5 Yoga Poses You Should Do First Thing in the Morning
Yoga is a great way to start your morning. Your practice can help wake you up and ease stiff joints or achy muscles. It also improves digestion, flexibility, and focus heading into the day. While you might think this means you need to commit to a lengthy morning practice, taking the time for even a few postures can provide many of the same benefits. Here's an approachable practice that will increase strength and flexibility, improve balance and alignment, and leave you focused and energized before your first cup of coffee.
Benefits: Increases circulation, lung capacity, and mindful concentration
Standing with feet together and arms at your sides, inhale through the nose while moving hands together above your head; exhale while bringing palms together through your center. Repeat seven or more times allowing your breaths to become longer and deeper with natural pauses between the breaths.
Standing Half Moon
Benefits: Improves posture and core strength while gently lengthening each side of the spine.
Standing with feet together and hands at your side, reach hands together overhead. Interlace your fingers while extending your index fingers. On your exhalation, reach your fingers towards the right while your hips press to the left, making a crescent moon shape. Hold the position for several breaths, finding strength in your stomach and reaching slightly further with each exhalation. Emphasize alignment by strongly engaging your thighs and pulling your right shoulder and left hip forward. Release to your starting position on an inhalation and return to the posture on the other side on an exhalation
Back Extension followed by Hands to Feet Pose (variations)
Benefits: Fully extend and flex the spine, completing the range of motion of the spine. Compress the digestive system and improve overall flexibility.
Return to your starting position, raising hands overhead. While inhaling, look up and work to press your hips forward and tailbone down. Continue to lift your chest up, extending your hands and gaze behind you, creating a lifted backbend. Remain grounded by engaging your thighs strongly as you lift back.
Follow with Hands to Feet pose. Fold down towards the ground, bending your knees substantially to allow contact between the body and legs. Reach your hands down to the ground and squat a few times allowing your heels to lift. >
Finally, reach behind your legs to take hold of your calves. Place your heels down and begin to lift your bottom up, lengthening the back side of your body. Continue to keep contact between the belly and thighs as well as the hands and calves as you continue to work to gently straighten the legs and spine.
Plank Position with Kaphalabhati Breathing (optional)
Benefits: Increases strength throughout the entire body, especially the core.
Step Back into a full or half plank by bringing your hands under your shoulders and stepping your feet out to a push up position. Engage your abdominals as though you are about to cough and press the ground strongly with your hands. Contract the front of your thighs to assist in bringing your hips lower than your shoulders. Hold for several breaths, choosing to place your knees on the ground if that leaves you feeling better supported or add in several Kaphalabhati breaths to build additional circulation, warmth, and core strength. You can do this by quickly breathing in and out through the nose, pulling the belly sharply and strongly into the spine on your exhalation and allowing the inhalation to happen naturally. Try this for seven or more breaths for two or more rounds.
Seated Spinal Twist:
Benefits: opens the hips and shoulders, massages the digestive system, increases mental focus.
To begin with a twist to the right, bring your left knee in front of you and place your left foot outside of the right hip (option to keep the left leg straight). Cross the right leg to the outside of the left with the right knee pointing towards the ceiling. Place your right hand on the ground behind your back, pressing into the floor to assist in lengthening your spine. Twist towards your right thigh, while inhaling and bringing the left arm up, taking hold of the right knee, or placing the elbow to the outside of the right knee. Hold for several breaths while turning your head to the right and breathing deeply into the belly and back of the shoulders. Repeat on the other side.
Finish your practice with five or more minutes of a seated meditation or resting on your back to absorb the work you have done and begin your day refreshed, focused, and ready to move forward!
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin.