If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ve probably heard the term ‘sun salutation’ bandied around by various instructors.

Sun salutation yoga is a series of 12 poses, although you’ll find various opinions out there on how many poses should form the practise.

It’s often thought of in the Yoga community as an excellent series to work through first thing in the morning, which makes sense given that it’s all about the rising sun.

If you fully commit to the sun salutations series, then you can expect to do a variety of postures, chants, and breathwork, though if you’re just starting out, it’s fine to focus on just getting your limbs in the right places.

In this guide, we’re going to touch upon the main reasons for giving sun salutations a go as a beginner, as well as what benefits you can expect and what the poses are.

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What is sun salutation yoga?

Sun salutation yoga is a practise which includes 12 powerful poses.

If you are open-minded to the spiritual aspects of yoga, then this series is intended to give you the vitality and energy of the sun; if you’re in yoga for the physical benefits, then it’s a series of common stretches that should improve your flexibility and help you breathe mindfully.

For many, the sun salutation series of poses is a great introduction to yoga as you can perform each pose with relative ease and modify them to your level of experience if necessary.

woman doing yoga outside
Low lunge is one of the sun salutations poses that provides the deepest stretch for your hips and legs.

What are the benefits of sun salutation yoga?

The sun salutation benefits are numerous, and if you commit to a daily practise of this yoga series, you should feel a lot better in your body.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect from sun salutation yoga.

Energy Boost

The main reason to take up a sun salutation yoga practise is for the energy boost it can give you, which should help you power through the morning. Given its name, it makes sense that this series is intended to be done first thing in the morning.

The combination of stretches will have you on your feet and on the ground, using most of the major muscle groups in the process.

This will undoubtedly perk you up even if you haven’t yet taken a sip of your morning coffee.

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Sun rise landscape
Sun salutation yoga is all about waking up with the sun and starting the day right.

Mindful Breathing

If meditation is a great static way to become more present with your breathing, yoga can be considered a more dynamic alternative.

While you won’t be freeing your mind of thoughts in the same way as you would with a dedicated meditation practise, with yoga, you can bring a sense of calm by focusing on your deep inhalations and exhalations and aligning them with the movements.

This is perfect for starting the day in a good mood and free from the responsibilities that clamor for your attention first thing.

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Improve Flexibility

As with any series of yoga poses, sun salutation is excellent for increasing flexibility.

Particularly, you will be able to work on your hip and shoulder mobility and your leg flexibility when you’re down on the ground.

Given that many of us are confined to the desk or have to maintain a seated position for long periods of the day, our lower bodies often get locked up, and the muscles don’t get activated often.

Going through the sun salutation yoga series, you can address this lack of mobility and keep your lower body healthy and active.

Low lunge, in particular is one of the best poses for building flexibility in the legs and working into hip mobility.

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Easy sun salutation poses for beginners

Back bend outside
The standing back bend won't look like this on your first attempt, but it's something to aim for!

While certain poses are repeated in the sun salutations for beginners cycle, each one is performed slightly differently, and with a different energy, so you can consider each one as a unique pose.

You can also modify each pose depending on your level of experience and athleticism if you desire, making them either easier or more difficult.

It all depends on what you want to get out of the routine.

All 12 sun salutation poses can be modified to be beginner-friendly, and if you’re wondering how to do sun salutation yoga, then you should familiarise yourself with them:

Prayer

The prayer pose, which is also known as Pranamasana, is a straightforward one.

Simply stand up straight with your feet together, and place your palms together as if you were praying.

It’s important to practise good posture in a pose like this one, so there should be no slouching and no rolling the shoulders forward so you are hunching over.

Ideally, your shoulders should be back, your chin parallel with the ground, and your abdominal muscles should be lightly engaged to encourage good spinal stability.

Raised Arms

The raised arms pose, known as Hasta Uttanasana, is one that sounds incredibly simple but can be one of the more challenging poses in the series, depending on your shoulder mobility.

The key with this pose that requires you to do a backbend with your arms over your head is to bend backwards on an inhalation.

As you inhale, you should stretch your arms overhead as best you can and bend your upper back with them.

Once you’ve made it into the pose, you can move the pelvis forward slightly to get an even deeper stretch.

You should feel this pose stretching out your entire front body and spine, so if you work at a desk, it will feel like a sigh of relief for the body.

Standing Forward Bend

The standing forward bend, or Hasta Padasana, is a pose you’ll become very familiar with if you commit any amount of time to yoga, as it’s common in many routines.

This one will feel fantastic, but not everyone can reach down and touch their toes so don’t worry if you don’t make it all the way down first time!

To perform the pose, you should bend down on an exhalation until your palms touch the floor, but it’s completely fine if it’s just your fingertips or if your hands don’t yet reach the ground.

Low Lunge

The low lunge, or Ashwa Sanchalanasana, is a deep stretch that will help you develop hip mobility and build muscle in the legs.

To perform this pose, put one foot forward and rest the back leg on the ground with your toes curled or flat on the ground depending on what feels best for you.

Plank

Plank, or Dandasana, is an exercise that isn’t limited to yoga, and is a very popular exercise for developing strong abdominal muscles.

From the low lunge position, move your front foot back until it is in line with your rear foot.

The key to a great plank is to keep your core engaged and screw your hands slightly outwards in order to ensure your shoulders are locked into your shoulder blades.

Knee-Chest-Chin

This pose is self-explanatory, although you wouldn’t know that from its other name Ashtanga Namaskara.

From the plank, simply lower your knees to the ground, shift your hips back and slide forward until your chest and your chin are on the ground.

In this position you should have both knees, your chest and your chin on the ground - makes sense, right?

Cobra

Cobra pose, or bhujangasana, is the next pose in the series and requires you to slide forward from the previous pose before raising your chest and chin as much as possible.

It’s normal to have the elbows bent in this position and you should do your best to look upwards as you hold the position.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward facing dog is a pose that’s present in most yoga routines, which is sometimes shortened to down dog and also known as adho mukha svanasana.

To get into this pose, position your feet at the back of your mat with the soles of your feet as flat as possible. As a beginner, the chances of having your feet completely flat in this position are slim, so resting on your toes is fine.

Place your arms far out in front of you and look back towards your feet.

Low Lunge

Now to cycle back to some earlier poses, we have low lunge again.

Since you should feel energised by this point and more limber, try to work into the stretch even more and work on your leg flexibility.

Standing Forward Bend

The second standing forward bend should see you get closer to the floor with your hands, and closer to your shins with your face.

Raised Arms

The second raised arms pose is like the last hurrah, and should feel like the sun kissing your skin at the start of the day.

This pose should feel invigorating and wake up the body, so soak it up and breathe deeply.

Mountain

To finish, it’s a variation of the prayer pose, known as the mountain or tadasana pose.

The same rules apply here, keep your body as upright as possible but this time keep your arms by your sides with your palms facing forward.

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