Sun salutation, or surya namaskara (SOOR-yuh nah-muh-SKAR-uh), is a critical component of many yoga styles. Designed to build heat in the body, it is often used as a warm-up. “Surya” is the sun, symbolizing health. “Namaskara” shares the same root in Sanskrit as “Namasté”—
meaning “to bow to.” The salutation is a sequence of yoga poses, one for each of the Sanskrit names for the sun, performed in a regular, flowing and continuous order. When one salutation ends, another begins in a perfect, circular rhythm. Across different traditions, sequences vary, but they share many basic components. One of my favorite variations is commonly known as “sun salutation C.”
My journey began in fitness, and I lean toward using functional movement patterning. Therefore, I often view my yoga practice through this same filter. Essentially, there are seven patterns associated with human movement: pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, squatting, lunging and gait patterns. These have been referred to as “primal” or “foundational” movements, and there are many opportunities to accent your yoga practice or class with them. One sun salutation my students love is what I call “progressive C.”
Advancing your sun salutation offers participants variety and challenge, while allowing individuals to choose the right options for them. When you select two or three foundational movements to progress, it gives students a chance to explore their limits without being overwhelmed. Read on to find out how it works.
Progressive C: Step by Step
Start with an original sun salutation. I’ve chosen salutation C because it repeats—once on each side. This allows participants to practice each progression twice before confronting a new challenge or deciding to repeat at their current level. Squats, lunges and planks are the focus of this particular class. First we’ll describe a standard salutation C.
An asterisk denotes a move that will be progressed.
The chart elaborates on the progressions. In the end, you’ll have completed 10 rounds of salutation C, with five increasingly challenging progressions.
* Mountain pose. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Press palms together in prayer position. Rest thumbs on sternum and take several breaths.
Upward salute. Inhaling, sweep arms to sides and overhead. Gently arch back and gaze toward sky.
Standing forward fold. Exhaling, hinge forward from hips and move torso forward toward floor. Bend knees if necessary. Rest hands beside feet and bring nose toward knees.
Half-standing forward fold. Inhaling, lift torso halfway, lengthening spine so back is flat. Torso is parallel to floor. Keep fingertips on floor or bring them to shins.
* Lunge, right leg back. Exhaling, step R foot back. Keep fingertips and left heel on ground. Reach back through R heel. Beginners: Place R knee on ground.
* Plank pose. Inhaling, step L foot back, lowering into plank. Spread fingers and align wrists directly under shoulders. Feet are hip-distance apart. Draw back through heels and lengthen spine.
Knees, chest and chin. Exhaling, lower knees to floor, elbows tucked in toward sides. Keep hips lifted, palms flat. Bring chest and chin to floor. Place chest between hands.
Cobra. Inhaling, draw chest forward, keeping hands underneath shoulders. Extend legs along floor and untuck toes. Draw shoulders back and lift chest slightly. Keep lower ribs on floor.
Downward-facing dog. Exhaling, lift hips and roll over toes, placing soles of feet on floor. Heels do not need to touch mat. Ground down through hands and soles of feet as spine lengthens. Lift belly and sit bones to sky. Stay for five breaths. On last exhalation, bend knees and gaze between hands.
* Lunge, R leg forward. Inhaling, step R foot between hands, coming into lunge. Keep fingertips and R heel on ground. Reach back through L heel. Beginners: Place L knee on ground.
Standing forward fold. Exhaling, step L foot forward, returning to forward fold. Bend knees if necessary. Rest hands beside feet and bring nose to knees.
Upward salute. Inhaling, sweep arms out to sides and extend up once again. Gently arch back and gaze toward sky.
Mountain pose. Exhaling, return to mountain pose. Bring hands into prayer position. Rest thumbs on sternum.
Repeat sequence, stepping back with L foot this time.
Take It From Here
Make your progressions as simple or as challenging as you dare, depending on your skills and those of your students. Enjoy experimenting with ways to change up your sun salutation. Students will appreciate the variety as they master new levels of progressive intensity.