Each morning is a new opportunity to greet the day with breath and movement.
After you wake up, your body needs a safe and gentle transition from long, peaceful rest into a day of movement. A sattvic asana sequence in the morning awakens your body from its slumber so it can serve you calmly all day long.
Your asana practice doesn’t need to take hours to be effective. Just 10 minutes on your mat, guided by conscious breath, will make a significant difference in how you feel all day long. If you want a simple way to say hello to the new day and honor the sun, try surya namaskar, sun salutations.
A short and effective Yoga asana practice
Surya namaskar, practiced on its own or at the beginning of a sequence, warms up your body and allows prana to flow. This classic sequence offers nearly every type of Yoga asana. Forward folds, backbends, inversions, standing poses -- they are all part of sun salutations.
Doing a few surya namaskar at the beginning of your day will get your blood flowing and your mind focused. Add a backbend or inversion, a twist, and, of course, savasana in at the end and you’ll have a complete practice.
Follow the breath in surya namaskar
When breath is present, prana flows. Initiate each movement with your breath, allowing it to guide your progression and support smooth transitions. With even and fluid breath, your natural vibrancy awakens. No caffeine needed!
Here’s a simple way to use your breath to guide your movements: hold each pose in surya namaskar for 3 to 5 breaths for at least one round. Pausing allows you to feel the essence of the asana and breathe deeply into its openings. This practice is especially good if vata dosha is high or your body is asking you to slow down.
Variations of surya namaskar
There are several variations of surya namaskar. The one we’re sharing in this tutorial uses banarasana, lunge pose, as a transition from uttanasana (standing forward fold) to adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). It also uses baby cobra instead of full bhujangasana or urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog) with the strength-building step of lifting your upper body without using your hands.
This version builds strength and creates a solid foundation for the rest of your practice. The result will be a much deeper expression of surya namaskar and a new way to experience your body as a powerful vessel for your spirit.
Perhaps you’ve learned this sequence when you came to a Hale Pule training and do it every time you step onto your mat. Or it may be the first time you have become acquainted with this style. No matter where you are, experience this surya namaskar sequence with fresh eyes. Ready for a new challenge? Try it blindfolded!
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Essence: To connect with the breath and move energy continuously
Strength: Mainly pelvic floor, legs and back
Anchor: Varies, depending on the pose
Surya namaskar from the ground up
It’s easy to move quickly through the poses, but until you have developed a strong foundation and you naturally move in a smooth, aligned way, move slowly with even breaths.
1. Begin in tadasana. Breathe, externally rotate your upper arm bones and raise your arms up so they are just in front of your face. Gaze up toward your thumbs.
2. Keep your spine extended and lower thighs active and fold forward into uttanasana. Keep your hips above your heels as you completely relax your head, neck and toes. Point your elbows straight back and engage the muscles along the lower front of your thighs.
3. On your next breath, lift from your hips to take all the roundness out of your back. Let your arms hang naturally from your shoulders (you may lift your hands off the mat or keep them grounded, the focus is on extending through your spine). Keep looking in front with the spine extended, bend your knees and place your hands on the mat shoulder-width distance apart. Your wrist creases should be even across the front edge of your mat and fingers spaced equally apart. Ground through your hands, especially the knuckles of your index finger and thumb.
4. Breathe and step your right foot back to a lunge position, with your left knee directly above your left heel. With a straight and strong back leg and active buttocks, breathe and lift your torso off your thigh until it makes a straight line with your back leg (about 45 degrees). Bend your arms to 90 degrees, elbows beneath your shoulders, and hold your hands in jnana mudra (tips of your index fingers and thumb to touch, remaining fingers extended).
5. Breathe to bring your hands down to the mat shoulder-width distance (wrist creases even, fingers equally spaced, knuckles grounded), look in front and step back to adho mukha svanasana.
6. Breathe, look forward and shift your weight until your shoulders are above your wrists and your torso is in a plank position (if needed, slide your toes back until the buttocks are in line with the rest of the body). Look in front, breathe, and lower your knees, chest and chin to the floor, either one at a time or all together keeping your knuckles grounded the whole time.
7. Breathe and slide your torso slightly forward until it’s flat on the mat. Place the tops of your feet on the mat with your legs together. Extend your tailbone ⅛ inch (½ centimeter) toward your heels to engage neutral spine and press your legs and feet together and into the floor. Breathe and lift your hands off the mat. Then lift your chest and head using the muscles in your back (baby cobra). Keep your gaze forward and breathe to lower your chest and place your hands under your shoulders.
8. Breathe and curl your toes under so they are hip-width distance apart. Look forward as you lift your sit bones up and back to adho mukha svanasana then shift your gaze to your big toes.
9. Look in front and breathe to step your right foot forward smoothly (if your heel doesn’t line up with your knee from this movement, use your hand to guide your foot the rest of the way). With your back leg straight and strongly engaged from heel to buttocks, inhale and lift your belly off your thigh, creating a straight line with your back leg and torso. Bend your arms to 90 degrees, elbows under shoulders, and place your hands in jnana mudra.
10. Place your palms down and step into uttanasana with your feet hip-width distance apart, lower front part of the thighs engaged. Relax your head and neck completely and extend your sit bones up by turning your pelvis.
11. Inhale and fully extend your spine, bringing your arms up and out. Externally rotate your shoulders as you lift your arms toward the ceiling, then bring your hands into anjali mudra (prayer position).
Common trouble spots
Buttocks too high in knees, chest, chin. Avoid straining your lower back by lowering with a softer curve in your spine.
Kicking leg up in order to come to lunge. Instead of using momentum to bring your leg forward, build strength in your psoas muscles by stepping to the front of your mat naturally, then moving your foot with your hand if it doesn’t line up under your knee.
Head down in transitions into and out of baby cobra. Looking in front lifts your head so that you don’t put extra weight on your shoulders and upper back.