Sun salutations, often as complex as they are beautiful, can be a complete practice in themselves. Alternatively they can be used as the opening segment of any yoga practice, to set the rhythm and mood of the poses that follow.

A classic salutation is really a group of individual asanas performed as one complete and repeating series, or vinyasa. Performed correctly, the flowing movements can appear easy. However, each pose has specific alignment requirements that are essential in order to achieve the intended benefits of the sequence without injury or strain. There are many variations of the Sun Salutation, although a lot of the poses in each one are quite similar. Let’s take a closer look at some specific poses.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)


  • Establishes symmetrical neutral alignment.
  • Allows time to develop an inward focus and establish the intention of the practice.
  • Increases awareness of body alignment and comfort.

Alignment and Cues

  • Keep arches lifted, weight evenly distributed on triangle of heel, ball of foot at big toe, and ball of foot at little toe.
  • To avoid hyperextending knees, align hips over ankles and align knees between.
  • Lift breastbone, open chest, and lengthen back of neck.
  • Position hands in namasté (prayer pose) or by sides, palms in.

Contraindications/Modifications. Modify for dizziness or difficulty standing by doing pose seated in chair.

Tall Mountain (Urdhva Hastasana)


  • Initiates mild spinal extension.
  • Helps lengthen and open front torso, chest and shoulders, and opens lower ribs for fuller expansion of lungs.

Alignment and Cues

  • Inhale and keep head in alignment with spine as it extends.
  • Keep shoulders down as arms lift out to sides and overhead.
  • Keep chest lifted, pelvis neutral, tailbone down.

Contraindications/Modifications. Modify range of motion as needed (e.g., for previous shoulder or neck injuries) as arms lift overhead.

Chair Pose (Utkatasana)


  • Strengthens ankles, thighs, calves and spine.
  • Stretches shoulders and chest.
  • Promotes balance and stability.

Alignment and Cues

  • Inhaling, bend knees and lower body as if sitting in chair.
  • Raise arms overhead, palms facing in, and draw shoulders down.

Contraindications/Modifications. Modify range of motion for tight calves. Students with tight latissimus dorsi or upper back can lower arms and bend elbows to keep spine straight.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana)


  • Stimulates circulation and creates traction on spine.
  • Stretches hamstrings, calves and hips.
  • Provides weight-bearing hip extensor stretch when tailbone is lifted further.
  • Reduces stress.

Alignment and Cues

  • Exhaling, hinge from hips with neutral back.
  • Let arms sweep down, and place hands on floor. Release back during last third of movement.
  • Emphasize lengthening front of torso as you move deeper into pose.

Contraindications/Modifications. Modify for tight hamstrings or prior back injuries either by bending knees to rest ribs on thighs or by using wall for support (hands resting on wall, back aligned parallel to floor).

For a complete review of Sun Salutation poses, including variations, refer to the full article, “Sun Salutations,” in the online IDEA Library or in June 2010 IDEA Fitness Journal.

Video Web Extra! To see animated versions of the three sun salutations, click here and scroll toward the bottom of the page.