In every vinyasa flow yoga class, and many other styles, you’ll find a few sun salutations in there — but sometimes taking students through the basic surya namaskara As and surya namaskara Bs can be a little boring if it’s what’s they’re used to all the time.
That’s not to say I don’t love a simple sun salutation, I really do. Many mornings you’ll find me on my mat breathing through three of each to help energise my body for the day ahead. It’s good to know that it doesn’t always have to be the same though. The obvious way to change it up a bit is to pick a different type, maybe teaching the Sivananda sun salutation or the Iyengar version. These are all equally awesome for awakening the muscles and mind to start the day. If you’re looking for some other ideas, then keep reading.
On graduation day of my YogaLondon teacher training course we went through 108 sun salutations as a celebration of our achievements. Everyone was asked to teach five rounds and to make it interesting, so thank you to my fellow students for giving me a few ideas for this blog post!
1. Integrate the Chakras
Talking about the chakras in class doesn’t have to be an in-depth insight into each one, you don’t even need to reference the Sanskrit names for them at all. Why not try using different terminology that lends itself to each chakra whilst working through them. Maybe focus all of the sun salutations on one chakra to really hone it into the students or work your way through a few of them. This way your yogis are learning theory whilst practicing.
2. Focus on Bandhas
Three lovely ladies on my course took on the three bandhas as part of our 108 sun salutations and it really helped me realise just how often we use mula and uddiyana bandha throughout every asana… pretty much all the time. For the mula bandha sun salutations we all had to say mula out loud with every movement. Not only was this rather amusing and lightened the atmosphere, it really did make you switch it on and bring your attention to it. The lovely Victoria, who had jalandara bandha had a slightly tougher task, but she took it on well and referenced the use of jalandara bandha in adho mukha svanasana throughout each round.
3. Use the Yamas & Niyamas
A nice way to again bring in the philosophy side of yoga without giving your students a lecture is to subtly weave it into your flow. To practice aparigraha (aka non-attachment) I have asked students to swap mats with another student with each round of sun salutes. We’re all creatures of habit, always having our same mat in the same corner of the studio, so it’s always good to remind them that their practice is still just as special no matter where in the room they are standing.
4. Comedy Value
This isn’t for everyone and you definitely need to assess your class before going down the comedy route, as many yogis out there want to get into the zone and feel every breath rather than be distracted by laughter. A few examples of this from my day of 108 sun salutations are Disney yoga and Hobbit yoga! No, that’s not a typo and yes, you read it correctly!
Disney yoga consisted of each sun salutation being a short Disney story (think lifting Simba up on Pride Rock when lifting the hands into Urdhva Hastasana and feeling like Blue the Bear from Jungle Book in Downward Facing Dog)! Think that sounds odd, I’ll just leave you to imagine what hobbit yoga was… there were numerous voice impressions of characters!
5. Breathe It, Feel It
This is a really nice way to start a class, maybe after you’ve warmed the body and have worked through some pranayama techniques. Before launching into some energising sun salutations why not keep the students in a comfortable seated position, closing off the eyes and talking through the sequence as if you were teaching it. All the students need to do is stay seated and breathe the movements, picturing each asana in their mind. It really helps bring the students focus to the breath and how it should feel whilst they’re moving.
See Also: Top Tips for a Truly Easy Seated Pose
6. Power to the People
Maybe not as the first sun salute of the day, but doing some power yoga sun salutations are really popular with my students, as the ones that are there for a workout can feeling feel the burn. Add in a few chaturanga press ups, hold plank for a few breaths and switch your warrior one for a high lunges and maybe throw in a few lunge lowers bringing the knee to the floor, just to help them feel those quads working.
Take your sun salutation to the mat for a restorative flow style. My favourite little sequence for this is starting in a kneeling position…
- Inhale lifting the bottom and arms up
- Exhale to all fours
- Inhale to Cow Pose
- Exhale to Cat Pose
- Inhale back to Child’s Pose
- Exhale back to kneeling.
Repeat this about five times and watch your students start to feel more alive. This is a great way to warm the body up if you’re doing a super early morning class, as it leads them into the flow with gentle movements, focusing on the breath.
So there you have a few ways to spice up your sun salutations, whether it’s for your yoga students or for yourself at home… but be careful that you next door neighbour doesn’t hear you doing yoga and hobbit impressions at the same time!