5 Yoga Stretches to Start Your Morning

Occasionally during my frantic mornings, I think of a yoga commercial, which shows a mom enjoying a peaceful yoga session before calmly eating her yogurt breakfast and then waking her kids up for the day. This is not my reality. I usually jump out of bed and go straight into tackling the morning to-dos: getting everyone dressed, making breakfast, and putting lunches into backpacks. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a moment to fill the Yeti mug with coffee before I jump in the car to take to the kids to school.

After I drop the kiddos off, I take about 20 minutes to meditate and stretch before I start my workday. When I first started doing this, it felt like such a luxury and I almost felt guilty for using work time to center myself, but I quickly realized how much more patient, productive, and present I was throughout the day when I took this time for myself in the morning.

Seeing these benefits has turned me into a big believer in a morning yoga practice – even a quick one, so I thought I’d share 5 yoga poses to start your morning. Maybe you can sneak them in before the kiddos are awake, maybe it’s more of a mid-morning routine (like it is for me!), or maybe you can close your office door for 5 minutes and get some stretches in to get your blood flowing and some meditation.

Seated spinal twist (both directions): Start in a seated, cross-legged position, with your right leg in front. Keeping your left leg in place, lift your right leg and cross it over your left, placing your right foot on the ground next to your left knee or upper thigh. Both knees are bent, so your right knee is pointing straight up (with the foot on the ground) and the left is curled in close to your body. Take an inhale and as you exhale, place your left hand on the ground behind you as twist towards the left (for an added challenge, try looking over your left shoulder as you twist). Make sure to think about lengthening your spine as you gently twist. Hold it here and breathe for a few rounds and then switch sides.

Forward fold: This one is great for stretching out tight hamstrings. Start standing with your feet together or no more than shoulder width apart. Keeping your back flat and straight, take an inhale and as you exhale, reach towards your toes. You can bend your knees as much as you need to, and only go as far as your body allows. (Don’t force yourself to touch your toes when your thighs, knees, or shins are a better stopping point for you.) Hold here and breathe, trying to reach a tiny bit farther with each exhale.

Mountain pose: For this pose, you’re just standing tall, like a mountain. Stand, rooted into all four corners of your feet, slight bend in your knees. Close your eyes and either bring your arms up overhead or your hands to heart center. Take a few deep breaths here and make sure to keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Take some time to set an intention for the day and how you’d like to feel as you crawl into bed that night, or what you’d like to accomplish.

Yogi squat: For this pose, you’ll take a wide stance (feet under your shoulders), with toes pointing out at 45 degrees. Sink down into a low squat with your hands at heart center. This one can feel intense, but it feels so good to stretch out tight hips and inner thighs. If you need more support, hold onto a sturdy countertop.

Legs up the wall: This is one of my favorite restoration poses that can help to improve circulation, especially if we’re sitting or standing for extended periods of time. Sit close to a wall, then carefully make your way onto your back. Place your bottom right up next to the wall, so when you straighten your legs above you, they rest on the wall without any effort. Your spine should be perpendicular to the wall with your legs resting directly on the wall. Close your eyes and breathe. This one should feel amazing!

Bonus: Meditate. Set a timer for 5 minutes, find a comfortable seated position, and breathe. Sometimes it’s helpful to use a mantra. I like to think of two powerful words, and think of one on the inhale, and one on the exhale (“peace” and “calm” are two of my favorites). If you need more guidance or are a meditation newbie, try an app like Headspace or Calm.

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Gina Harney is the blogger behind the healthy lifestyle brand, The Fitnessista, which reaches millions of viewers all over the world. She’s been featured on Greatist, Forbes, Buzzfeed, Shape, Fitness Magazine, and Well + Good. She’s the author of “HIIT It!” and the voice behind the Healthy In Real Life podcast. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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