Yoga positions called asanas are the basic physical part of any yoga practice. While yoga poses are one type of exercise for your body, they are also much more than that.
The word yoga itself comes from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, and refers to the union of mind and soul. Yoga began in India more than 3000 years ago and is still practiced today for the health of the mind, body, and spirit. Morning yoga practice is a great way to energize your day ahead.
Cat-Cow Pose is a great morning stretch for your back. “This yoga position opens the whole spine,” says Jacqueline Corso, psychotherapist and certified yoga instructor on Cape Cod, Mass. To get into this yoga pose you need to get down on all fours.
While gazing up at the ceiling, you drop your back down toward the floor as you inhale. Then while looking down at your belly button, you arch your back up like a cat and exhale. “Try to do this movement for one or two minutes,” says Corso.
If you have ever seen a dog stretch, you know how Downward Dog got its name. It’s a standard yoga pose, though not all beginners are able to do it, says Corso. For this position, start on your hands and knees, 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 lift your tailbone up. Stretch your heels toward the floor to lengthen your hamstrings. “This yoga pose opens up the back of the body and is very energizing. It should be held for about 30 seconds to one minute,” adds Corso.
“Warrior One is a standing position that signifies and stimulates strength and power,” Corso says. Start by standing up straight, and then step your left leg back 3 and a half to 4 feet. Bend your right knee so it’s directly above the ankle, and turn your left foot in slightly.
Raise your arms directly above you, reaching strongly, and look up. This yoga pose stretches the back and the lower body. “It can be strenuous on the arms, which are held high in the air,” adds Corso. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then repeat, reversing leg positions.
Warrior Two is similar to Warrior One, but the arms are held out to the side with the head looking forward, and the back foot is at a 90-degree angle instead of being turned in slightly. “As with all yoga positions, breathing is an important part of the exercise,” explains Corso.
“As a matter of fact, yoga without breathing and meditation is just a stretching exercise. You can run through a series of morning stretches in about 20 minutes or you can add periods of meditation and have a morning yoga session that lasts an hour or more.”
Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended Side Angle Pose is another standing yoga position, which improves strength, flexibility, and posture. This pose is particularly good to stretch the side of your body and strengthen your legs. “No matter what the yoga position, it’s important to understand that yoga draws energy from inside the body. Physical movement wakes up the body,” says Corso.
In this pose, the legs are spread as in Warrior Two, but the torso is turned sideways with one arm pointing to the ceiling and the head looking upward. When your right knee is bent, you’ll have your right palm planted on the ground outside the knee, and your left arm reaching up so there’s a straight line from your left foot all the way up the side to your left arm. Hold for about a minute and then repeat on the other side.
This is a standing yoga pose that helps to cultivate balance and strengthen your legs. To get into Tree Pose, stand straight and then shift your weight to the right foot, bringing the sole of your left foot up to your right inner thigh.
If you can’t balance with the foot on the thigh, try placing your foot on the calf instead — just avoid putting your foot on the knee. The hands are held together in a prayer position over the chest. “This yoga position requires balance and concentrates the mind,” says Corso. Try to hold this pose for a minute or two and then switch to the other leg.
Camel Pose frees the energy in your throat, chest, and heart. “This yoga position is for intermediate or advanced practitioners,” says Corso. “It’s important to remember that not everyone can do every yoga pose perfectly, but yoga can be adapted to each person’s abilities.” To get into the pose, start in the kneeling position.
The upper torso is gradually bent backward until the arms are extended backward, the hands are touching the soles of the feet, and the head is completely extended. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. For a beginner’s modification, in a kneeling position, simply lean your upper body back, keeping your hands on your hips, until you feel a stretch in your legs.
If you want to get a really good morning yoga stretch, include this yoga pose in your routine. “Seated Twist will ring out all your tension like twisting a wet towel,” says Corso. Start by sitting with legs out straight. Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, and then slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip.
Lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. Your right leg should be over the left with your right foot standing on the floor outside your left hip. The right knee points directly up at the ceiling The upper body twists as far around as your shoulders and waist will let you turn. Hold for about 30 seconds and then stretch the other way.
Final Thoughts on Morning Yoga
Yoga can be done any time of day, but morning yoga is a great way to wake up your body and get your energy flowing. “It’s impossible not to notice the change in your mind and your body after a yoga session,” says Corso. Not everyone has the flexibility to get into every yoga pose. Consider having a certified yoga instructor starts you out on a program that fits your ability level.