Traditionally performed in the morning to greet the new day, the yoga sun salutation series warms up the body and prepares it for practice. While this flow successfully targets large muscles and brings the mind to a singular focus, it does so primarily in the sagittal plane. When you add movements that address the frontal and transverse planes, sun salutations become a functional warm-up for any class, including circuit, step, dance and strength. Bare feet are not required!
Begin with a basic understanding of how to practice and teach the traditional sequence . From there, add the following variations. Note: Do 1–2 complete rounds of traditional sun salutations before introducing the new moves.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose sets a foundation and gives participants a chance to check their posture and alignment from the anatomical position. The following moves (performed from mountain pose) explore lateral and rotational movements, and challenge balance.
- Stand tall, ground left foot, and abduct right leg. Switch sides. Lift opposite arm diagonally to add challenge. Alternate 10×.
- With knees slightly bent and abdominals engaged, straighten arms in front, palms facing each other. On exhalation, keep L arm in front as you sweep R arm behind you. Alternate arms, synchronizing breath. Focus on thoracic rotation, and either gaze forward or follow moving arm.
- With “steeple” fingers above head, shoulders away from ears, and core engaged, make clockwise circle with torso. Switch directions.
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Forward fold can be a difficult pose for people who have tight hamstrings and/or back issues. Cue students to keep their knees bent if necessary, roll the shoulders away from the ears, and engage the abdominals.
- Stagger R foot slightly forward, and touch R toes with L hand (R arm sweeps back). Repeat on opposite side.
- Alter foot positions: heels of feet together (Pilates V); balls of feet touching and heels out; narrow stance; and wide stance.
- Grab elbows, framing head, and gently sway side to side.
Use microprogressions to safely and gently stretch the quadriceps and hip flexors. Start with a low lunge (back knee down), and then introduce the high lunge.
- From low lunge (R foot forward, L knee down), bring arms overhead and lean laterally R. Repeat L.
- From high lunge, R foot forward, extend arms to sides, engage core and rotate R. Repeat L.
- Step L foot back into full extension, hands on ground for support, torso above thigh, core engaged. Bend and straighten R knee 3×. Pause; inhale and place L hand next to R instep. Exhale, twisting torso R. Repeat L.
Plank is another key pose that helps build a safe, integrated stage for the rest of the workout. Take time to set students up properly in plank, with correct alignment, and then add the following if appropriate.
- Transition into side plank; switch sides.
- Bring R knee in toward R elbow. Repeat L.
- Extend R arm and L leg diagonally. Repeat on opposite side.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward-facing dog both stretches and strengthens the body, and it is often performed incorrectly. Instruct participants to keep their knees slightly bent if the hamstrings are tight; to roll their shoulders down and away from the ears; and to keep their hands firmly planted on the ground. Start in standard downward-facing dog for each of the following.
- Keep shoulders and hips squared forward, and extend R leg behind body (three-legged dog). Bend R knee and rotate hip L (opening R hip area). Repeat L.
- Engage core and bring R foot diagonally in toward L wrist, threading it through space between hand and foot. Rotate torso L, extending L arm. Repeat L.
- Simple twist: Slightly shorten stance (bring arms and feet closer together), widen feet and grab L knee, shin or foot with R hand. Repeat L.