How to modify your Sun Salutations

Learn how to adapt Sun Salutations for your own body including a video demo from Esther Ekhart. Great if you are a beginner or if you have injuries and want to keep practising. – by Jenny Savage

Sun Salutations and variations of them feature all the time in our yoga classes. The poses are said to form the building blocks of a yoga practice. They can be used as a warm up at the beginning of class, as vinyasas between poses and also as a complete practice within themselves.

This article and the free video below from Esther, will go through how you can make changes to Sun Salutations so that you can adapt them to suit your body. Good stuff to know if you have wrist injuries, shoulder or lower back injuries and still want to practise regular classes.

Modifying Sun Salutation A

Watch the video at the end of this article for the full demo of each of these points:

1. Tadasana – foot position
Sun Salutations are traditionally taught starting in Tadasana / Mountain Pose with the inner edges of the feet together. But for many body types this is not comfortable or possible. If this is the case for you you can stand with your feet slightly apart parallel with each other, or even with your toes pointing out slightly.

2. Raising your arms to Urdhva Hastasana
From Tadasana inhale and raise your arms over your head into Urdhva Hastasana / Upwards Salute. You have options here of either bringing your arms out to the sides and up – or you can bring the backs of your hands together and raise them up the mid-line of your body. This second option could be easier on your shoulders. Once your arms are raised you can bring your palms together or keep them parallel – keep the back of the neck long as your look up so you avoid crunching the neck.

You can use the same two options for lowering your arms – either bringing them out to the side or with your palms together down the frontline of your body.

3. Folding into Uttanasana / Forward Fold

As you exhale to fold from Urdhva Hastasana to your Forward Fold / Uttanasana you have the option of keeping the legs straight or bending the knees slightly. In both cases engage your abdominal muscles and the fronts of your thighs to help release the muscles of the back and hamstrings.

This same option applies when you are coming up from your Forward Fold back into Urdhva Hastasana.

If you are practising many sun salutations in one practice (e.g. the 108 sun salutation challenge) we recommend keeping the bend in the knees even if you are very flexible in your hamstrings. This will help to protect your lower back.

4. Ardha Uttanasana / Half Standing Forward Fold
From Forward Fold we inhale and lift the torso, extending the spine into Ardha Uttanasana / Half Forward Fold.

The full expression of the pose is for your spine and legs to be straight and your fingers to be touching the floor.

Your different options here are to keep your fingertips on the floor but with your knees bent, or you can have straight legs with your hands on your shins or blocks. Keep the back of your neck long as you look forward.

5. Stepping back to Plank and forward from Downward Facing Dog
Usually we will tend to use the same leg to step back to Plank Pose and forward from Downward Facing Dog. This works well in a regular class and is often a deliberate part of the class sequence. However try to vary your leading leg from time to time. It’s hard to break habits but also good to challenge them sometimes!

You can also jump back and forward, but be sure to stay light in your landing to avoid excess pressure in your joints.

6. Chaturanga options
From Plank Pose we lower to come into Cobra or Upward Facing Dog. The options here are to come through Chaturanga or lower your Knees Chest Chin. Instead of Knees Chest Chin you can also lower the knees then bring first the thighs, then the hips, then upper body to the floor until you are lying flat. Get familiar with these different options especially when practising high repetitions of Sun Salutations.

We strongly recommend Knees Chest Chin or Rolling the thighs instead of Chaturanga once you get over 10 rounds of Sun Salutations in the 108 training program.

7. Downward Dog
From Cobra or Upward Facing Dog we come back into Downward Facing Dog. Press firmly through the base of the index finger and the fingertips to take pressure off your wrists. In Downward Dog the focus is on keeping your spine long and straight. If you feel you are rounding in your back you can keep your knees bent and your hips lifted. This is nice to do for an extra stretch even if your back is straight.

Options for skipping a Sun Salutation
So what to do if you need to skip all or part of a Sun Salutation?

Malasana / Squat option
If you are feeling tired or if you can’t put weight on your hands and wrists, instead of going through Plank to Downdog you can come into Malasana or Squat Pose instead. Watch Esther’s video to see a demo. If you find your heels are very high off the floor in Malasana you could keep a rolled up towel ready behind your feet and bring it under your heels each time you come into the pose.

Cat/Cow Option
Another option for a modified Sun Salutation is to practise Cat / Cow movements in place of Chaturanga and Cobra / Upward Facing Dog. Go through your regular Sun Salutation but when you step back to Plank pose bring your knees to the floor straight away so that your knees are under your hips. Inhale and lift your chest into Cat Pose – Exhale and round your spine in Cow Pose. Then lift your hips up into Downward Facing Dog and complete the regular Sun Salutation.

Visualisations and chanting a mantra
If you are practising lots of Sun Salutations (like 108 for example!) it could be that you need to sit out some rounds completely. Instead you can come into a comfortable pose (or poses) of your choice and either do a visualisation of the Sun Salutation, or you can chant Aum (A-U-M).

Make the right choice for your body, make it enjoyable!

Watch Esther’s video for the full demo of all the modifications above

Photo source: By Diamond Moutain [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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