The Poses Yoga Instructors Use to Start Their Day Right
Whether they sprang out of bed and want to keep that momentum going or they're feeling achy because they slept funny, these five yogis know just which move to do first thing.
Photo: Lisa Mae Osborn
Favorite of: Lisa Mae Osborn, owner and instructor at the Bhaktishop Yoga Center in Portland, Oregon
Why it's great in the morning: It's a pre-emptive a.m. hip stretch, which is great if you're deskbound all day. "I sit a lot, believe it or not, doing administrative work for the yoga center and for my acupuncture practice," says Osborn. "This pose helps me feel stronger in my core, shoulders and hips, as well as helping with mobility and stability throughout my day."
Expert instructions on how to do it: "Step into a low-lunge position, with your front knee directly over your front ankle and your weight placed evenly on the pad of your back foot's big toe. Place a blanket under your back knee before you lower it to the ground. Once your knee is lowered comfortably, bring your hands off the floor and onto your front knee. Press your spine and chest to an upright position. Allow yourself a few moments to feel your breath soften any tension in the front of your body before raising your arms up alongside your head and reaching upward. Try to keep the weight of your pelvis even from front to back. Take 3 to 5 full breaths there before switching sides."
Variation for a slightly deeper stretch: "Place the front foot on a yoga block or a stack of books that won't slide. Repeat the previous steps, but this time, place your hands on your front knee, rather than reaching upright. This changes the load in the front leg, allowing the connective tissues there to soften, strengthen and release a bit more. Again, take care to keep the weight of the pelvis centered and even front to back in the hip joints."
Photo: Josh Darr
Favorite of: Jill Jerome, owner and instructor at Yoga Loft Chicago
Why it's great in the morning: You'll shake off any grouchiness and start the day feeling strong. "This is a nice heart-opening posture, which allows for deeper breathing," says Jerome. "That also relieves any stress and tension you might be feeling when you wake up. It strengthens the spine, along with your abdominal muscles and buttocks."
Expert instructions on how to do it: "Lie belly down on the mat. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders, keeping your elbows snug to the sides of your body. Press the tops of your feet, legs and pelvis firmly into the floor. On an inhalation, begin to straighten your arms to lift your chest off the floor, but not so high that your pelvic bones lose contact with the floor. Your arms should still be bent. As you do that, press your tailbone toward your pubic bone. Keep your butt firm but don't squeeze it. Lift and draw your sternum slightly forward, stopping if you feel tension or pain in the lower back. Hold for a few deep breaths."
Photo: Edwin Watson
Favorite of: Angela Wagner, owner and instructor at YogaSport Dallas
Why it's great in the morning: This move can offer relief for stiff backs. "I tend to curl and scrunch my body up while I sleep, and twists help release any tightness I'm feeling in my back," says Wagner. "This posture also reminds me to lengthen my spine before I get ready for work."
Expert instructions on how to do it: "Start by sitting cross-legged on the floor. Keeping both legs bent, lift your left leg up and plant your left foot on the outside of your right thigh. Twist your torso to your left, connecting your right elbow with your left knee. As you breathe in, press your left hand on the floor directly below your shoulder and draw your spine and chest up. Don't let your back round—if you feel it start to round, focus on pressing your hand into the floor a little harder and lengthening through your spine. As you breathe out, twist a little deeper. Hold for a few deep breaths, then repeat on the opposite side."
Photo: Cheyenne Adler
DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Favorite of: Sarah Levey, co-founder and instructor at Y7 Studio in New York
Why it's great in the morning: You wake up your whole body in one go. "It targets your upper and lower body at the same time, so you'll feel it in your hands, arms, shoulders, back, calves, hamstrings and even the arches of your feet, which is a great way to bring awareness to the entire body first thing," says Levey.
Expert instructions on how to do it: "From tabletop position on all fours, take your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart, tuck your toes and lift your hips into the air. Your chest moves back toward your thighs, with your head relaxed and arms straight. Roll your shoulders away from your ears, rotating your biceps outward. As you begin to straighten your legs, remember that it's more important to keep your hips high than to get the soles of your feet to the ground. Hold for a few deep breaths."
Photo: Erika Flores
HAPPY BABY SEQUENCE
Favorite of: Christine Burke, owner and instructor at Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles
Why it's great in the morning: This series of 3 moves is the antidote to any morning bloating or constipation, and it loosens up your back. "The first pose is a wonderful back release and helps activate the digestive system," says Burke. "Next is a spinal twist, which also gets digestion going while strengthening the smaller muscles in your back and lengthening your spine. The last pose, Happy Baby, is great for loosening up your hips."
Expert instructions on how to do it:
1. "Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest. Use your arms to hold your legs near you and practice 5 deep belly breaths. You can add a count of 5 as you inhale and 5 as you exhale.
2. Keep your left leg in, with your hands clasped on your shin and extend your right leg to the floor. Breathe here for a few moments with the foot of your outstretched leg flexed. Then take your right hand to your left knee and draw it across your body and toward the floor. Extend your left hand away from you at shoulder height and look toward that hand. It's fine if your bent knee is hovering and doesn't make it to the floor but try to keep both shoulder blades on the ground. Hold for 5 breaths and then switch sides.
3. Lying on your back, hold the outer edges of your feet, or clasp your toes with 'yogi toe lock' by wrapping your index and middle fingers around your big toe and connecting your thumb to those fingers. If you can't reach comfortably, you can hold onto your calves or behind your knees. Take a few breaths with your ankles right over your knees. Inhale a comfortable breath and, with your lips closed, sharply pump the air out through your nose. Let the inhale happen on its own and concentrate on sharp, defined exhales through your nose as you feel your navel draw in and toward the floor with each exhale. Count 11 of those breaths and then release your legs with your feet together and your knees open as you stretch your arms up over your head. Inhale and open your mouth, relax your jaw and exhale. Practice 3 rounds of this combination and then rest on your back in corpse pose or sit in meditation."