7 ways to spice up your sun salutations main image of a woman practicing low lunge on yoga mat

7 Ways to Spice Up Your Sun Salutations

written by: Kyneret Azizo

Sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, are an integral part of any yoga practice. They warm up and prep the body for a more intense practice, developing agility and resilience. 

Traditionally, sun salutations are meant to be practiced daily at sunrise and sunset, but they can also be done at any time during the day.

While sun salutations A & B usually have their place at the beginning of a Hatha yoga sequence, they can also be done as a stand-alone practice. This is advantageous for people who don’t have much time to commit to a full yoga class but want something well-rounded that gets the heart pumping.

Sun salutations offer many benefits, including improving cardiovascular functioning, inducing relaxation, battling fatigue, and lengthening and strengthening muscles.

So why add spice to something that seems perfect as it is? 

As with any type of exercise or sport, our body is more susceptible to injury when we revisit the same kinds of movement patterns. Changing up your sun salutations makes them more dynamic and reduces the chance of incurring repetitive strains. You get more of a full-body workout by recruiting different muscles in innovative flow sequences, and it also keeps things interesting!

Read on to explore the ways you can make sun salutations spicier so they feel like a complete practice on their own and keep things fresh for you.

Ready to dive into Surya Namaskar more deeply? Come flow with us through 108 Sun Salutations in honour of the Fall Equinox, on Saturday, September 24th. Modifications will be available throughout the class for all levels.


Woman doing a modified version of Parsvakonasana on forearm while twisting the spine.

1. Include Different Types of Movement

If you are familiar with all three of the traditional sun salutations (A, B &C), you’ll have noticed they’re very linear in their direction of movement, with lots of flexion and extension of the hips and spine. There are forward folds, mild back bends, and lunges/warrior poses. But there’s not really any hip abduction (moving legs apart from the center line), spinal twists, or lateral spinal flexion (side bends) happening in the original Surya Namaskar series. 

In sun salutations for beginners, this is not necessarily bad, as linear movements are more accessible and thus safer. But advanced students who have already mastered those movements would benefit from introducing new dimensions of movement to their flow. 

Here are a few ways to add them:

  • Move from a High Lunge to Parivrtta Anjaneyasana (High Lunge Prayer Twist) to squeeze in a juicy spinal twist
  • Bend into Crescent Moon pose from Tadasana or Samasthiti for lateral flexion of the spine
  • If you include Dancing Cat in your flow, add fire hydrant leg lifts for hip abduction
  • Open up from Virabhadrasana (warrior) II to Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) for hip abduction


Woman on a yoga mat doing donkey kicks from table pose to include calisthenics in yoga sun salutations

2. Bring on the Calisthenics

Sometimes new students might ask “are sun salutations a good workout”? Yes, they absolutely can be. Beginner students might find that the standard A, B and C salutations are enough to work up a serious sweat. But if you’re advanced and flowing through sun salutations more breezily and you’re looking to up the intensity, you can always load up your practice with some calisthenic exercises that organically blend into your flow sequence. It’ll kick up your heart rate and give you some more burn.

  • Supercharge chaturangas with a few reps of pushups
  • Throw in some lunge steps before entering the full expression of high lunges 
  • Add donkey kicks after your cat-cow sequence: find a 90-degree bend and pump the sole of your foot up to the ceiling for a few reps to engage the glutes and hamstrings


Woman dancing ecstatically in the sun outdoors, to include dance in her yoga sun salutation sequence

3. Dare to Dance

Is your yoga mat also your dance floor? Mine is! It’s where I include rhythmic movement and allow my body to express itself, which is a catalyst for healing and dealing with stress. Explore fluid, repetitive movements between poses while moving in time with the beat. Observe how it lifts the energy in your body and creates even more unity with each asana. The tempo is entirely up to you, but try not to overwhelm yourself with something too fast. Aim for anywhere between 70-120 BPM (beats per minute) depending on the vibe you’re going for. Here are some awesome dance-inspired yoga moves to get you started.


Woman practicing yoga on a mat, positioned in modified Virabhadrasana II

4. Slow it Down

We associate sun salutations with quicker-paced, fluid movements — and for the most part that’s what they are. But that doesn’t mean we can’t slow down certain sequence parts. In some ways, we are cheating by moving too quickly between the poses, as we aren’t giving our muscles a chance to really integrate the movements we are making. So instead of rushing from Downward Dog to Warrior 1, for example, you could really slow down that transition and allow yourself to observe every part of the movement and feel all the key muscles activating while staying connected to your breath. Remember that moving fast is not necessarily a mark of excellence. Stamina, resilience, and a sharpened mind will come from slowing down the transitions.


Woman performing a balancing pose on her yoga mat as a way to spice up sun salutations

5. Balance it Out

Yoga already shows us the wandering tendencies of the mind. But when something becomes monotonous because we’ve done it too many times, it’s just another opportunity for the brain to check out, making it harder to stay mindful. Including balancing poses in your sun salutations will help keep the mind tethered to what’s happening in the here and now and force you to rekindle the connection to your body. In other words, it will keep you on your toes! 

Here are a few ways to explore this:

  • Transition into Toppling Tree from a High Lunge or Warrior 1
  • Lift up onto the balls of your feet from every Mountain Pose (Tadasana) you do and then slowly release down
  • Lift up onto the balls of your feet from Mountain Pose and squat down into Chair Pose with lifted heels for a few fortifying breaths
  • Pull one knee up to the chest and balance with fingers clasped around the knee, then step back into a High Lunge or Warrior 1 from there


Woman standing outside in nature with eyes closed and arms extended to the sides to integrate energy work into her sun salutations

6. Integrate Energy Work

It’s easy to get swept up in the physicality of the practice since we are flowing continuously from pose to pose and our attention is on physical alignment and breath. But there is an energetic component to the practice that you can access by visualizing the movement of prana through different parts of your body, depending on the pose you are doing. This has profound effects which you can feel almost instantly and are transformative. To maintain groundedness in your body, visualize energy moving downwards through the legs and into the earth. This keeps you unshakable in standing poses such as Virabhadrasana (Warrior) or Vrikshasana (Tree Pose). You can also direct prana upwards through the feet, legs and up the center channel (Sushumna Nadi) to supply your body with more energy to maintain a posture. Each asana is designed to activate a certain chakra, so focusing on the associated chakra as you hold a pose will help to further awaken and align it.


Man standing with his hands in Anjali Mudra and eyes closed in meditation, with the ocean behind him

7. Go with the Flow

Perhaps the most important piece of advice when it comes to adding creativity to your sun salutations is to not overthink it and just go with the flow. Let your body tell you how it wants to move instead of forcing it to follow the same patterns. Fun, creative sequences can come out of just pausing and listening to how your body desires to move in the next moment. 

So free your creativity by exploring different sun salutation variations and don’t be afraid to try out new things! Coming up with unique sun salutations will allow you to tap into your body’s wisdom and offer you a fresh perspective on things. What happens on the mat often follows you off the mat and into your life, where true transformation happens.


Kyn Blogger

Kyneret has been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade. She began as a yoga teacher for Modo Yoga Maple in 2012, and has recently set off on a nomadic adventure to South East Asia. She remains active within our Modo community as a blog writer.

When not writing, she is fully immersed in the day-to-day adventures of travel life and actively seeks out as many foreign yoga experiences as possible to further her knowledge and skills! You can follow Kyneret’s travels on her instagram account @planes_trains_autoimmunity