Yoga Instructors Recommend These Stretches to Help You Wake Up and Get Energized Every Morning
We're down for yoga at any time of day, but there's something about a morning flow that just feels so good. If you wake up stressed and anxious, it can calm you down for the day; if you're groggy and unmotivated, it gets your blood moving and helps you focus. If your mornings look anything like mine, though, you might not have time for a full flow, which is why I asked yoga instructors what their one favorite yoga pose is for waking up and stretching out in the morning. Whether you're prepping for a workout or stretching out before work, slide into a couple of these poses tomorrow morning to get energized for your day.
Wide Child's Pose
"My first inclination in the morning is to roll around and to be on the ground in a pose that feels safe," said Stephanie Acosta, RYT 500, a yoga instructor for Work From Om."You are able to be completely held by the ground. Since I have tight hips, this is always where I start, and I will sometimes also roll my head side to side to massage the forehead."
- Start on your hands and knees, shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees.
- Bring your toes to touch.
- Shift your hips back between your heels, exhaling as you lower your belly between your knees, coming into a Wide Child's Pose.
- Hold for five breaths.
If it's more comfortable, you can do a classic Child's Pose with your knees together.
Cat Cow Pose
Cat Cow is a great morning pose because it gently mobilizes the spine, said Maria Eilersen, RYT 200. "A slow flow between Cat and Cow warms up the body and brings flexibility to the spine, while matching breath to movement — inhaling to find Cow and exhaling to find Cat — relieves stress and calms the mind."
- Begin on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Your spine should be in a neutral position, with your back flat and your abs pulled in towards your spine.
- Take a big, deep inhale.
- On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, and imagine you're pulling your belly button up toward your spine, really engaging your abs. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
- On your inhale, arch your back, let your belly relax, and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up toward the sky — without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the Cow portion of the pose.
- Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement — inhale for Cow Pose, and exhale on Cat Pose.
- Repeat for 10 rounds.
Downward Facing Dog
"Many people don't realize that this is an inversion," Acosta said of Downward Facing Dog. "Because your head is below your heart, this is a great way for beginner yogis to get the feeling of being upside down. You can play with opening up the back, side body, and lower back, all depending on how much you bend your knees and send the tailbone up. It's also nice to get into the hamstrings by straightening the legs."
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Inhale as you tuck your toes under your heels. Then exhale to lift your hips, coming into an upside-down V shape called Downward Facing Dog.
- Spread your fingers wide and create a straight line between your middle fingers and elbows. Work on straightening your legs and lowering your heels toward the ground. Relax your head between your arms, and direct your gaze through your legs or up toward your belly button. Hold for five breaths.
Standing Forward Fold
Forward Fold is "a great pose to do in the morning to relieve tension in the body and to lengthen your spine, which will slowly wake up your body," said yoga instructor Samora Suber, RYT 200.
- Begin at the front of your mat, feet hips-width apart and hands on your hips. Inhale and reach your arms straight above you.
- As you exhale, engage your abs, and fold forward with a straight back. Tuck your chin in toward your chest, relax your shoulders, and extend the crown of the head toward the floor to create a long spine. Shift weight forward into your toes, straightening the legs as much as possible.
- Let your hands hang toward the floor or use them to cup your opposite elbows.
- Hold here for 30 seconds.
Low Crescent Lunge
Most of us naturally sleep in a curled-up fetal position, said Juliet Lundholm, RYT 200, owner of The Garden Studio in London. "This pose is the total antithesis to this, providing that glorious stretchy feeling throughout the body and in particular creating a lot of space at the hip flexors, which is hugely important if the rest of your day is spent sitting at a desk."
- Begin standing in a Forward Fold position, bending at the hips and letting your arms hang comfortably towards the ground.
- Lift halfway out of your fold until your spine is straight and parallel with the ground. Your hands may be on the ground under your shoulders or on your shins.
- Step your right foot back, and lower your right knee to the floor. Keep your left knee directly over your ankle.
- Inhale to raise the arms up, sinking the pelvis toward the floor to intensify the stretch in the hips. Look up to intensify the stretch, and open your chest. You can also hold the pose with your hands on your knees.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Come out of the pose by curling your right toes under, placing your hands on the ground.
- Come into a plank position, then walk back into Standing Forward Fold.
- Repeat with your left leg.
"Warrior 1 is great for stretching the entire body all at one time," said Sherrell Moore-Tucker, RYT 200. "This pose stretches the hips and strengthens the ankles."
- Begin in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your hands. Turn your left heel in, press into your feet, and lift your torso up.
- Lift your arms up and press your palms together. Draw your shoulder blades down toward your hips and gaze up at your hands.
- Stay here for five breaths. Then come back to Downward Facing Dog, step your left foot forward and do Warrior 1 on the other side.
Warrior 2 wakes up your body and mind, said Huma Gruaz, RYT 500. The pose strengthens your legs, arms, and core while opening up your hips. On a mental level, "the pose is about reaching stillness in our minds, as we face changes or perhaps turbulences from the horizon," she added, making it a great pose to start your day with.
- Begin on your hands and feet in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your palms and come into Warrior 1.
- Extend your arms out in T-position as you rotate your torso to the left, coming into Warrior 2. Ideally your front thigh should be parallel to the ground and your right knee directly over your right ankle. Make sure your shoulders are stacked directly above your pelvis.
- Gaze past your right fingertips, holding for five breaths. Then return to Downward Facing Dog. Step your left foot forward and do this pose on the other side.
"This is a balancing pose that requires full concentration, which enhances focus and stamina while waking up the whole body," Gruaz said. This pose calls for strength in your legs and abs while gently decompressing the spine.
- Stand with your feet together. Inhale as you extend your arms out wide in T position or straight overhead for a more advanced variation.
- Exhale as you bend forward at your hips, lifting your left leg straight behind you coming into Warrior 3. Draw your navel toward your spine and hold for five breaths. Then come to stand, lower your left leg, and repeat with the right leg lifted for another five.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
This relaxing pose relieves tension from the lower back, cervical spine, and neck, Gruaz said, as it gently reverses the blood flow from your upper torso and brain. "Wide-Legged Forward Fold is an inversion that promotes grounding while releasing stress," she said. "The forward fold, accompanied by an exhale, cultivates the sense of letting go."
- Stand facing the long edge of your mat, with your legs wider than your hips and your heels turned out wider than your toes.
- Fold down from the hips, pressing into the outsides of your feet and keeping your inner arches lifted.
- To increase the stretch, reach for your ankles and gently draw your chest towards your thighs.
- For a more relaxed position, fold your arms and grab your opposite elbows, letting your body hang down.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
"Bow is one of my favorites poses to include in a morning practice," said Andrea De La Flor, RYT 500, owner of Vegan Fit Guide. Because the pose is a backbend, she explained, it helps boost your energy while opening up the front of your body and strengthening your back muscles.
- Start lying on your belly on your mat, forehead touching the mat and arms down by your sides.
- Bend your knees. Reach back with your arms to grasp the inside or outside edges of your ankles.
- Once you have a firm hold of each ankle, flex your feet and try to keep your toes together.
- Lift your feet as high as you can, allowing your back to arch as your chest lifts off the ground. Shift your weight forward, so you're resting on your navel instead of on the pubic bone.
- Hold for five deep breaths.
Legs Up the Wall
Want to start the day fresh? "Holding this quiet restorative pose and focusing on the breath can help calm body and mind," said yoga instructor Michelle Smith, RYT 200. The inverted nature of this pose uses gravity to naturally encourage circulation, she said.
- Sit down as close as you can to a wall. Lie down on your back, place your feet on the wall with your knees bent, and scoot your butt against the wall.
- Extend your feet straight up, resting your heels on the wall. Keep your arms by your sides or by your head (this position will stretch your shoulders).
- Close you eyes and allow your entire body to relax, feeling gravity pulling you down as the wall supports you, holding for five or more breaths.
Knees to Chest
This simple pose "helps stimulate the ascending, descending, and transverse sections of the colon while also giving a gentle stretch to the lower back, hamstrings, and hips," said Muadi Dibinga, RYT 250, adding, "This posture is great because it can be done before you even get out of bed."
- Begin lying flat on your back.
- Bend your knees into your chest and clasp your hands around both shins.
- Gently pull down to increase the stretch in the lower back. Gently nod your head or roll your body from side to side.
- Relax like this for five breaths.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
This is a simple, meditative pose to help you center yourself and calm your thoughts, recommended by FitOn trainer and yoga instructor DeAndre Sinette, RYT 200. "It's simply sitting with your ankles crossed," he said. "This posture permits me to practice meditation in a way that is present and alert. My spine is erect and my shoulders are being pressed down by gravity. Sweet like honey."
- Sit with your legs crossed, or prop yourself up on a stiff pillow, a thick, folded blanket, or a large towel to elevate your hips. Get comfortable.
- Root your seat down as you lengthen your spine, gently tucking your chin and lifting the crown of your head.
- Place your palms facing up on your thighs to invite in more energy, or place your palms face down for a more grounding feeling.
- Sit in this position for one minute.
- If you like, you can use this time to set an intention with a word or a phrase that encompasses how you want to feel. If your mind starts to wander, use your breath and intention as an anchor.