I was thinking of posting the most common Sun Salutation, Surya Namaskar, that I've seen and recently stumbled upon a post at Playin' The Edge, where Corilee brings up the subject of just how many salutations are "too" many. This is an interesting question. I have taken classes with 6-8 each practice, have personally gone down to zero, and now teach a class with 2-6, depending on the day.
The Sun Salutation is a sequence of Yoga postures done more than once with the flow of the breath leading the way. This flow is placed towards the beginning of a class, as it warms up the body and helps to get out of the mind and into the present moment. For a more experienced Yogi it may be used as a warm up, but for beginners it's best to warm the body in a simpler manner first. There are numerous variations on these ordered poses, and the salutation is a great way to flow into more complex asanas (poses). Vinyasa classes incorporate this idea the most.
No one seems sure about where or when Sun Salutations came about. Based on the name, and the suggested direction to face East when practicing, it seems likely that Yogis began the salutation practice as a form of devotion to the rising sun. There is something magical about facing the sun rise, drawing the hands together at the heart and filling the lungs with fresh air. Slowly returning that breath to the Universe, joining as one you bow deeply into a forward bend. As you continue through the positions, your breath guides you. There is a rhythm of moving between bowing or facing the Earth and rising up to gaze upon the Sun and sky. I see here a symbol of joining the self with the Earth and the Heavens. Can there be a better way to bring in a new day? Or to honor your evening practice and time to remember that all is one. Yoga means union. Surya Namaskar brings such union on many different levels.
Here is the most common flow that I've run across. Try it out 2-6 times, depending on your fitness level. If you'd like, leave a comment and share how many salutations, if any you enjoy in a class.
1. Start in mountain ( Tadasana ) by standing with the feet slightly wider than the sit bones and parallel. Hands in a prayer position ( AnjaliMudra ) in front of the heart. Wait for a steady, even, and quiet breath.
2. Inhale: Lift the arms overhead while the shoulder blades melt down the back.
3. Exhale: Bend forward from the hips into standing forward bend ( Uttanasana ). If you cannot touch the ground, use Yoga blocks or bend your knees.
4. Inhale: Keeping the fingertips on the ground or blocks, lift the heart and belly away from the standing legs.
5. Exhale: Step far back with the right foot into a lunge ( Anjaneyasana ).
6. Inhale: With steadiness, lift up on fingertips, hands to your front knee, or arms overhead.
7. Exhale: Hands return to either side of the front ankle and step the left foot back to plank ( Phalakasana ).
8. Inhale: Establish a straight line in plank ( Phalakasana ) from the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears. If this is too challenging today, modify with the knees on the ground and a straight line from the knees, hips, shoulders, and ears. The belly is very strong. Do NOT allow the spine to sag downwards. Think of a strong plank of wood, not a hammock.
9. Exhale: Slowly bend the elbows straight back as you come onto the floor, belly down.
10. Inhale: Toes point straight back, keep the knees down and allow the power of the breath to float the chest and head off the ground. Heads (tops) of the arm bones stay back and neck stays long.
11. Exhale: Toes curl under and lift your buttocks up and back in to downward facing dog ( AdhoMukhaSvanasana ). Stay for 3-5 breaths if you like before moving on.
12. Exhale: Swing the right leg forward between the hands for a lunge ( Anjaneyasana ).
13. Inhale: With steadiness, lift up on fingertips, hands to your front knee, or arms overhead.
14. Exhale: Step both feet to the front of the mat into a standing forward bend ( Uttanasana ).
15. Inhale: Hand on hips or out to the sides, push through the feet as you come up with a long and straight spine. Reach the arms overhead.
16. Exhale: Return the hands to the sides of the body or in front of the heart.