Ever wonder why stretching first thing in the morning feels so good, even before coffee? It’s simple — we’re waking up our muscles to help them realign and get the blood flowing. The formal name for this morning ritual is “pandiculation,” and most everybody does it, even our pets. For increased benefit, turn your morning stretch into a short yoga routine to start your day off with a flexible body, a sharper mind, and a better mood.
Yoga instructor Michelle Azar told us, “Yoga is really a perfectly suitable experience for every single body, as long as you’re really listening to your body. When it comes down to it, anybody, anywhere can breathe and move their body and have a transformative experience, period.”
Taking just 15 minutes every day to practice a few basic yoga poses has numerous benefits, including:
• Better flexibility and mobility
• Stronger muscles
• Improved posture
• Better all-round fitness
• Weight loss
• Improved self-awareness
• More energy
• Less stress
• Better sleep
• Easier breathing
• Stronger immune system
• Better mood
• Greater mindfulness
• Improved concentration
• Clearer thinking
• Longer life
Even if you’ve never done yoga before, it’s easy to get started, you don’t need any equipment and you can practice anywhere. Many of the stretches will be instantly familiar. We’ve put together some basic poses you can do at home or work to feel better in no time. Begin slow with just a few repetitions, then work your way up as you become more comfortable. Breathe deeply through each pose. If you’d like more instruction, try one of Michelle’s online classes.
- Mountain Pose – Begin standing with feet hip-distance apart. Root your feet down into the floor. Move your thigh muscles upward and back so that your kneecaps also rise. Let your arms hang down naturally, with your shoulders gently back and down, rotate your elbows slightly so your palms are facing forward. Keep your spine tall, gaze gently forward.
- Raised Arms Pose – From mountain pose, begin by inhaling as you bring your arms up and over your head, palms facing in. Remain grounded in the heels and move your shoulders away from your ears. At the same time, reach up through your fingertips.
- Standing Forward Bend – This is a toe-touching exercise where you stand with your feet hip-width apart and then bend over gently, with hands resting on your shins, the floor, or gently grasping your ankles. You can bend your knees as much as you need to allow your stomach to rest on your thighs, with a flat back. Breathe deeply as you work to straighten your legs. Return to standing slowly and gently.
- Chair Pose – Despite the name, no chair is required with this pose. From raised arm pose, bend your knees as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair. Try to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Breathe deeply and keep your shoulders moving back.
- Tree Pose – Begin in mountain pose, then raise your right leg and place your right foot by your left ankle. Open your right leg out to the side so that the bottom of the right foot rests against your left leg. Slowly move your right foot higher, making sure your left leg is sturdy and grounded to the floor. Raise your right foot as high as your inner thigh if that’s comfortable and balance there. If you are able, reach your arms above your head, with palms coming together. Bring your arms down, release your leg and return to mountain pose before trying the other leg.
- Downward Dog – Start on hands and knees with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, knees directly under your hips. Fingers will be pointing in front of you. Spread your fingers wide, press firmly into your palms and knuckles as you exhale, tucking your toes and lifting your knees off the floor. Reach your pelvis toward the ceiling and your sit bones back toward the wall behind you. Your body will eventually form the shape of an A, but it is perfectly okay to have bent knees at first. If you straighten your legs, don’t lock your knees. Draw your chest toward your thighs, align your ears with your upper arms. Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back. This one takes time, so be patient and listen to your body.
- Lunge – From a standing pose, move one leg back as you bend your front knee into a deep lunge. Keep your front knee directly over your ankle so your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Your arms can rest on your hips or you can lift them above your head, palms together. Return to standing and try the other side.
- Seated Forward Bend – Sitting on the floor with your feet out in front of you, bring your arms straight up over your head. Inhale and draw your spine upward. Exhale and hinge at the hips, slowly tipping forward toward your toes. On each inhale, lengthen your spine a little more, don’t worry about touching your toes, instead, think of keeping your lower back flat and your stomach moving toward your thighs. The neck should be in line with the spine, not looking up or letting go completely. When you reach your furthest point of easeful stretching, relax and hold onto your shins, ankles, or toes, keeping your feet flexed throughout. Come back up the way you came down, slowly and gently.
As Michelle Azar says, “Start where you are. You don’t necessarily have to take yoga for beginners, but make a quick list of what you want — to breathe more deeply, to feel a little more flexible, to build up cardiovascular strength. There’s a practice for everything and everybody.”