Sun salutations ("Surya Namaskara" in Sanskrit)are used in yoga practices like Ashtanga yoga as a means of warming up and also as a means of focusing the mind.
They can also be considered a type of prayer.
There are two types of sun salutation in the Ashtanga Yoga system:
Knowing the number of moves in each sun salutation is handy because it can help to tell you if you've done it right or wrong.
If, for example you finish doing Sun Salutation A but you've only counted 8 or 9 moves then you know you've missed something out.
Likewise if your finish Sun Salutation B after only 14 moves, then again you know you've done something wrong.
Each movement in a Sun Salutation is accompanied by either an inhale or an exhale. Because odd numbered moves are done while inhaling and even numbered moves are done while exhaling, this may help you to remember the moves easier.
In general odd numbered moves, which are all inhales, tend to be upwards moving and chest expanding. Even numbered moves, exhales, tend to be downwards moving.
I've colored inhale movements red (working) and exhale movements blue (relaxing.)
Chaturanga (move number 4), which I like to think of as Crocodile, is moved into with an exhale, since the chest and head are lowered as the arms are bent.
Upward Dog (5) is moved into with an inhale since the head and chest lifts.
Downward Dog (6) is moved into with an exhale since the head and chest move down.
A common mistake that I see people make when doing either sun salutation is in the transition from Downward Dog to standing. They tend to forget movement 7 (number 15 in the B Salute,) the reaching forwards with the spine movement.
It may be helpful to remember that since you move in to Downward Dog with an exhale, you should come out of it with an inhale. Hence, chest forwards (7). Afterwards you exhale and bend down (8).
Often times when first learning to do Sun Salutation B I see students forget to do the Chaturanga and Upward Dog movements (movements 8 and 9, 12 and 13) after doing Warrior 1 (movements 7 and 11). Instead they go straight to Downward Dog.
One very cheesy memory aid: imagine that you are a warrior, you've shot your arrow and you have to get down... and so you lay on the ground in Chaturanga.
One final note,when starting and finishing Sun Salutation B, remember to bend your knees. Even though your hips are sinking, your arm are lifting and so in both cases this move is done with an inhale.
To learn a Sun Salutation, break it down into blocks of movements.
You can repeat these sets of movements, doing them in time with your breath, and then add them together.
Three Special Poses
The B Sun Salutation in Ashtanga Yoga is eight movements longer than the A Sun Salutation and has two additional yoga poses: Chair Pose and Warrior 1.
You may find it easier to think of Chair Pose as a replacement for movements 2 and 9 in Sun Salutation A.
When doing Warrior 1 remember:
You can practice these two yoga postures individually so that you get a feel for them. You may then find it easier then to move in and out of them because you know where you are going or what you are trying to do.
Because of the two warrior poses (left side and right side) Sun Salutation B has 2 extra "Chatarunga-Upward Dog-Downward Dog" mini-sequences. As a result, doing Sun Salutation B can either warm you up or tire you out. However, once you've learned the movements you may find that you can practice while leading with your breath.
This can make breathing easier as well as make doing the Sun Salutation itself easier.
An Ashtanga Yoga practice normally starts with 3 to 5 Surya Namaskara A's and 3 to 5 Surya Namaskara B's. You may want to do more when practicing in a cold environment or if you like "The Exercise." You might also like varying the speed at which you do them, noticing how you feel when you do them with a faster breath as opposed to a slower breath.
I almost forgot,
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
Is it a bad idea to heel strike while barefoot running? What are the possible benefits of heel striking? When should you not heel strike?
These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.