Waking up is the best part of the day. It’s a fresh start, and offers the promise of a yet-to-be-filled morning, afternoon and night. If you’ve slept well, it’s hard to beat.
But if you spent the wee hours tossing and turning or you’re not looking forward to your to-do list, getting out of bed can be rough.
Yoga has a masterful way of morphing in order to be what you need. That means it can get you going, when the morning-go is rough, just as much as it can help you wind down in the evening. The trick is picking the right moves and how you do them.
Try these three poses, in the order noted, to energize yourself and feel alert. If you happen to be well-rested, the sequence will help you focus even more. First take several deep breaths and do a few simple neck rolls and upper body openers to get your system going.
1. Downward-facing dog
Awakening benefit: Opens the entire back side of your body. Allows you to sense your body’s overall “mood”: how physically tense or relaxed you are and how physically strong or weak you feel.
Instructions: On a yoga mat, or comfortable floor, come to your hands and knees, with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your knees and feet about hip-width apart. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips, keeping a slight bend in your knees as your tailbone rises as high as you can comfortably reach.
Pedal through your feet a few times, dropping one heel toward the floor at a time, stretching through your calves, as you match each movement to an inhale or exhale. Create a cadence to your breath so your focus increases.
Spread your fingers comfortably and broaden across your upper back feeling your lats, triceps and shoulder muscles engage.
Take strong, full breaths through your nose, perhaps drawing the inhales and exhales to the back of your throat, feeling a sense of power surge upward through your hands and feet.
Stay 5-10 breaths.
2. Plank pose, variation
Awakening benefit: Raises your heart rate, a surefire way to spark energy.
Instructions: From down dog, as you inhale shift your weight forward until your shoulders are almost over your wrists and simultaneously draw your right knee toward your right arm (the closer your knee gets to your arm and the higher it is, the more challenging). As you exhale shift back to down dog. As you inhale, make the same move leading with your left knee then exhale back to down dog. Repeat this pattern as many times as you can until your heart-rate rises, but without feeling weak.
3. Chair pose
Awakening benefit: Cultivates a sense of power through the oppositional action of pressing down through your feet, while lifting your upper body and stretching skyward through your arms. Strongly engages the muscles of the front thighs, buttocks, back, shoulders and arms.
Instructions: Rise to your feet and stand hip-width apart, toes pointing ahead. Press down firmly through the entire surface of each foot as you sit in an imaginary chair, tilting your torso forward from your hips about 30 degrees. Sit back far enough to feel your front thighs engage firmly, but not so far that all your weight is in your heels.
Lift your arms alongside your ears. If this strains your neck, lower your arms a little or bend at the elbows creating a goal-post shape across your shoulders and arms. No matter where your arms end up, become very strong through them, firming your shoulder blades down and onto your back while also spreading your fingers as if you’re lengthening them away from your wrists. This oppositional action marshals your concentration.
Press down through your feet during exhales, and lengthen up through the crown of your head and your arms during inhales, again creating an oppositional action but on a wider scale.
Stay until your front thighs begin to fatigue, and repeat two more times.
4. Tree pose
Awakening benefit: Balances you physically and mentally, creating clarity.
Instructions: Stand upright, with your feet still hip-width apart. Stack your hips over your feet and your shoulders over your hips, with the crown of your head reaching up.
Place your hands on your hips to create a sense of rooting down then place the sole of your right foot inside your left calf or left inner thigh – wherever does not strain your right knee and allows you to balance on your left foot. If you need to instead lightly touch the right toe on the ground inside your left foot, that works too. Option of lifting the arms overhead, if you’re up for it.
If you rarely balance on one foot, stay only a few breaths. If that’s easy, stay 5-8 breaths. For our purposes here, the key in this pose is finding a way to balance on one foot (it’s not about where you put your arms or how high your raised foot goes).
Repeat with the left foot.
Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor at Yoga Journal, for which she still edits and creates content. Learn more at mitramalek.com.