Three Easy Yoga Flows to Try Every Morning
Yoga is the meditative, slow-paced practice that so many of us have embraced with open arms. The reason? It is fantastic for longevity—and it's never to late to pick up this wellness technique. Ahead, we chatted with two yoga instructors who shared three flows to work into your morning routine. They're suited for seasoned yogis and novices alike.
Still in Bed
Did you know that you can perform yoga even before you get out of bed? Elizabeth Thompson, co-founder of MilkLoveYoga, notes that the following sequence is something to try before rising for your day. Twists, she says, "relieve anxiety and tension and wake up the spine before moving;" to perform them, lie on your back and stretch your arms out wide. Bring your knees up to your chest and twist from side to side. Segue into a happy baby position, which "will relieve any stiffness left overnight," Thompson, who is also the co-founder of Jollie, shares. Lie flat on your back, lift your knees toward your face with your lower legs and feet pointed upward at 90 degrees; grab the edges of your feet and feel the stretch. "If you cannot grab the edges of your feet, try for your calves," Thompson says, noting that it is important to keep your head down during the entire movement. "The spine should be completely flat." After holding the position for a minute or two, Thompson says to transition into child's pose. To do so, get on your hands and knees and stretch your arms forward while pushing your hips back and down toward your mattress. "This also opens the hips and lengthens the spine—which is great after twisting," she says, noting that, with open knees, you'll have more room to sink back.
Next, try cat/cow. Get back onto all fours and start by looking upwards towards the ceiling while rolling your shoulders back and letting your stomach stretch down toward the mattress—this is cat. After one long breath, slowly move into cow by rolling your shoulders forward, curling your head down, and arching your back upward, reversing the stretch. "This movement brings mobility and length to the spine," Thompson says, noting to inhale for cow and exhale for cat. Next, in a supine position, pull one knee up to your chest. Bend your other knee out to the side and cross your foot over the pulled-up knee—and voila, you're in the figure four stretch. To deepen it, though, you'll want to gently pull up on your un-crossed leg. "Figure four will stretch out your glutes and hips muscles that we use all day to walk and sit," Thompson says.
Lastly, lie on your back and put your feet firmly on your mattress. Keep your shoulders down and lift your hips up in the air to perform a half-bridge. "This will start to stimulate the organs and wake up the legs before you fully exit the bed," Thompson says. After moving through all of the above movements, it's time to get out of bed. "Finally, end with a full-body stretch reaching to each side to provide length and energy to start the day—long side bodies support the mobility and length of our spines," Thompson says.
Up and Ready to Flow
Once you're out of bed, CorePower Yoga Senior Yoga Trainer Amy Opielowski recommends performing a quick and easy grounding flow—which she outlines, here. "These grounding yoga poses support balanced muscle engagement in your legs to stabilize your ankles, knees, and hips, and improve mobility," she says. "Complete one round in the morning and work up to two rounds each day." To begin, stand with your feet-hip distance apart and hover your right foot off the ground, she instructs. "Circle your ankle 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise." It's as simple as that—next, try the same movement higher up. "Stand with your feet together and place your hands on your knees," she instructs. "Circle your knees 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise."
After your circles, get ready for a nearly full-body stretch. "Start on your hands and knees and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand," she says. "Slide your left knee back so that your knee is behind your right toes. Reach your right arm up and twist your torso to the right. Kick your left heel towards your glutes and grab the pinky toe side of your left foot." Hold the pose for 30 seconds before switching sides. (If you can't reach your foot, don't fret; Opielowski says that you can use a strap or towel for added support.) To further stretch your legs, lie down on a mat and stack your heels under your knees. "Use a strap, belt, or towel to lasso the bottom of your right foot," she instructs. "Hold the ends of the strap and extend your right leg up to the ceiling. Stack the right hip, knee, and ankle in one line and flex your right toes toward your shin." For an even deeper stretch, she says to extend your left leg long onto your mat. Whichever you choose, she notes to hold the position for 30 seconds before switching legs.
As beneficial as in-bed figure fours are, doing them on solid ground can offer even more lengthening. With that in mind, Opielowski says to lie on your mat with your heels under your knees. "Cross your right ankle over your left knee and flex your right toes toward your right shin," she instructs. "For more of a sensation, pull your left knee in towards your chest and interlace your hands behind the left thigh." Hold for 30 seconds and move to the other leg.
Sun Salutation A
If runner's lunges and figure fours don't fit your idea of yoga (even though they're the basis of vinyasa flows), consider moving directly into Ashtanga yoga's primary sequence: sun salutations. According to Thompson, sun salutation A, which includes seven individual poses repeated in a flow of 11 total movements while synchronizing breath with each transition, is great for warming up and energizing the body. "Syncing breath and movement together first thing in the morning clears the brain for a positive start to the day," she says, noting that sun salutations are often the first flows following the warmup in a yoga class for the same reason. Since they are more involved, beginners will benefit most from watching videos (try this one from Alo Yoga) or keeping a visual, like this colorful one from Etsy ($26.38, etsy.com), of the movements on hand. Eventually, though, the flow becomes second nature—and, once mastered, becomes the basis for the primary series of Ashtanga yoga.