If you’re not a morning person (full disclosure: not) you can probably count on one hand the number of times you’ve gone for a run at a peaceful 6 a.m. or made it to a 7 o'clock yoga class. For most of us, the morning exercise routine begins and ends with stumbling to the kitchen to make coffee.
But incorporating meaningful movement into your day is a great way to get going, says yoga teacher and teacher trainer Stefanie Eris. “It gets your blood and oxygen flowing and warms up your body, which increases mobility. Often we stifle yawns and other natural stretches because, the moment we wake up, our brain goes into overdrive and we’re immediately focused on the day ahead and what we have to do.”
Shift gears from sleepy-eyed to full-steam-ahead with yoga, which provides the transition we need, Eris says. She’s put together the following sequence of poses to lubricate your joints, lengthen your spine and limber up your stiff and creaky body.
“They also encourage strength, stability and centeredness,” says Eris — a great frame of mind to take on the day. Whether you choose to do them before or after your cup or two of java, or tea, is your call.
Photos by Karen Greatti
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) to Downward Facing Dog
Start by standing tall. Inhale and sweep your arms up and overhead to a high prayer, gentle backbend to your spine, heart lifted and chest expanded. Exhale, and swan dive to a forward fold, hinging at your hips, bending at the knees if you need to, bringing your fingertips down to the floor beside your feet (palms flat on the floor if you’re more flexible). Inhale as you rise up to a flat back, your fingertips on the floor (or higher up on your legs, pressing lightly against your shins) and lengthen your spine. Exhale, step step or jump back to chaturanga dandasana (a low pushup), elbows bent at 90 degrees. Inhale, flip your feet so they’re top-down, draw your chest forward, straighten your arms, and lift your chest high to an upward facing dog. Exhale, lift your seat to the sky and press your chest back toward your thighs for downward facing dog (pictured).
Hold for five breaths or 30 seconds. Inhale, rise to the balls of your feet, bend your knees, look between your hands. Exhale, step step or jump your feet to the top of your mat. Inhale, rise to a flat back; exhale and forward fold; inhale, rise to stand, sweeping your arms up and overhead. Exhale, bringing your hands to prayer at your heart.
Repeat three to five times.
What it does
Traditionally practiced facing the east, this sequence welcomes in the new day. It is energizing and warms up the body by linking the body, breath and mind.
Start on your hands and knees. Stack your wrists under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and grip the floor with your fingertips. Stretch your feet back hips width apart, tuck your toes, and straighten your legs. Zip your inner thighs towards each other as your drive energy back through your heels. As you press the floor away with your palms, feel your shoulder blades broaden across your upper back without rounding. Exhale deeply, and wrap your abdomen around your waist like a brace. Maintain a neutral spine. If it’s too much for your lower back or shoulders, place your knees on the floor.
Hold for five breaths (or as long as you can without fatiguing and losing your form).
What it does
This pose teaches you to brace your core in a neutral spine. Besides being a core strengthener, it builds heat, energizes — and boosts confidence. It’s an empowering pose, great for getting you ready for a kick-ass day.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent, heels stacked under your knees. Lift your hips and interlace your hands behind your back. Rock from shoulder to shoulder, tucking your wings underneath you.
Hold for five to 10 breaths, then lower down to the floor and rest. Repeat twice more, for a total of three rounds, resting in between.
What it does
Activates the thighs and glutes, giving you a sense of groundedness and strength to take you through the day. Backbends are energizing and exhilarating poses, and stretch your chest, shoulder, and neck (which we tend to round, hunch and crunch when we’re glued to our computers or on our phones during the day).
Gate Pose (Parighasana)
From your hands and knees, extend your right foot out to the right. Inhale your arms up and over your head, stacking your shoulders over your hips. Spin your right thigh up towards the ceiling and point your right toes down towards the floor. Slide your right hand down your calf and sweep your left arm overhead, reaching beyond your toes. Keep your hips square towards the front of your mat as you lengthen from your tail through the crown of your head and spiral your chest towards the sky.
Hold for five breaths or 30 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
What it does
This energizing and balancing pose stretches the side and back body — including the quadratus lumborum (QL), latissimus dorsi (lats), obliques, and intercostals — those muscles between the ribs that are used for breathing.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Sit on the ground, legs extended out in front of you. Bend your right knee and step your right foot to the outside of your left thigh. Bend your left knee and draw your left heel towards your outer right hip. Slide your left knee toward your midline under your chest, wrap your left arm around your right knee and plant your right fingertips on the floor behind your back. Inhale and lengthen from your tail to the crown of your head. Exhale, draw your belly in as your twist your left ribs to the right. Continue breathing in to lengthen, and breathing out to twist a bit deeper from your center. Broaden your chest and slide your right shoulder blade onto your back.
After five to 10 breaths, slowly release and repeat on the other side. After a deep side bend, a twist continues the stretch the muscles of the torso.
What it does
This pose stimulates digestive muscles and increases oxygen into the side of the body not being compressed. Twists lubricate the spinal discs that act as shock absorbers for your spine, which helps keeps your back healthy.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Start standing with your feet approx mat width apart. Turn your feet out ever so slightly. Bend your knees, slide your hips back and press your elbows against your inner thighs. Take a moment to ground your feet deeper into the floor, lengthen your spine, and open your chest. Stay here if it feels like it’s enough for you. To go deeper, continue bending your knees, dropping your pelvis down towards your heels. Keep your weight in your feet and resist the urge to sit and sink. Bring your hands to prayer to expand your chest and open your thighs.
Hold for five to 20 breaths.
What it does
This grounding inner thigh stretch is great for releasing the lower back. It also puts the pelvis, pelvic floor and elimination organs in proper alignment to do your business!
Sit comfortably for whatever length of time you can carve out in your morning. Reflect on how your body feels and set out your intention for your day.