Morning person or not, squeeze these eight poses into your routine first thing upon waking and you may find yourself not as reliant on that cup of coffee (or three!) to get you through until lunch.
It's hard to narrow down my top eight, but if you're twisting my arm, then here they are (in the sequence they should be practised) with reasons why I believe they're a morning-must.
Child's Pose: Particularly if you sleep on your stomach (me!), you may find your lower back is aching for a good stretch on climbing out of the sheets. I love rolling out of bed and onto my mat, straight into this forward fold to lengthen the spine and stretch our my back muscles.
Cat Cow Curls: This mini-flow gently wakes up your spine, and stretches and moves all the muscles in your back to increase blood flow and energise. The combination of both a Cat and a Cow curl allows you to sync your breath to movement, which calms the mind to bring clarity ahead of a busy day.
Thread the Needle: This sequence wouldn't be complete without a twist to invigorate the nervous system that runs along the spine, activiating all the nerve cells in the your body to increase your energy levels for the day ahead. A cleansing pose that allows you to find a deep stretch for the deltoid muscle and others surrounding the scapula to help relieve chronic shoulder and back pain.
Puppy Pose: Leaving your hips stacked above the knees in tabletop, walk your hands forward, stretching the arms actively to keep the elbows lifted, while lowering your forehead and chest to the earth. A welcome opening for the shoulders and magnificent extension for the spine to counteract the forward folding trap we tend to fall into when seated at a desk, typing on a computer. Stretching and strengthening the postural muscles in Puppy gives us a flighting chance to maintain good posture throughout the day.
Cobra Pose: Building a strong foundation will help to stabilise your body. Just as it's important to strengthen the core, it's also vital to build the muscles around the shoulder blade to support efficient arm movement. If these upper back muscles are weak, it is often the muscles on top of your shoulder that tend to over work and encourage hunching. And, as they aren't designed to stabilise your shoulder, get tired quickly and ache, which in turn creates tightness in the neck. Squeezing an imaginary pencil in between the shoulder blades in Cobra, motivates you to use the trapezius, deltoid, infraspinatus fascia, and teres minor and major muscles that can prevent hunching when strengthened simultaneously with the abdominal muscles. Lifting the hands off the floor in Cobra allows you to maximise these postural benefits.
Downward Facing Dog: A firm yogi favourite, this gentle inversion allows you to defy gravity and aim for ultimate length in the spine while releasing the muscles in the back of your legs including the hamstring and calf. Inversions encourage blood flow to the brain giving it more oxygen and nutrients and making the brain function faster and better. This improves concentration, memory, observation and boosts clear thinking. The perfect helping hand to make any start to the working day better.
Standing Forward Fold (with interlaced hands): Maximise the hamstring release you kicked off in Downward Facing Dog, in this next pose by bringing your weight slightly forward into the balls of the feet and allowing you tailbone to tilt further towards the sky. Feel the incredible extension down the back of your legs (even with bent knees), as you ensure your navel is glued to the thighs to prevent rounding in the spine. Let the neck completely relax and then interlace your hands behind your back, lifting them up and away from the body to open through the chest and shoulders.
Standing Lateral Flexion: It's a common human reaction. When we first get out of bed in the morning, we tend to raise our arms above our head to stretch, stimulating a yawn at the same time. Therefore I thought it fitting to add a lateral flexion in ode of this movement. This standing lateral flexion helps to open up the side-body, strengthen the obliques (remember that we talked about this earlier for optimum postural reasons), and is helpful to increase flexibility of the spine. Don't forget to tuck the tailbone under and draw the lower ribcage in to activate the core and protect your lower back. Lateral flexions also open up the ribcage, helping to expand the lungs and aid in deeper breathing. When we get anxious or stressed we tend to automatically start shallow breathing into the chest, rather than longer deep breaths into the diaphragm.
Use these eight poses to trigger healthy habits to feel good. If you spend five to 10 breathes in each one, it should only take up five minutes of your morning. Not a large sacrifice for so much gain.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: How can I keep up a regular yoga practise?