focusing on a particular chakra for each posture and a chanting particular mantra that consists of a Sanskrit name of the sun for each pose, as per details given in the chart below. When done as physical exercise with more number of rounds at a faster pace serves as excellent cardio work out with physical benefits like weight reduction, etc. 

The Sun Salutation can be completed as a stand alone practice or it can be practiced to limber up or warm up the whole body in preparation for the full-fledged asana practice. Traditionally, it is recommended that you complete 3 sets of Surya Namaskar in order to warm the body prior to moving into deeper postures. 

For its best benefits, it is performed on an empty stomach, in the open air or well-ventilated room, facing the sun, at sunrise and sunset with the feelings of gratitude to the sun while doing so. If you are completely new to yoga asana practice, for a week or two, prepare your body with this gentle joint freeing sequence.

Before you start, you may choose to prepare yourself with this imagination: You are amongst the mountains just before the dawn. There is a soothing wind, birds are chirping, it is a magical moment - the glowing sun opens its eyes on the eastern horizon, filling the sky and the mountains with the golden rays. You are bathing into soft rays of the rising sun. Stand straight with eyes gently closed and smile on the face (which is a reflection of a relaxed state of mind) and with a lot of gratitude towards the Sun in your heart. Breathe gently, slowly, and effortlessly. Once you feel as if your whole body is filled with the light of the Sun, start the poses one by one.

Depending on your preferred style of yoga, you may be familiar with one of the many versions of sun salutes. Vinyasa-style salutes, for example, incorporate chaturangas (low plank) and focus more on upper-body strength. Or you may be familiar with the Sun Salutation A or Sun Salutation B or Sun Salutation C sequences that incorporate some variations taught by some yoga schools. The Art of Living and Sri Sri School of Yoga teach the below-mentioned sequence of the Sun Salutation that is the most traditional version of the Sun Salute and actively engages all parts of the body.

It is recommended that you systematically learn the Surya Namaskara under the supervision and guidance of a certified yoga teacher. In the meantime, the following instructions could help you understand the sequence in much detail.

1. Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

surya namaskar yoga step 1

Stand at the edge of your yoga mat, keep your feet together, and balance your weight equally on both the feet.

Expand your chest and relax your shoulders.

As you inhale, lift both arms up from the sides and as you exhale, bring your palms together in front of the chest in prayer position.

Benefits: Establishes a state of humility, gratitude, concentration and calmness.Helps maintain the balance of the body. Relaxes the nervous system.

2. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms Pose)

surya namaskar steps

As you inhale, lift the arms up and back, keeping the biceps close to the ears. In this pose, the effort is to stretch the whole body up from the heels to the tips of the fingers.

To deepen the stretch, push the pelvis forward a little bit. Ensure that you are reaching up with the fingers rather than trying to bend backward.

Benefits: Stretches abdominal and intestinal muscles, arms and spinal cord. Expands the chest resulting in the full intake of oxygen.

3. Hasta Padasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

how to do surya namaskar

Breathing out, stretch forward, and bend downwards from the waist, keeping the spine erect.

As you exhale completely, bring the hands down to the floor beside the feet.

You may bend the knees, if necessary, to bring the palms down to the floor.

To deepen the stretch, straighten the knees.

Benefits: Tones abdomen, muscles of thighs and legs. Stretches spine and back muscles. Opens the hips and shoulders.

4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)

sun salutation steps

Breathing in, push your right leg back as far as possible.

Bring the right knee to the floor and look up.

The left foot is in between the palms.

Benefits: Tones abdomen, muscles of thighs and legs. Makes the spine and neck flexible. Good for indigestion, constipation, and sciatica.

5. Dandasana/Phalakasana (Plank Pose)

12 poses of surya namaskar

As you breathe in, take the left leg back and bring the whole body in a straight line.

Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor.

Benefits: Strengthens arm, back and abdominal muscles. It also helps in curing certain problems of the spinal column and cord. Improves posture. Calms the mind.

6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Eight Points Salute)

surya namaskar poses

Gently bring your knees down to the floor and exhale. Take the hips back slightly as in child's pose, then slide forward,

And rest your chest and chin on the floor. Raise your posterior slightly.

The two hands, two feet, two knees, and chest and chin should touch the floor. Abdomen remains off the floor.

Benefits: Strengthen nerves and muscles of shoulders, arms, back and chest. Enhances the flexibility of the back and spine. Reduces tension and anxiety.

7. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

how to do sun salutation

Slide forward and raise the chest up into the Cobra posture.

You may keep your elbows bent in this pose with the shoulders away from the ears. Look up.

As you inhale, make a gentle effort to push the chest forward. As you exhale, make a gentle effort to push the navel down. Keep the toes flat on the floor.

Benefits: Benefits the adrenal glands and kidneys sending them a richer supply of blood. Tones ovaries, uterus and liver. Muscles of the back, abdomen and entire upper body are strengthened. Aids in relief and elimination of menstrual irregularities. Relieves constipation. Elevates mood. Invigorates the heart.

8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)​

sun salutation yoga pose

Breathing out, lift the hips and the tail bone up, chest downwards in an 'inverted V' (/\) posture.

How to deepen this yoga stretch?

If possible, try and keep the heels on the ground and make a gentle effort to lift the tailbone up, going deeper into the stretch.

Benefits: Stretches arm, back and abdominal muscles. It also helps in curing certain problems of the spinal column and cord. Increases blood flow to the brain and head region.

9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)

sun salutation steps

Breathing in, bring the right foot forward in between the two hands, left knee down to the floor, press the hips down, and lookup.

Place the right foot exactly between the two hands and the right calf perpendicular to the floor. In this position, make a gentle effort to push the hips down towards the floor, to deepen the stretch.

Benefits: Tones abdomen, muscles of thighs and legs. Makes the spine and neck flexible. Good for indigestion, constipation, and sciatica.

10. Hasta Padasana (Hand to Foot Pose)

Sun Salutation yoga

Breathing out, bring the left foot forward. Keep the palms on the floor. You may bend the knees, if necessary.

Gently straighten the knees and if you can, try and touch your nose to the knees. Keep breathing.

Benefits: Tones abdomen, muscles of thighs and legs. Stretches spine and back muscles. Opens the hips and shoulders.

11. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Arms Pose)

Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar Yoga

Breathing in, roll the spine up, hands go up and bend backward a little bit, pushing the hips slightly outward.

Ensure that your biceps are beside your ears. The idea is to stretch up more rather than stretching backward.

Benefits: Tones abdomen, muscles of thighs and legs. Stretches spine and back muscles. Opens the hips and shoulders

12. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)​

how to do Sun salutation sequence

On your next exhalation, first, straighten your body, then bring the arms down. Relax in this position, observe the sensations in your body. 

Benefits: Helps maintain the balance of the body. Relaxes the nervous system.

Next get ready for prayer position for the other half of the sequence leading with the left leg in positions 4 and 9.

Sun Salutation at a glance

Have you ever tried Sun Meditation?

To watch a video for the full sequence followed by a beautiful Sun Meditation guided by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, download your free copy of e-book now! The e-book also contains a beautiful audio of powerful Surya Namaskar mantras.

Learn Sun Salutation From An Expert

Join Sri Sri Yoga Foundation Program, either online or in person, where a certified instructor will teach you this and other sequences, along with a holistic approach to yoga. To know more about the Sri Sri Yoga Foundation Program, join this introductory yoga class for FREE.  

Alternatively send your questions and queries to We look forward to helping you with your yoga practice.

In the meantime, browse our entire yoga poses library and learn more about each yoga pose in detail.

Getting ready for 108 Sun Salutations

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Create a wellness routine

Sun Salutation followed by some breathwork and meditation is a complete package for your everyday wellness. Now that you have learned how to do Sun Salutation, would you like to get a glimpse of some powerful breathwork and meditation with a live instructor and know more about how to meditate daily? Join Beyond Breath now!

New to yoga? Explore Yoga 101: A Simple Guide to Practice and Philosophy to Help A Beginner.

Sejal Shah, E-RYT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, C-IAYT, Meditation Teacher, Happiness expert, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath. She can be followed on YouTubeInstagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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