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How to Perform the Yoga Sun Salutation, Step by Step

A woman in the upward-facing dog yoga pose in front of a large window.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

If you’re familiar with yoga, you probably know the Sun Salutation (or Surya Namaskar A in Sanskrit): a traditional sequence of poses meant to awaken and warm up your body. If you’re a beginner, learning these poses will give you a head start!

As you warm up your body, it’s also important to learn how to use your breath to guide your movements. You inhale to extend, elongate, and open, and you exhale to bend, twist, and go deeper into a pose.

You should repeat this sequence up to five times. As you repeat the poses, you create a rhythm. You can develop your own tempo with your breath to fuel your practice.

Except for the starting and midway positions, once you find yourself in the downward-facing dog position, you don’t hold any of the other poses. So, you always use your inhales and exhales to determine the duration of each move.

Whenever you inhale, you open and extend. As soon as you start exhaling, you move into the next pose—usually, one that counters it.

Step One: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

A woman standing in the yoga mountain pose.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Start in a standing position with your feet together, and your hands clasped in front of your heart. Feel your feet pressing firmly into the ground and activate your thighs by lifting your kneecaps. Tuck your pelvis as long as it’s comfortable for your lower back and hips.

Lift your belly button upward to engage your core. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and relax your shoulder blades, letting them slide down your back.

Take a second to turn your attention inward and pay attention to your breath. Listen to your inhales and exhales and imagine yourself flowing through your poses while you let your breath guide you. Inhale as you lift your arms over your head. With your back straight and your chest open, bend all the way down into a forward fold.

Step Two: Utanasana (Forward Fold)

A woman doing a forward fold on a yoga mat by the sea.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

If your flexibility allows it, place your hands on the mat next to your feet (align your fingers and toes). If you can’t easily touch the floor, grab your calves, or just place your palms under your knees. You can bend your knees or leave them extended—whatever feels most comfortable for you. The goal is to bend into your exhale and let go of all the stale breath in your lungs. As your level of flexibility increases, you’ll be able to extend your legs fully without any stress or tension.

On your next inhale, extend your spine and gaze forward. You can leave your hands where they are, or come up to your fingertips if your palms are on the floor.

Exhale and bend your knees. Place your palms beside your feet, and step back into a plank, your feet hip-width apart.

Step Three: Plank Pose

A woman in a plank yoga pose on the grass in front of a line of palm trees.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

You’re probably familiar with this pose, as it’s performed in many workout classes. This is because it’s one of the best exercises to activate and build core strength. With your palms and feet on the floor, and your body like a plank, you only stay here for a little while. Still, that’s more than enough time to feel your whole body engage if you keep your belly button pulled up, your thighs lifted, and pull your shoulders away from your ears. It should feel like you’re pushing the floor away from you.

Pay attention to your hips—make sure they’re not too high or low. The idea is to create a straight line from the top of your head through your heels. As you push into the floor, try to create some space between your shoulder blades, as if you’re trying to curve your upper spine into a dome while protecting your chest and shoulders.

Step Four: Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Plank Pose)

A woman on a yoga mat in a four-limbed plank pose.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

From your plank, inhale and shift your whole body forward. Exhale halfway down toward the floor and stop when your shoulders align with your elbows. Don’t dip any lower, though—you want to protect your shoulder tendons and ligaments from overstretching.

This is an even more challenging pose than the regular plank because you’re in a half push-up, and your body has to work hard to maintain a proper plank pose.

Keep pushing the ground away from you and use the strength of your next inhale to push yourself into an upward-facing dog pose.

Step Five: Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog)

A woman in the upward-facing dog pose in front of a large window.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

As you transition from chaturanga dandasana, use the power of your inhale to push through your hips and lift your body, opening your chest and shoulders. Keep your palms pressed firmly into the floor and roll over your toes. Use the tops of your feet as leverage to push your hips even further forward. You can gaze straight in front of you, look upward, or (if your back is flexible enough) drop your head backward and focus on the wall behind you.

This pose only lasts for an inhale, so go as deep into it as your body allows. Each time you repeat your flow and come into upward-facing dog, you’ll be able to go deeper, and your body will feel more open and loose.

Step Six: Ado Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

A woman on a yoga mat in the downward dog yoga position.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

After a powerful upward-facing dog, your body needs to counterpose into downward-facing dog. This pose is the perfect reset for your spine! Keeping your palms where they are, roll your toes over, and then lift your hips up and back. Stretch your tailbone long and create an inverted V shape with your body.

Your heels reach toward the floor as you extend the backs of your legs and stretch your hamstrings and calves.

Although downward-facing dog is considered a “resting pose,” it can be pretty challenging for a beginner. This is because you have to put all your weight on the front of your body and your arms and shoulders. The idea is to keep pushing yourself away from the floor and extend your spine as far as you can, so you stretch out your backside muscles and hips.

It’s ideal to hold this pose for three to five long breath cycles to bring your heart rate down. On your last inhale, gaze forward. When you exhale, bend your knees and bring your feet together between your palms. Come back into the same forward-fold pose you did at the beginning.

Inhale, straighten your back, and then exhale into a deeper forward-fold. Again, you can keep your knees bent if you need to and place your palms wherever it feels most comfortable.

On your next inhale, allow your arms to bring you back up to a standing position. Raise your hands over your head and keep your spine straight and strong.

Clasp your hands in front of your heart. Stay here for a breath or two, and then repeat the whole flow four more times.

You encounter this famous sequence at the beginning of each yoga class. It’s the perfect way to get your blood pumping and your energy flowing to wake up your entire body!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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