If you are an early riser, you are a target of my envy. Research shows that one of the secrets of successful, happy people is rising early in the morning. This is a habit that gives you an extra bit of free time before starting your day.
What you do with this precious time is up to you – maybe you want to enjoy your first cup of tea or coffee in peace, maybe you want to check your social media sites, but one sure way to give both your mind and body a boost, is yoga. In just a few minutes time, you can complete a series of poses designed to help you wake up, get centered and begin your day with positive energy.
Originating in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is sometimes referred to as a form of meditative movement because in addition to offering physical benefits like improved flexibility, core strength and balance, it also helps with relaxation, breathing and mental well-being.
This blog showcases 5 easy poses, via short videos, so you can see how simple they are. These are stretches that virtually everyone can easily do in the morning (or any time of the day, really). All these poses can be modified for your personal requirements. If at any time, you experience pain, please do not continue with the stretch. Listen to your body. As always with yoga, you need to inhale and exhale mindfully and deeply through your nose and keep the body totally relaxed during stretches.
1. Standing Back-bend and Side Stretches
Sanskrit: Anuvittasana and Parsva Urdhva Hastasana. Stand up nice and tall, with a relaxed spine. Place feet hip-width apart. Gently tuck your tailbone in, inhale the arms up until palms touch over your head. Bend back slightly to feel elongation throughout your entire front body. Exhale, straighten the back. Take a deep breath and on an exhale, let the right hand slide down the right side of your body with the left hand still raised. Inhale again, and on the exhale, gently tilt your torso over to your right side with your gaze focused under your right armpit.
Allow your head and neck to relax, feeling an even deeper stretch in the ribs and side body. Slowly inhale up to center and bring your right hand up over your head. Exhale and let the left hand slide down alongside your body. Tilt the torso to the left side. Inhale and bring your left arm over your head. Repeat this motion 5 times on each side. If you have neck or back issues, avoid the back-bend, and instead, stick with the side stretch. If you wish, use your hands to support your lower back while bending backwards.
- Standing back bend is a wonderful heart-opening pose. It helps to release tension, especially in the neck and shoulders
- Back bend helps to open up the respiratory system for deeper, fuller breath
- Side bends bring balance to your entire body. They lengthen the abdominal muscles, hips, and thigh muscles, while improving flexibility in the spine
2. Forward Fold
Sanskrit: Uttanasana. Stand tall with a relaxed spine. Feet can be hip width apart or any distance where you have a good grounding. Exhale, fold forward at the hips. Allow your knees to bend and try to bring your chest towards your thighs. It doesn’t matter if your face does not reach your knees. Relax the neck and let the head hang heavily. Shake a ‘No’ and nod a ‘Yes’ with your head to make sure it is completely relaxed. You will feel this stretch in the lower spine as well as in the legs. This pose allows fresh blood to flow easily to the brain, cleansing and refreshing the brain, aiding the circulatory system. Stay here for 10 deep breaths. When you come up, keep your chin tucked to your chest and straighten up slowly, one vertebra at a time, with the chin the last to come up. Coming up slowly while breathing mindfully avoids dizziness.
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
- Strengthens the thighs and knees
- Reduces fatigue and anxiety
3. Tree Pose
Sanskrit: Vrksasana. Stand tall with relaxed shoulders and chin level with the floor. With feet hip distance apart, spread the toes wide to help plant yourself firmly on the ground. Slowly shift your weight to your left leg. Inhale to bring one foot up, placing it either on the ground (next to your left foot), lower calf, middle calf or the thigh (never place the foot on the knee). Exhale. Bring the hands to your hips or heart’s center. Keep the core engaged, and if you have your balance, reach your arms to the sky. Keeping your gaze on an inanimate object on the floor in front of you and keeping your breath steady will help maintain your balance. Stay here for 5 rounds of breath. Exhale to slowly place the foot on the ground, bring your hands back to your sides and switch legs.
To deepen the practice, you can challenge your balance by doing this pose with your eyes closed. Learn to balance without any reference to the outer environment.
- Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles, and spine
- Stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders
- Improves sense of balance
- Relieves sciatica and reduces flat feet
Sanskrit: Marjaiasana-Bitilasana. Come down onto the hands and knees. Place a blanket under your knees, if needed. Be sure that the wrists are directly below the shoulders and the fingers are spread wide. Feel each knuckle and the finger pads on the ground to distribute the weight into the hands so that not all of the weight is on the wrists. The knees are hip distance apart and the tops of the feet are on the ground, the toes can be relaxed or flexed.
Inhale into cow – the head and tailbone lift up, dropping the belly towards the ground, heart extending forward. Exhale into cat – arch the spine upwards, tuck the chin toward the chest, draw the navel in towards the spine. Continue for 2-3 minutes, moving slowly at first and steadily increasing your speed as you gain flexibility.
- Improves posture and balance
- Strengthens and stretches the spine and neck
- Stretches the hips, abdomen and back
- Relieves stress and calms the mind
5. Down Dog
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana. Start in a tabletop (as in the cat-cow pose). Tuck the toes under and lift the tailbone towards the sky. Drop the head down and push into the hands to create length in the spine, in a sort of an inverted ‘V’. Draw your navel in towards your spine and press the soles of the feet down towards the ground. Take 5 rounds of deep breath in this pose, closing the eyes if you have your balance. To come out of this pose, gently bring your knees back to the mat.
- Elongates the spine
- Strengthens and opens the chest
- Strengthens the arms
- Opens the backs of the legs