Sun Salutations in Vinyasa Yoga

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Nurturing Your Practice

Sun Salutations are a staple of the sequencing of any Vinyasa Yoga class in the West. But what are sun salutations and where did they come from? The Sanskrit phrase for this is Surya Namaskar and when we break it down, we can see the direct translation. Surya is translated into ‘Sun’ and Namaskar is translated into ‘greeting’ or ‘salute’. It is hard to trace a clear path to how and when sun salutations were created and incorporated into yoga practices. There aren’t any clear mentions or documentation of the poses that we use today in Sun Salutations. What we do know is that they are of Indian descent and were written about in the 1920s by Bhawanrao Shriniwasrao Pant Pratinidhi. We also see the yoga lineage of Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, use them extensively in his lineage of vinyasa yoga. B.K.S Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, both students of Krishnamacharya, then learned and adapted the Sun Salutation to fit each of their own lineages moving forward. 

There are a few types of Sun Salutations in today’s modern yoga world: Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B, and Moon Salutations. Sun salutations tend to be more well-known than the moon salutation but finding balance of energetic qualities is key to wellness. As mentioned above, these sets of movements are often used as transitional pieces in sequencing vinyasa yoga classes. Sun salutations have the qualities of yang; they create heat and build energy in the body. On the other hand, moon salutations encompass more yin-like qualities making them more cooling and grounding. They are also great for those looking to not bear any weight on the arms as they work primarily with the lower body.  We will start with looking at sun salutations. 

Sun Salutation A:

We begin each sun salutation in tadasana, or mountain pose. 

  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Forward fold (exhale)
  • Halfway lift (inhale)
  • Chatturanga/half pushup (exhale)
  • Upward facing dog (inhale)
  • Downward facing dog (exhale)
  • Halfway lift (inhale)
  • Forward Fold (exhale)
  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Tadasana (exhale)

Now, you might be able to see some hint of this structure when looking back onto yoga classes you may have taken in the past. As mentioned above, it is a fundamental building block used to sequence a vinyasa yoga class. It is a beautiful tool to incorporate into your personal practice if you are looking for a way to energize yourself. Practicing a few sun salutations in the morning before starting your day will invigorate your breath and leave you feeling more prepared for your day. 

Surya Namaskar B is very similar to A. In fact, you can say that Sun Salutation A is the building block for B. 

Sun Salutation B:

Just as before, we begin in tadasana. 

  • Chair pose (inhale)
  • Forward fold (exhale)
  • Halfway lift (inhale)
  • Chatturanga/half pushup (exhale)
  • Upward facing dog (inhale)
  • Downward facing dog (exhale)
  • Warrior I (inhale)
  • Chatturanga/half pushup (exhale)
  • Upward facing dog (inhale)
  • Downward facing dog (exhale)
  • Warrior I, second side (inhale)
  • Chatturanga/half pushup (exhale)
  • Upward facing dog (inhale)
  • Downward facing dog (exhale)
  • Halfway lift (inhale)
  • Forward Fold (exhale)
  • Chair pose (inhale)
  • Tadasana (exhale)

As you can see, the main difference between surya namaskar A and B is the addition of chair pose and warrior I as well as the larger number of overall poses. There are also three separate rounds of what we would call a vinyasa transition (chaturanga, upward facing dog, downward facing dog). If you are looking to add a bit more vigor to your morning routine, you might begin to practice a few rounds of sun salutation B instead of A or in addition to them. 

Moon Salutations, or Chandra Namaskar, are, again, the more cooling of the salutations. Just like sun salutations, they begin in tadasana. 

Moon salutation:

  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Crescent stretch (exhale)
  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Crescent stretch, second side (exhale)
  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Goddess squat (exhale)
  • Triangle pose (inhale)
  • Pyramid pose (exhale)
  • Low lunge (inhale)
  • Skandasana, bending into front leg (exhale)
  • Goddess squat (inhale)
  • Skandasana, second side (exhale)
  • Low lunge, second side (inhale)
  • Pyramid pose, second side (exhale)
  • Triangle pose, second side (inhale)
  • Goddess squat (exhale)
  • Upward facing salute (inhale)
  • Tadasana (exhale)

Knowing that each of these sequences embodies different qualities, we can use them to help us sequence yoga classes. For example, moon salutations might be a great tool to utilize during the major phases of the moon. Sequencing in a creative way doesn’t have to be daunting; we can lean into what we know with these various salutations and allow the creativity to flow through them. You can learn more about sequencing yoga classes with any 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training such as with My Vinyasa Practice

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