As both a certified exercise physiologist and a self-proclaimed night owl, I’m well aware that morning workouts aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Frankly, the best time to work out is the time you’ll commit to consistently. And yet, there’s no denying there are definite benefits to exercising first thing in the morning. For one, you get your workout out of the way, before you get sidetracked by last-minute happy hours or hectic work assignments. Also, there’s some evidence that morning workouts, particularly those performed on an empty stomach, may help increase calorie burn from fat stores while reducing the neural response to food, making you less likely to consume extra calories to “make up for” the calories you burn. Essentially, morning workouts may help curb your appetite and promote weight loss, which is an undeniable benefit if weight loss is a goal.
But look, I get it. Mornings are hard, which is exactly why I’m not going to suggest you start your day with a high-intensity workout… unless, of course, you’re into that. Rather, a combination of a brisk, moderate-intensity walk followed by a quick, 10- to 15-minute yoga flow will do the trick. The walk is perfect for getting your heart rate up and your blood flowing, and if you’re able to take your walk outside, you’ll reap the mood-boosting benefits of exercising in nature (and who doesn’t need a mood boost first thing in the morning!?). Then, by following the walk with a series of yoga poses, you’ll loosen up tight muscles, and according to TruFusion Blue Diamond’s Director of Yoga, Lisa Davis, you’ll also boost digestive fire and brainpower, while helping promote a sense of calm throughout the day. Davis says, “Yoga can be done anytime, but morning yoga is a great way to wake up your body, set your intention, and get your energy flowing. You’ll notice the change in your mind and body after just one morning yoga session.”
So after taking your 30-minute, mind-clearing, heart-boosting walk, follow these simple instructions for a series of yoga asanas provided by Davis. Mornings have never felt so good.
Child’s Pose, Balasana
“Child’s pose is a great way to start to lengthen the spine and open the hips,” says Davis, “It’s also a great place to start just to check in with your body and breathe before you start movement.” From a kneeling position, bring your toes together and you knees apart. Start to melt your chest down between your thighs, lowering your forehead to the floor. Extend your arms forward. Take a slow, full breath in through your nose and notice the back of your chest expand and your ribs widen. As you exhale through the nose, see if you can sink your buttocks down toward your heels, feeling your spine gently lengthening. Stay here for five to 10 breaths, or however long feels good to you.
From child’s pose, you’ll shift forward into cat-cow pose, which, according to Davis, is a great morning stretch for your back, as it enables you to “open the whole spine.” After shifting onto your hands and knees, with your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders, take an inhale and begin to send your gaze up to the ceiling. Drop your belly down toward the floor. This is cow pose. As you exhale, send your gaze toward your belly button, rounding your back up like an angry cat. Repeat on each inhale and exhale three to five times.
Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana
Davis explains that “This standard yoga pose opens up the back of the body and is very energizing,” perfect for a morning practice. To enter this position, you’ll start from your hands and knees in cat-cow, with your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Press back, lifting your knees away from the floor while keeping your arms straight, and lifting your tailbone up. Stretch your heels toward the floor to lengthen your hamstrings. It’s okay if your heels don’t actually touch the floor. Take three to five breaths here. If you’d like, pedal out your legs, bending one knee, then the other for a nice stretch through your calves.
Forward Fold, Uttanasana
To enter a forward fold, walk your feet toward your hands and allow your upper body to hang. Your neck and head should be relaxed, your knees bent. Think of drawing your belly to your thighs to feel a great opening through your lower back. If there’s no tension in your low back, you can start to straighten your legs. As you inhale, find length through your spine, and as you exhale move your head slowly toward your feet.
Half Sun Salutation, Ardha Surya Namaskar
To this point, each of the poses have been fairly static — you enter the position, then hold steady, sinking into the pose as you breathe deeply. But now, Davis wants you to add more movement to your asanas by introducing a few half sun salutations, or ardha surya namaskar, to your practice. Davis says, “The half sun salutation is an excellent way to warm up your body at the beginning of your day. In fact, it can be a complete practice in itself. It bends the spine both forward and backward, opens the hips and hamstrings, stimulates circulation, and establishes a deep and rhythmic breath. Half sun salutation can set a meditative tone for the rest of your practice, or your day.”
Begin in tadasana, or mountain pose, as you stand tall, your feet together, your weight sinking evenly into your feet. Inhale as you reach your arms overhead. Straighten your arms overhead with your palms facing each other. Then, hinge forward over the hips, placing your palms or fingertips on the floor beside your feet as you enter a forward fold. Remember to bend your knees or place your hands on blocks if your legs are tight. Inhale to a half lift of your torso, reaching the crown of your head forward to the front of the room, your back straight. Fold forward again to a forward fold as you exhale. On your next inhale, reverse the swan dive by reaching out and up as you return to standing, your arms reaching back over your head. As you exhale, bring your hands to a prayer position in front of your heart. Repeat this entire series three to five times, focusing on moving with your breath.
Tree Pose, Vriksasana
After completing a series of half sun salutations, it’s time for a standing yoga pose, that according to Davis, helps cultivate balance and strength in your legs. To get into tree pose, stand straight, then shift your weight to your right foot, bringing the sole of your left foot up to your right inner thigh. If you can’t balance with your foot on your thigh, try placing your foot on your calf instead, just avoid placing your foot directly on the knee. Hold your hands together in a prayer position over your chest. If you feel well-balanced, you can extend your arms over your head. Try to hold this pose for a few breathes before switching to the opposite leg.
Bridge Pose, Setu Bandhasana
Your standing poses are officially finished. To enter bridge pose, lie flat on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet hip-width apart, parallel to each other, and as close to your buttocks as possible. Simultaneously, press your upper arms and feet into the floor as you lift your hips toward the ceiling. Try to distribute your weight evenly through the inside and outside of your feet. Once your hips are lifted, “walk” your shoulder blades toward each other and clasp your hands together, pressing your chest and upper back higher. According to Davis, the bridge pose “stretches the chest, neck, spine, and hips. It’s also a great strengthening exercise for the back, buttocks, and hamstrings.” Hold the position for three to five breathes.
Easy Twist, Supta Jathara Parivartanasana
After releasing from bridge pose, settle into the mat for a moment with your feet flat on the floor, your knees bent, allowing your spine to neutralize before entering the easy twist. To start the twist, reach your arms out wide in a “T” position, your palms pressed into the ground. Turn your head to look over your left shoulder as you allow your knees and hips to open to the right side of your body. As your knees and hips twist, keep both shoulders squared and rooted to the floor. If you want, you can use your right hand to press into your top thigh to help guide your outer knee to the floor. This is a great pose to stretch the back muscles and spine. Davis says, “This simple twist stimulates the kidneys, abdominal organs, bladder, and intestines while releasing stress. For a deeper stretch, you can straighten your top leg to stretch your hamstring and strengthen the leg.”
Corpse Pose, Savasana
Who doesn’t love a workout that ends with complete relaxation? To enter corpse pose, or savasana, simply lie flat on your back, your arms and legs extended with your palms face up, your feet opening outward. Breathe deeply, your eyes closed, for as long as you’d like. Davis suggests ending with a meditation in savasana as a way to set your intentions for the day and check in with yourself to see how your mind and body are feeling.
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