Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Yoga Sequences

How to Evolve Your Sun Salutation at Every Age

You change as you get older—and your yoga practice should, too. Here’s how to tweak your Sun Salutation during three key phases of your life.

As a teacher of yoga for almost two decades, I have seen many students’ practices fluctuate over the years. I’ve also experienced a similar fluctuation. Since I began practicing 40 years ago, my now 57-year-old body isn’t moving as fast and fluidly as it used to. I’m tighter and not as strong as I once was, old injuries get cranky, and I find I need a lot more time to warm up and cool down.

Giving up my practice is not an option. But neither is pain and discomfort. Which is why I have recently begun a re-evaluation of my approach and relationship to yoga, realizing it is time to adapt to and reorient around the aging process.

During this contemplation, I was reminded of the classical yoga tradition of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his philosophy of the stages of life. Each day, the sun rises, peaks, and sets. Our lives can be viewed through this lens of the various phases of the sun: Sunrise is considered a period to cultivate development and captures our youth; mid-day might be considered a therapeutic stage, which happens mid-life; and sunset is a time for self-reflection and self-realization, which happens as we approach the end of our lives.

I believe that with a clearer understanding of the life phase in which you dwell, a yoga practice can be designed that will most appropriately meet your needs and disposition. To show you how, I’ve broken down one of the most common asana sequences—the Sun Salutation—for each of the three stages of life.

See also 5 Things Shiva Rea Teaches That Take Sun Salutes to the Next Level

8 Poses for the Sunrise Phase of Life

During this period (which lasts until about age 25), our communication, intellects, and bodies are developing. This is a time when we are bursting with energy, adventure, and curiosity. To facilitate this growth and exhilaration, a personal practice designed to cultivate strength and vitality is best suited to a developing young person. Asana practices such as Power Yoga, Ashtanga, and Hot Yoga are appropriate.

In conjunction with asana, the study of yogic texts, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is encouraged. These sutras (short, concise pearls of wisdom) were originally passed on from teacher to student through chanting and memorization. In fact, students had to learn how to perfect the Sanskrit chanting before ever learning the meaning behind each sutra. This technique not only helped developed a fierce memory, but also initiated the study and inquiry of the philosophy of yoga. Through this inquiry, students were primed for the challenging ups and downs of a full life.

See also This Sequence Will Help You Tap Into the Power of Your Intuition

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Sun Salutation, tadasana

Stand with your feet hip width apart and your second toes in line with your knees, which line up with your hip bones. Feel the weight of your body evenly distributed between your heels, big toe joints, and little toe joints. Lift your knee caps and feel your quadriceps engage. Align your ribcage directly above your pelvis, and feel your sternum rise up as you slightly engage the space between your shoulder blades.

See also 10 Yoga Sequences for Strong Arms You Can Do At Home

Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)

upward salute, Sun Salutation

From Tadasana, turn your arms outward and on an inhalation, sweep your arms out to the sides and up toward the sky.

See also This Yoga Sequence Is Exactly What You Need During the Holidays

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Sun Salutation, forward fold

From Urdhva Hastasana, exhale and fold forward from your hip joints. Keep your knees as straight as possible and try to touch the floor.

See also 4 Tips to Polish Your Step-Forward Transition

Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)

Sun Salutation, halfway lift

From Uttanasana, inhale to lengthen and lift your torso until it is parallel with the floor, fingertips will brush your chins. Keep the back of your neck long and in the same alignment as the rest of your spine, and your legs and arms are straight.

See also Need a Good Workout? These 10 Core Sequences Will Fire You Up

 

Plank Pose

plank pose, Sun Salutation

From Ardha Uttanasana, jump back to Plank Pose on an inhale. Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor, with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Your torso should be in a straight, diagonal line with your toes curled under. Thighs are engaged and your low ribs are knitting toward one another. 

See also 10 Surprising Ways to Use a Wall When Twisting

Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

chaturanga, Sun Salutation

On an exhalation, bend your elbows and keep them close to your body as you slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor. Keep your shoulders parallel to your elbows.

See also 10 Sequences For Tight Neck and Shoulders

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

upward facing dog, Sun Salutation

From Chaturanga Dandasana, draw your shoulders back and lift your sternum to stretch the front of your body on an inhalation. Uncurl your toes and place the tops of your feet on the floor with your thighs remaining firm and legs lifted off the floor. Keep your inner elbows soft and facing forward, and stay broad across your collar bones with the back of your neck long. 

See also 3 Ways to Improve Spine and Rib-Cage Mobility

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

downward dog, Sun Salutation

From Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, curl your toes under and lift your hips by engaging your abdominals on an exhalation. Press your body weight away from your hands and keep your legs straight and your shoulders broad. Your ears should be in the same alignment as your arms, so as to keep your neck long.

See also The Practical Guide to Mindfulness We Need this Holiday Season

8 Poses for the Mid-day Phase of Life

This phase—which begins around age 26 and can last until 70—is also known as the householder phase. An appropriate yoga practice would be one in which an individual is supported in his or her ability to fulfill obligations and responsibilities within the work environment, to the community, and to family. Stability needs to be cultivated at the level of physical structure, physiological health, as well as emotional well-being. During this phase, it is imperative to focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation, energetic replenishment, nervous system regulation, and stress management.

An ideal asana practice would include adaptations of poses to accommodate anatomical imbalances. Viniyoga and Iyengar Yoga are ideal methodologies for this stage in that they support the individual to achieve maximum benefits without depleting energy or compromising structure. In addition, it is at this phase that a regular practice of pranayama is nurtured. Asana is no longer the focus, but is the vehicle upon which breath travels. Through breath control, vitality is cultivated and maintained.

See also A TCM-Inspired Home Practice to Ease Holiday Stress

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

tadasana, Sun Salutation

Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart with your second toes in the same line as your knees, which should line up with your hip bones. Feel the weight of your body evenly distributed between your heels, big toe joints, and little toe joints. Lift your knee caps and feel your quadriceps engage. Align your ribcage directly above your pelvis, and feel your sternum rise up as you slightly engage the space between your shoulder blades, keeping your chin parallel to the floor.

See also Are You Hypermobile? This Sequence Will Help You Build Awareness and Avoid Injury

Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)

upward salute, Sun Salutation

From Tadasana, turn your arms outward and on an inhalation, sweep your arms out to the sides and up toward the sky. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart. If there is restriction, injury, or pain in the shoulder joint, keep your arms bent.

See also This TCM-Inspired Sequence Will Help You Adjust to the Shorter Days With Ease

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Sun Salutation, forward fold

From Urdhva Hastasana, exhale and fold forward from your hip joints. Keep your knees slightly bent to protect your low back.

See also This Sequence Is Going to Make You Want to Practice With Your Mom

Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)

halfway lift, Sun Salutation

From Uttanasana, bend your knees slightly to protect your low back from strain. Inhale your arms out to the sides to engage your upper back muscles, which strengthens this area that tends to get weak as we age. Lift and lengthen your torso until it is parallel with the floor. Keep the back of your neck long and in the same alignment as the rest of your spine. 

See also A Sequence for Letting Go

Plank Pose

modified plank, Sun Salutation

From Ardha Uttanasana, step back one leg at a time and place your knees down to prevent strain to your shoulder joints. Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor, with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Your torso should be in a straight, diagonal line with your toes curled under. Thighs are engaged and your low ribs are knitting toward one another. 

See also 16 Poses to Spark Inspiration

Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

modified chaturanga, Sun Salutation

On an exhalation, bend your elbows and keep them close to your body as you slowly lower your torso. Don’t allow your shoulders to go lower than your elbows, and keep your knees down to avoid shoulder pain.

 See also 10 Best Uplifting Yoga Poses to Beat the Sunday Night Scaries

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

upward dog, Sun Salutation

From Chaturanga Dandasana, draw your shoulders back and lift your sternum to stretch the front of your body on an inhalation. Keeping your knees down to protect your low back, uncurl your toes and place the tops of your feet on the floor with your thighs remaining firm. Keep your inner elbows soft and facing forward, and stay broad across your collar bones with the back of your neck long.

See also 17 Poses to Work with Your Body’s Limitations

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

modified downward dog, Sun Salutation

From Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, move through Puppy Stretch—a modified version of Child’s Pose (Balasana), with your hips lifted off your heels. Push your hips up and back while straightening your legs. Keep your knees slightly bent, so you can maintain length in your spine.

See also 8 Poses to Cultivate Courage and Reduce Self-Conciousness

8 Poses for the Sunset Phase of Life

As the obligations and responsibilities of the householder start to wane, we begin to contemplate the meaning of life, share our wisdom, and prepare for a merging of the soul back to source. The Sunset phase starts around 70 and goes until the end of life. It is a time when connection to Spirit is deeply developed and embraced in anticipation of the final moments of life.

If you’re going through a yoga asana practice, modify your Sun Salutation as you did in the Mid-Day phase. But keep in mind yoga practice now moves further away from asana and grows in refinement of pranayama, meditation, prayer, and ritual. Ideally, fear of death is conquered—and a peaceful mind and heart can be nurtured. The poses here are a modification of the traditional Sun Salutation, designed to prepare the body to sit for meditation and pranayama.

See also This 7-Pose Home Practice Harnesses the Power of Touch

Cat-Cow Pose, variation (Chakravakasana)

cow pose, child's pose, Sun Salutation

This is a vinyasa combination of Child’s Pose (Balasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

Child’s Pose (Balasana) Kneel on the floor with your knees and feet hip-width apart. Press your hips back towards your heels as far as you can. If there is any discomfort in your knees, keep your hips lifted off your heels. Extend your arms toward the front of your mat with your hands placed shoulder-width distance apart, forearms lifted.

Cow Pose (Bitilasana) On an inhalation, energetically pull your hands toward you as you lift your hips and extend your spine into a tabletop position. Do not lift your sit bones toward the sky (this keeps your low back safe). Continue to energetically pull your hands toward you as you broaden across your collarbone, creating a backbend-like quality in your thoracic and cervical spine.

Continue this vinyasa flow for 8 breaths.

See also The Grounding Sequence We All Need 

Supine Half Pigeon Pose (Ardha Kapotasana)

reclined pigeon, Sun Salutation

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on your mat. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Gently press your inner right thigh away from you to create a stretch and more range of motion in your right hip. Hold for 8 breaths and repeat on the other side.

See also 16 Poses to Inspire Commitment to Sobriety

Supine Twisting Pose (Jathara Parivrtti)

supine twist, Sun Salutation

Lie on your back and bring your knees into your chest. Place your arms in a “T” position at shoulder height. On an exhalation, twist your knees to the right and let them rest on the floor, turning your head to the left. Stay here for 8 breaths, then change sides.  

See also Baron Baptiste’s Yoga Sequence for Self-Expression

RITUAL

lighting candle, ritual, Sun Salutation

Before you sit for pranayama or meditation, create the ritual of lighting a candle or incense to establish this period of self-reflection as sacred. 

See also A Katonah Yoga Sequence to Live a More Abundant Life

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)

nadi shodhana, Sun Salutation

This technique balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Sit comfortably with your spine erect and place the thumb and ring finger of your left hand on either side of your nose. (The top of your fingers should rest on the hard septum and the bottom of your fingers should touch the softer part of your nose.) Slide your thumb fully up to your septum, keeping slight pressure on the softer part of your nose to create a valve, similar to that which is created in Ujjayi breathing. Completely block the ring finger nostril. Inhale through the thumb side and then slide the thumb down to block that nostril. Slide the ring finger up, creating a valve at that nostril. Exhale and inhale through that nostril. Repeat this sequence for 16 breaths to relax the nervous system in preparation for meditation. 

See also This 12-Minute Yoga Sequence Is Backed by Science to Strengthen Your Bones

Higher Knowledge (Jnana Mudra)

mudras, Sun Salutation

With your arms resting on your knees, touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb, forming a circle. Extend all of your other fingers outward. This mudra balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain and opens the third eye to cultivate wisdom and knowledge.

See also Consciousness Seal: A Mudra to Connect to Your Higher Self

Meditation

seated meditation, Sun Salutation

Sit comfortably on a chair or pillow with your spine lifting and lengthening upward. Place your chin parallel to the floor and rest your arms on your knees. Spend 10 to 20 minutes keeping your mind’s awareness on the gentle rise and fall of your breath. When your mind wanders—and it will—gently but firmly bring your awareness back to your breath.

See also YJ Tried It: 30 Days of Guided Sleep Meditation

About the Author

Ellen Patrick, E-RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and certified yoga yherapist. Learn more at YogaSanctuary.net.