Forget coffee, rise and shine with yoga instead

written by Veronica Joseph

Mornings can be hectic. Chances are you’re busy getting ready for work. Maybe you’re packing the kids’ lunches, too, or taking the dog for a walk. Whatever you have going on in the mornings, time seems to just fly by and, while adding yoga into the mix would be nice, it might seem nigh on impossible. The key is to make time for practice and, whether you can put aside 10 minutes or a full hour, there are lots of ways you can incorporate yoga into your mornings and feel the difference.

Why mornings?

Practising yoga in the morning kick-starts your day by boosting your energy levels. It gets the blood pumping, improves concentration levels throughout the day and promotes more restful sleep at night.

By making your practice your own — your “me time” — it will become something you look forward to each day as opposed to a chore that needs to be ticked off your to-do list.

In the mornings, our minds are generally in a more restful state because we are not processing the stresses of the full day we’ve just had. In this clean and fresh state, we are in an ideal position to take our focus within and nourish the body, mind and spirit. In general, yoga practice is recommended on an empty stomach, making the morning a perfect time to get started.

Practising yoga in the mornings, however, can be easier said than done, especially if you are not a morning person. Making the commitment, putting aside a designated time and really thinking about what you want to get out of practice will help you form yoga into a habit more easily. By making your practice your own — your “me time” — it will become something you look forward to each day as opposed to a chore that needs to be ticked off your to-do list. Then you can start making the most of your practice and really reap the benefits.

Making yourself a morning person

For years, I was a strictly evenings-only kind of yogi. The main reason was that I had an established morning routine in place that was based on getting as much sleep as possible before having to wake up and get ready for work. Being a fairly regimented person, I always did find a way to fit in yoga when I came back from work. However, if I got back late, had something on after work or was just plain tired and didn’t want to do anything but flop onto the sofa, there was my practice gone.

So after years of evening-only home practice, I started trying out mornings. I began organising myself by setting out my clothes and preparing food for the next workday the night before. Then I made the big move of setting my alarm for 6am. Suddenly, I opened up an entire block of practice time in the mornings. It was a peaceful and quiet time of the day to practise. I could start gently with some breathing and slowly move into asanas (poses) at my own pace and with no distractions — except having to work around my dog, who always wanted to share my mat.

On a physical level, morning practice was at first very different. When we practise in the evenings, our bodies are supple and have had a whole day to warm up. In the mornings it’s quite a different story. You might feel well rested after a night’s sleep, but your muscles can also be tight and stiff. And if you are waking up early or reluctantly, you possibly might be a little grumpy and groggy, too.

This may seem like a challenge but it offers you an opportunity to become more aware of your body and, in turn, allows you to change your practice as needed.

The beauty and versatility of yoga mean that, whether you are able to put aside 10 minutes a day ... or any other seemingly small amount of time, there’s plenty you can do to create a fun and energising routine.

For instance, you might choose to take it a bit slower to wake up your body in the morning. You might lie in savasana (corpse pose) for a few minutes, bringing awareness to your breath and body before easing into asana practice. Your warm-ups might be longer and you may notice you can’t go as deeply into poses as usual. But you might also notice your mind is much clearer and you are possibly more aware of that tightness in your left hip, for instance, and then can focus more of your practice on loosening that particular area.

If you regularly integrate yoga into your morning schedule or, in fact, make it one of the first things you do, you’ll be able to form a habit much more easily. Then, once it’s a habit, you’ll really start to see the difference when it comes to your overall progress as well as how it affects the tone of your day.

Finding time to rise & shine

If you’ve decided to give morning yoga a go, first think about how much time you can dedicate to your practice. The amount of time you can set aside will help dictate what is appropriate to cover in terms of asanas and style. If you have 10 minutes you can put aside, don’t feel that it’s too short and pointless, or that you need to accelerate the pace so you can get through your warm-ups and into a headstand by the end of that time. The beauty and versatility of yoga mean that, whether you are able to put aside 10 minutes a day, 30 minutes every second day or any other seemingly small amount of time, there’s plenty you can do to create a fun and energising routine.

What should be in my routine?

As everyone is different, it’s hard to set a generic morning routine, particularly if your practice time varies day to day. However, generally speaking, a shorter practice of, say, 10–20 minutes would mean a gentler and more relaxing routine. Your practice could begin with some gentle breathing of your choice, followed by warm-up stretches. Don’t underestimate the power of these! Warm-ups such as lateral stretches, the cat-cow series and elbow, ankle, hip and knee rotations are great ways to open up the joints and wake up the body. From here, you could also practise some static asanas or, if time permits, the Salute to the Sun series.

Traditionally practised at sunrise, Salute to the Sun is ideal for any morning routine. This energising series of 10 postures can be used as a warm-up or, with its almost limitless variations, could comprise an entire routine in itself. For a shorter practice, complete a couple of rounds slowly and gently and use variations where needed. This might mean bending the knees in forward bend, bringing the knee down to the mat when lunging or going to half cobra only.

Soon enough, you’ll forget about missing your sleep-in and will feel even more awake for it.

If you have a longer amount of time available for practice, say 20–30 minutes, you can practise a few more rounds, adding in variations and increasing the pace gradually. As with any yoga practice, the key is to build up gradually and, as you do, add in more invigorating poses such as backbends and inversions. These poses are great for mornings as they are uplifting and energising, but be careful not rush into them if you don’t have enough time to ease in first.

Regardless of the amount of time you can dedicate to yoga in the morning, you can feel good knowing you are making a conscious effort to focus on your practice and wellbeing. Soon enough, you’ll forget about missing your sleep-in and will feel even more awake for it. You’ll start to welcome a feeling of looseness and lightness in your body and say goodbye to the creakiness and stiffness, even with the smallest amount of practice time.

Invigorate your day

Whether you have time for a shorter or longer morning session, here are some asanas to integrate into your practice. Some of these are part of the Salute to the Sun series but can also be practised on their own. They are simple, energising poses that wake up the body. They act as a great base to start your morning yoga routine, and can be built on by adding more poses and variations as time permits or as you improve in your practice.

Spinal twist

This asana is a nice, gentle one to start with. Begin by sitting on your mat with your legs crossed. Feel the sit bones in contact with the mat. Extend and lengthen through the spine, up to the crown of the head. Bring the right hand on the mat behind the right hip. Keep the length in the spine and lift and twist from the abdomen as you start to bring the left hand on the outside of the right knee. Breathe and hold the pose before returning to centre and completing on the other side.

Cat-cow stretch

This stretch is great for the back and to wake up the entire body. Come onto all fours with your hands shoulder-distance apart and feet hip-distance apart. Keep the spine neutral so it naturally dips, and look straight ahead. On your inhalation, lift up your head and arch your back so your belly drops toward the floor. On your exhalation, tuck your chin toward the chest and round and extend the spine. Continue these actions with every inhalation and exhalation for several rounds.

Downward dog

This staple yoga pose is ideal for warm-ups. You can transition into this pose from cat-cow or practise it on its own. Again, begin on all fours with appropriate distance between your hands and knees. Then tuck your toes and lift up your hips and knees. Start to straighten the legs and bring the heels toward the mat. Rotate the shoulder blades inward and extend through the arms. Focus your gaze to the abdomen and ensure the head and neck are relaxed. For a gentler version for mornings, bend the knees and allow the heels to come off the mat so you are on the balls of your feet. For a variation, straighten the legs and alternate lifting and extending them upward.

Forward bend

Stand upright with your feet together. Lift up through the spine and, on your inhalation, raise the hands to the ceiling. Exhale and slowly bend forward from the hips, bringing your hands to the floor or holding the lowest point possible on your legs. Bend your knees to start or, if you feel comfortable, slowly start to straighten them. For a variation, interlace the fingers behind the back and allow the arms to rotate upward. Hold this pose for 10 breath counts.

Lunge

From the forward-bend position, lunge the right leg back, bringing the toes on the mat and bending the left knee in turn so it’s directly above the ankle. Keep the hips square and knee pointing outward. Keep your fingertips or palms of your hands on the mat. Relax the shoulders, lift through the spine and look straight ahead. Breathe and hold for 10 breaths before switching and completing on the opposite side. The knee can also be rested on the mat. For a variation, inhale and raise both arms upward into Crescent pose and hold.

Warrior I

The warrior series is dynamic and invigorating and will leave you feeling positive and inspired to take on the day. Begin standing upright, towards the back of your mat. Step the right foot forward and bring your hands to your hips to ensure they are square. Slightly rotate your back foot so it is on an angle and the toes are pointing outward. Keeping the hips square, bend the right knee so it’s in line with the ankle. Inhale and raise both hands up to the ceiling. Extend the spine and lift up through the crown of the head. Start by holding this pose for 10 breath counts before releasing and practising on the opposite side. As you progress, you can try to hold this pose for longer and longer. For a stronger variation, you can go into a forward bend from this asana and lower the abdomen over the bent leg while keeping the arms extended and back foot firmly planted on the floor.


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Veronica Joseph

Veronica Joseph is an accredited yoga teacher who loves to share her yogic journey from travels in India, cleansing techniques, her favourite poses and their benefits and tips to remember when practising.