Mornings are, well, mornings. Sometimes mornings are welcomed, or, at least tolerated, and other days, not so much. Sore back, cranky mood, not enough coffee. You know the drill. So how do you shake it off and start the morning differently with a little more energy and less ‘tude? Stretching. Including some stretching in your mornings can help invigorate your body and mood for the day.
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“Stretching first thing in the morning is a great way to jump-start your day,” says bande’s National Program Director Nicole Uribarri. “By maintaining a regular morning stretch routine you increase your flexibility, improve circulation and posture, and relieve stress.”
Adds Life Time’s Corey Brueckner, a yoga instructor and studio manager: “Yes, we are human and our morning routines tend to be rushed, but we can all create the time to set ourselves up for success for the rest of the day. Give yourself the gift of a morning stretch to start the day off on the right foot- or maybe the left, in ten minutes or less!”
With this simple-yet-amazing 10 minute stretching routine from Brueckner and Uribarri, you’ll be feeling left so blissed out, you might not even need that cup of coffee in the morning. Maybe.
Equipment needed: just a yoga mat or your bed and your fine self!
Uribarri recommends this gentle full body stretch, which is accessible for most. “It lengthens the spine which is great for posture and is a great chest and shoulder opener — although not couple friendly.”
How to: Remove the pillow from underneath your head, and lay flat on your back with arms and legs extended towards the corners of your mattress. Try to take up as much space as possible. Do your best to maintain a neutral spine – avoid tucking or aching your low back, and keep your ears inline with your shoulders without tucking your chin in towards your chest.
Inhale – actively and intentionally reach your arms and legs towards the corners of your bed, away from the body’s midline. Hold the stretch for length of the inhalation. Exhale — release the reach and come back to neutral. Repeats for 5 – 8 breath cycles
“One of our most commonly known yoga poses that opens the hips gently, as well as the pelvis, thighs and spine- all which often experience tension after night in bed,” says Brueckner. “Child’s pose calms the mind and can relieve stress/fatigue.
How to: Arrive on all fours (hands and knees) with knees directly beneath hips, with big toes touching. More space between the knees will deepen the stretch. Closer knees will create less sensation. Allow hips to shift back toward the heels, extending the arms out in front — palms facing down. Find expansive inhales and exhales, approximately 3-4 seconds each way. Take a full body scan after a few breath cycles, and notice if some additional space between your knees feels appropriate.
Uribarri likes this stretch since it’s a great way to stimulate digestion. Twists also massage the internal organs, relieve low back pain, relaxes and lengthens the spine and stretches hips and glutes.
How to: Lie down vertically on the floor. Extend your arms out across your mattress in a T-shape. Pull your right knee into your chest, and place your left hand outside of your right thigh. Using the left arm, gently guide the right leg across the body while maintaining the length of the left leg. Try to keep both your shoulders flat against your mattress. If possible, look over the right shoulder as you twist. Hold for 3 – 5 breath cycles and then repeat on the left.
“A true yoga favorite,” says Brueckner. “Paired together these two shapes allow spinal fluid to circulate, expand upper back and core muscles, and calm our minds when we focus on the link between our breath and movement in this sequence and massages organs in the abdominal area.”
How to: Arrive on all fours (hands and knees) with knees directly beneath hips, palms directly beneath shoulders, fingers spread wide with index fingers directing you forward. The same 3-4 second breath is appropriate here too. Cow-Inhale, bow your belly toward the earth, lift gaze toward the ceiling, and melt your shoulders away from your ears- feeling expansion across the collar bones. Cat- Exhale, arc the spine, drop chin and gaze toward your naval, feeling expansion across the back from shoulder to shoulder.
Uribarri recommends this stretch to lengthen the spine as well to open the chest and shoulder and to release tension and stress through active breathing.
How to: Sit up vertically with your feet firmly grounded on the floor. Align your ears over your shoulder, and your shoulders your hips. Interlace hands behind your head, right at the nape of your neck, elbows pointing out. Inhale – Arch your back, open up your chest, and let your head fall back into your hands as you look up towards the ceiling. Exhale – Round your spine, tuck your chin into your chest while bringing your elbows to touch, maintaining the clasp of the hands behind the head. Breathe forcefully and intently as your flow through this for 5 – 8 breath cycles.
A popular shape for a good reason, Bruckener recommends this shape because it “resets our nervous system, calms our mind and energizes our body. It can alleviate sciatica and combat fatigue.”
How to: From all fours, tuck toes, push into hands and raise hips toward the ceiling. Once you’ve found your inverted “V” shape- focus on breath and body- creating space where appropriate. Heels melt toward the earth but DO NOT need to touch. Soft or deeply bent knees are appropriate, especially if the backs of the legs are tight first thing in the morning. Gaze can be between the thighs. If you need some movement, try pedaling out the feet, shaking the head “yes and no” or reducing the bend in the knees in time. Whether in stillness or movement, focus on the breath in and out through the nose, 3-4 seconds each way. (While your arms will be holding some weight, allow your weight to be evenly distributed between upper and lower body. You can gently press your chest a bit closer to your thighs for a deeper sensation, but be mindful of form and stress on the shoulders.)
For the final stretch, Bruckener says the reclined butterfly allows our lower bodies “to open up while we connect to our breath to get our days started off right.”
How to: From down dog you can send your feet through your hands and take a seat. Then lie all the way down. Feet connect and knees fall open to either side, like a butterfly. Take one hand to your belly and one hand to your heart. The closer your heels glide toward your hips, the deeper sensation you’ll create in hips and legs. Begin to focus on breath once again- can you send the breath to hips and legs to allow knees to slip a little closer to the floor? Stay for a few breath cycles, focusing on the rise and fall of each hand with each breath.
When you’re ready to begin your day, Bruckener says, “Use your top arm to press up to a comfortable seat. Allow palms to connect at the heart center and find a full inhale that sits you a bit taller, crown of your head reaching toward the sky and shoulders melting back and down your spine. Open your mouth, exhale and take a deep sigh, emptying all.”
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