What's your morning routine like? Do you wake up early and squeeze a workout in before you tackle emails and phone calls? Maybe you start with a morning meditation to calm the mind and stay present. You might listen to a podcast while you breakfast and enjoy your coffee. Or, maybe you're not exactly a morning person and the best you can do is roll out of bed at the last possible minute, get ready, and get to work. However you start your morning, you've got to do whatever works best for you and helps set the tone for the day.
And if you're looking to revamp your mornings, adding yoga to your routine might be a good place to start. Those morning yoga poses could really make a difference. "Yoga helps us cultivate more presence, awareness, clarity, and ease," explains Krissy Jones, co-founder of Sky Ting. "I'm a big believer in starting the day by shaping yourself from the inside out, before going into the world and letting our environments shape us. In the morning, you have the opportunity to set the tone of your mental landscape and energetic frequency. Those are the big benefits, and then there are of course tons of physical benefits too, like lubricating the joints and fascia and waking up the brain and tissue by circulating blood and oxygen throughout the system!"
Plus, it might be easier to commit to a morning session because your day hasn't been sidetracked with unexpected meetings or fires to put out at work, adds Tahl Rinsky, a yogi and Centr trainer, who designed the fitness platform's new four-week Centr Align yoga and Pilates program.
As for the style of yoga that's best for mornings, it's up to personal preference. "It depends on your intention. Are you wanting a slow, restful day? A restorative or gentle yoga practice is great," says Dani Schenone, an RYT (registered yoga teacher) and holistic wellness specialist at Mindbody. "Are you looking for a jumpstart or an energy source to get you started on a long list of to-dos? A vigorous vinyasa practice will help. Don't worry about length of time. Even five to 10 minutes of movement is enough. It's about ritual and intention, a prescription."
Jones believes that your yoga practice should change over time. For example, you would do a different practice in the morning versus at night, in the summer and the winter, and as you grow older. In general, she recommends backbends, inversions, and salutations, which will all help wake up the body and prep the mind.
Before you start your morning practice, Rinsky recommends turning your phone on silent, moving away from any distractions, and committing yourself to the session. And Schenone suggests practicing Pranayama (or breathing exercises): "Take several deep breaths in whatever pose you'd like (I prefer child's pose in the morning). Take a deep inhale, fill the belly up, and hold that inhale at the top for a few moments. Then, take a deep sigh out of the mouth. Now, do that six more times."
Most yoga sessions will include a warm-up, so Jones says you don't need to do much beforehand. "I love taking my time in the morning and elongating the warm-up section of my classes since my body is super tight after eight hours (hopefully) of sleeping!" she says. "Doing yoga in the morning feels so different than in the afternoon when the body is warmer and has been already been moving for a few hours."
And you might want to keep a refreshment nearby to enjoy during your practice, like a cup of water or your favorite warm drink. "I oftentimes practice with some matcha on the side. There is nothing like a nice sip in-between chaturangas," Schenone says.
Morning Yoga Poses to Try
Any type of movement in the morning should help you center yourself and get you going, but the instructors especially recommend these poses to start your day.
1. Down Dog
All three instructors suggest down dog. "[It's] great for opening the backline of the body," Jones says. "You can't start your day without taking your dog for a walk! Down dog is a 60-degree triangle shape. Start in a plank position with the shoulders over the wrists, and then hinge the hips up to that triangular position. Pro tip: Bend your knees! It helps to lengthen the spine." Schenone says it's not a resting pose, so protract the shoulders, knit the ribs, soften the heels, and breathe.
And don't get frustrated if you can't get your feet flat on the floor, Rinksy says. It takes practice.
2. Cat Cow
"[It's] the best way to open the spine and create fluidity in the joints," Jones says. "Start on all fours in a tabletop. As you inhale arch and look up toward the ceiling, as you exhale round your spine and tuck your chin to your chest."
3. Supine Twist
"Lay on your back, pull your knee into your chest, and twist," says Rinksy. "This creates space in the lower back which can be beneficial for a lot of people, particularly if their job involves sitting at a desk all day."
4. Forward Fold
"From down dog, walk your hands to the back of your mat, coming into a forward fold," Schenone says. "Let your hands hang down like a monkey. Release the neck and jaw. Consider grabbing onto opposite elbows or clasping your hands behind your back." This pose lengthens and releases the spine, and opens the posterior side of the legs.
5. Sun Salutations
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Jones says this is traditionally meant to be practiced to honor the rising sun, where you're facing east. "This series is a full practice in itself. When I don't have a lot of time in the morning, I do five sun salutations and I feel ready for my day," she explains. "This is where I really start to connect my body to my breath and cultivate a sense of moving meditation. There are six poses in this series. To learn them, we have a sun salutation mini class on Sky Ting TV that breaks the series down."
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With your chest to the floor and hands positioned on either side of your shoulders, push up with arms and push your chest forward. Rinksy says this opens the chest and brings energy into the heart.
7. Mountain Pose
"From forward fold, come to a standing position (keep a flat back on the way up!)," Schenone says. "Lift your arms up to the sky, grab onto your right wrist, and lean to the left. Lift the chin off the chest and breathe, opening up the side body. Come back to center and switch sides." It's a grounding pose that improves posture and body awareness. Plus, it aids in alignment.
Lunges are done in all types of workouts, and it's an especially good morning movement. Rinksy says they wake up the hip flexors which can get tight.
9. Modified Side Plank
"Come back into tabletop. Kickstand your right leg out to the side, and lengthen your left leg long behind you," Schenone says. "Lift your left arm up skyward. Consider lifting your top leg up off the earth. Maybe reach back with your top hand and grab the top foot, opening up the chest. This is a juicy heart opener I love to do each morning. Release the foot and switch sides."
The modified side plank stretches the anterior side of the torso; strengthens the core; helps form balance; and opens the front of the shoulder.
This is definitely for more advanced yogis. "Headstand is similar to coffee without the crash," Jones says. "It's an amazing way to light up the brain and circulate the blood. Find a teacher for this one! You will need some in-person guidance, or a really great video to get all of the nuances of the pose. If you don't set up this one properly you can do more harm than good."
11. Extended Side Angle
"Turn to one side and extend your arms sideways to shoulder height, then split your legs at an equal distance," Rinsky says. "Turn your right leg and foot outward 90 degrees so your toes point towards the top of your mat; bend your right knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor and turn your left toes slightly inward. Align the heel of your right foot with the arch of your left foot. Keep your back leg straight. Inhale and draw your left hip slightly forward. Then, with your torso open to the left, lower your right arm so your forehead rests on your right thigh. You can make this stronger by reaching for the floor or keep as is. This move opens your side body and builds heat in the legs."
12. Full Wheel
Jones says backbends are confidence boosters and heart openers, and they keep you pliable. "For full wheel, start laying down. Bend the elbows and place the hands next to the shoulders with the fingers facing down," she says. "Bend the knees and separate the feet hip-distance, right under the knees. On an inhale, press the floor away with the hands and feet and come up into the shape."
13. Child's Pose
Here's a pose that's not intimidating at all. "Come into tabletop pose (shoulders over wrists, hips over knees). Widen your knees and bring your toes to touch," Schenone says. "Lay your forehead on the earth, stretching your arms out long. Those deep breaths we talked about earlier come in handy right here." Child's pose opens the hips, centers the mind, and stretches the side body.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.