How do I modify a Sun Salutation? 5 Sun Salutation Modifications for Beginners

beginners yoga modification oregon portland what is a sun salutation yoga and twelve step recovery yoga for beginners Aug 02, 2022

What is a Sun Salutation?

On the day of writing this, I’ve taught somewhere in the ballpark of over 1,000 yoga classes. In the span of that time, I have met and worked with a lot of people. In my experience, with myself included, very few people seem confident in taking full sun salutations. In a Baptiste power vinyasa flow, you take almost 70 sun salutations by the end of the practice. That is a fuck ton of physical labor in 60 minute or longer classes. Chances are you aren't feeling very calm either. lol

A sun salutation is a series of postures that are taken as a sequence of poses between other poses. A sun salutation is a sequence all on its own, but it’s often combined as a flow sequence during a vinyasa yoga class. At the beginning of a vinyasa style yoga class, you generally begin taking sun salutations as a warm up. Full sun salutations will bring you through all of the ranges of motion like a full body workout. Sun Salutations are highly athletic and challenging.

In a full sun salutation one is asked to step back to plank pose from halfway lift. Holding plank pose, one bends the elbows back and lowers roughly halfway to the floor as a straight, flat board. From this low push-up, one presses into upward facing dog and back into downward facing dog. The athleticism required to lower one's flat body into a low push up and then reemerge into upward dog is truly a feat of strength. In my experience as a teacher and student, most beginners do not have the upper body strength to feel successful in this progression.

But, aren't sun salutations like thousands of years old?

I am not someone who subscribes to the idea that sun salutations are thousands of years old and that these sacred sequences should remain intact from antiquity. Historical evidence suggests that sun salutations are more like 100 years old, and stem from the lineage of T.Krishnamacharya. If you’re interested to learn more about yoga history and philosophy, I highly recommend the Yogic Studies platform through Seth Powell.

I love modifying sun salutations. Based on how I am feeling on any particular day, I will modify my sun salutations in at least five different ways. Sometimes, I change what I’m doing throughout the practice. I love being at choice in my practice. Choice is something I mention a lot when I am teaching yoga. We are at choice, on our mat and in the world. When we give ourselves permission to find the poses that work right for our bodies, we’re practicing being fully self supporting. This is the road to listening to yourself.

Here are FIVE ways you change up or modify your sun salutation practice

You can stick with one or you can change it up as you move through your practice. Consider, there is no right or wrong way to do it, just the way for today.

Imagine you are standing at the top of your mat. Reach your arms over your head and bow forward. Place your hands on your shins, lift your chest halfway up. This is where we begin our modification…


    1. Step straight back to downward facing dog. That’s it! Nothing extra. Take as many steps as you need to get yourself back there. I highly suggest you soften your knees in downward dog.
    2. Take a round of cat and cow. Make your way to your knees and take one round of cat and cow with your inhale and exhale. Come back to a neutral spine and shift back into downward dog.
    3. Take a set of camel pose. Gently come down to all fours and stand up on your knees. You can keep the tops of your feet on the floor, or tuck your toes under your heels. Place your hands on your lower back and take a breath in to lift your chest up. Use your exhale to gently open your chest towards the ceiling. Inhale your way back up, plant your hands and come back to downward facing dog.
    4. Use blocks–step back to plank, shift into downward facing dog. Honestly, I love all of these modifications, but this one does something special for me. First, using the blocks will give you about six more inches to play. Consider the blocks are an extension of your hand to the floor. Step back to plank with your hands on the blocks and hold plank pose for a breath. Press yourself back into downward facing dog. This is an excellent way to safely start playing with plank and build strength and stability.
    5. Step back to plank, lower to your belly, and press into upward dog or cobra. When you move from plank to your belly, do it with as much control as you can muster, rather than collapsing your body to the floor. If you collapse, no biggie, just keep working on lowering your body down with ease and control. Keep your hands about your nipple line. You can straighten your arms fully for an upward dog or just lift your chest a little bit for cobra pose.




These are my five favorite alternative ways to take a sun salutation. Depending on how I’m feeling, I move between these choices fluidly. Don’t feel pressure to do something you don’t feel quite ready for. If you enjoy taking full sun salutations, then do it! But, if it feels strenuous, find a new way. You don’t always have to choose the hardest option either. Full sun salutations require a lot of strength. Give yourself permission to take it slow while you’re learning. You don’t have to be perfect at this. That is why we call it a practice!


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