The most glorious time of day is morning, whether eerily early or nudging toward noon. No matter the hour, morning arrives as a clean slate. And if you’ve had a decent dose of shuteye, you’re full of energy.
A refreshing way to start your diurnal cycle is with yoga. New to the practice? No problem. I’ve got a tailor-made map — including options if your sleep was less than stellar. At its core, yoga for beginners is no different from yoga for pros (whatever that is; yoga doesn’t have pros).
First things first. Set yourself up.
Block off 10-30 minutes.
If you have a sticky mat, unfurl it on a flat surface, which can be hard or somewhat soft (as in carpet or grass). There are benefits to each: Hard helps you balance, soft cushions your bones.
Wear something comfy. Pajamas are fine, but if you want to suit up in workout gear, have at it.
Now prep your mental self. Don’t grimace! It’s easy. Yoga beginners need to keep just three things in mind as they practice:
- Underachieve — and back off from any movements that hurt.
- Acknowledge what you feel, physically.
- Acknowledge what is, or isn’t, going on mentally.
Now the goods, with low-energy options:
Stand on your surface, and take a small hop, allowing your feet to land comfortably. This is your ideal stance (anytime, by the way, not just for yoga). Lift the crown of your head skyward. Leave your arms at your sides, allowing their weight to release your shoulders from your ears. Feels nice, yes? Now inhale as if a balloon is expanding in your belly and ribcage, and then exhale as if it’s deflating. Do this a few more times.
When you’re ready, on a balloon-like inhale sweep your arms overhead. Exhale and release them as you bend your knees enough to release your lower back (it should not round) and fold forward, hinging from your hips. Each knee should track over the second and third toes of its corresponding foot. Now inhale and lift your torso until it’s parallel to the ground, placing your hands on your shins. Exhale and find that bent-knee forward fold again. Inhale and rise back to stand, lifting your arms overhead. Exhale as you release your arms to your sides. Repeat this pattern as many times as feels appropriate.
Low-energy option: Sun breaths should be a breeze even if you’re dragging. But if they’re too much, instead of folding forward, simply stay upright and drop your arms back to your sides with each exhale. If you’re game, lift your heels in coordination with your inhales/arm lifts, and lower them with your exhales/arm drops.
As you inhale, lift your arms overhead. As you exhale, drop your arms to shoulder height, and twist your torso to the right. Your left hip and knee will automatically move forward, and your left knee will bend a bit. Let all that happen. In fact, bend your left knee even more to gain increased access to your twist (you can bend your right knee a bit too). If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, twist less aggressively — just enough to feel your chest and shoulders open nicely. Inhale back to your normal stance with arms overhead, and then as you exhale, twist to the left. Follow this pattern as long as feels good.
The next time you exhale, shift weight into your left leg and drag your right leg back as you tilt your torso forward, drawing it toward parallel to the ground. Lift your right leg as far as hip height behind you. Keep a smooth cadence to your breathing. If framing your head with your arms is too intense, reach your arms to the sides like wings or, more gentle, draw your hands to your chest. Take a few breaths as you balance. Then switch sides.
Low-energy option: Drop your torso all the way down so that your hands touch the ground under your shoulders. Release your neck so you can look toward your raised leg.
Cow to child’s pose
As you exhale, fold forward from your hips, bending your knees deeply enough to plant your hands and move your feet back, coming to hands and knees aka tabletop. As you inhale, drop your belly while lifting your head and drawing your shoulders up and away from your ribs (spinal extension). As you exhale, draw your hips toward your heels. Repeat this pattern several times.
The next time you inhale, lift your right knee toward your right armpit so that you can plant your right foot near your right hand. Exhale and take your feet as far apart, front to back, as needed to feel a nice stretch in the back of your right thigh and front of your left. As you inhale, lift your left knee off the ground and draw your arms overhead. Take several breaths, and then drop your back knee in order to return to tabletop. Follow the pattern again, leading with your left leg.
Low-energy option: Draw your hands to your hips. Even less energy: Leave your back knee on the ground.
Move to your seat, and then transition to your back. Find a comfortable shape. Take a few complete breaths using the balloon analogy from the start of your session. Then let your breath flow naturally as you lie here for several minutes. You’re welcome to follow your wandering mind or create one-pointed focus on a word, vision or sensation.
Congrats beginner! You’ve done an entire yoga session, incorporating strength, flexibility, balance, breath-work and mindfulness.
Mitra Malek is a former Yoga Journal editor and has taught yoga regularly since 2006.