Morning Yoga for the Not-so-Morning Person
The benefits of morning exercise for a healthy, weight-managing lifestyle are undisputed and undeniable… Starting the day off by getting the blood pumping, the muscles stretched, and the heart rate elevated burns calories, prevents stiffness and soreness, jumpstarts your metabolism, and sends lots of happy little endorphins and serotonin (your body’s natural chemicals) to your brain. Moods are generally higher and the person who starts off the day with exercise tends to make healthier, more positive decisions for his or her well-being throughout the day,
Sure, this all sounds good… but once that alarm clock rudely interrupts your peaceful slumber, the thought of huffing and puffing down the street, driving to the nearest fitness center, or sweating out whatever you drank the night before seems rather, ‘difficult’. It’s much easier to slam the snooze button and roll over, right?
Well, allow the humble suggestion of compromise in the form of morning yoga.
A morning yoga routine is morning exercise, really! It increases blood flow and circulation to different parts of your body, allows for stretching and increased flexibility, centers and regulates breathing, and even comes complete with your very own endorphin and serotonin rush for heightened moods.
This series of 5 asana (yoga poses) can be done right in your bedroom or living room, and does NOT require expensive running shoes. In fact, you don’t even need a yoga mat if you have a large bathroom towel handy. Everyone has a different comfort level depending on their individual flexibility, body type, and yoga goals, so there is no rush to finish the set quickly. You don’t even need to brush your teeth and comb your hair if you don’t want to. The asana will help to wake up your body and give you the energy boost you need so badly to wake up.
Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)
This pose is naturally a great morning yoga pose because it stretches your back, increasing spinal flexibility. It also builds abdominal strength so you can earn those six-pack abs you’ve always wanted.
How to do it: Consisting of two positions, the Cat-Cow pose starts with hands and knees on the ground. On the inhale, curl your toes under, drop your belly and gaze up toward the ceiling (like a cat). Let the movement of your spine start from the tailbone. Your neck should be the last part of you to move. On the exhale, release the tops of your feet to the floor, round your spine, drop your head, and gaze at your navel as much as you can (like a… cow.) Repeat the Cat-Cow stretch on each inhale and exhale at your own pace of breathing. When in this pose, think of your head and neck as an extension of your spine, a straight line from the crown of your head to your tailbone.
Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana I)
This pose stretches the arms and shoulders and strengthens the legs and lower back. It was named for the mythic warrior Vibabhadra and invokes feelings of strength and power. And everyone needs a little strength and power this early in the morning!
How to do it: Begin by standing up straight and then extending your left leg 1 to 1.5 meters behind you (depending on how long your legs are). Bend your knee so that it is directly above the ankle and a 90 degree angle is formed. With head, shoulders, and knees pointed forward and left foot turned in slightly, raise your arms above your head, palms facing one another and fingers pointed to the sky as you inhale. Look up at the ceiling. As you exhale, relax your shoulders and hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lower your arms to your sides and bring your left leg slowly back in to reverse the position. Extend your right leg back and repeat the pose.
Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
This pose increases stamina by strengthening your legs, back, shoulders and arms. Opening your hips and chest, the Warrior II improves balance and strengthens your ankles too. No one likes weak ankles, after all.
How to do it: Similar to Warrior I, the Warrior II begins by spreading your feet about 1 to 1.5 meters apart (depending on how long your legs are). Raise both arms up to shoulder height and parallel to the floor. Turn your head to the left so that your chin is directly over your left shoulder. Turn your left foot 90 degrees so that your nose, left knee, and toes are all pointing the same way. Remember to keep your hips, torso, and arms facing front. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lower your arms and bring your leg slowly back in to reverse the position to the right. Breathing should be slow and deliberate throughout this pose.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Requiring balance and concentration, the Tree pose strengthens your thighs, calves, ankles, and back and increases flexibility in your hips and groin. Although it seems daunting to maintain your balance first thing in the morning, you’ve already done three poses… and it does get easier with practice.
How to do it: From the standing position as you exhale, place your left foot on the inside part of your right leg (ideally close to the groin area, but starting with the inside of the right thigh or knee is perfectly fine too) with toes pointed downward. On the inhale, stretch your arms sideways to form a T with palms facing the floor. On the exhale, bring your palms together in a prayer position in front of your chest. Then, on the next inhale, raise your arms over head keeping your palms in the prayer position. Lower your arms and leg, reversing the pose. Hold each for 1-2 minutes. Focusing your gaze on something extremely interesting at eye-level straight ahead and breathing through your belly will help you to maintain balance.
Child Pose (Balasana)
This is a resting pose that brings the adventure of your first four poses to a quiet close. It stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles in a gentle way while relieving any stress or fatigue. The Child pose also calms the brain after the whoosh of happy bio-chemicals induced by all that Cat-Cow-Tree-Warrior action!
How to do it: Kneel and sit back on your feet with your heels pointing outward with your knees separated (about the natural width of your hips). Leaning forward, touch your forehead to the floor and bring your arms forward in front of you, exhaling deeply. On the next inhale, bring your arms back parallel to your legs with palms open toward the ceiling. Exhale deeply and repeat to taste.
Consider these few minutes as your personal alarm clock to your body. Instead of the shrill shriek of alarming bells however, it’s a steady opening of your body’s organ systems to greet the day. After a week of the routine at your own pace, perfecting the poses and maybe even breaking a sweat, you will begin to love morning yoga; because even if you’re not a morning person, morning yoga loves you.