Taking some time first thing in the morning to quiet your mind and open your body is a beautiful way to set yourself up for an amazing day. It helps you show up for yourself and the people in your life with presence, compassion, awareness, and understanding. Bring your morning into focus with the following five yoga poses, and then take that razor-sharp determination into the rest of your day.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Stand with your feet together, or hip-distance apart and parallel. Lift your kneecaps and your quadriceps. Gently draw your navel in and up. Lift your heart and relax the shoulder blades down your back. Imagine a tiny thread lifting the crown of your head toward the sky. Turn your palms forward if that feels good; if not, allow your palms to face your legs.
Feel your in breaths and your out breaths, and start to lengthen them, exploring your lung capacity. Look for ujjayi (“ocean-sounding”) breath, by lightly placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This is called jalandhara bandha, and it’s one of three main bandhas or “locks” we use to build and retain heat in the torso. As you inhale, draw your navel in and up (this is uddiyana bandha), and as you exhale, lift the pelvic floor (mula bandha). All three locks remain engaged with your inhales and exhales; the flow of breath just enhances each one.
2. Plank Pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana)
Start in downward-facing dog, and as you inhale, shift forward until your arms are perpendicular to the floor, your body parallel to it and your shoulders directly over your wrists. Keep the shoulders plugged into the sockets. Press the index fingers down gently, and firm the outer arms in, as if you want to buckle up the mat between your hands. Draw the navel toward the spine, firm the shoulder blades into the back, and press your thighs toward the sky.
At the same time, lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Don’t forget to breathe! Plank pose tones the abdominals and strengthens the wrists, arms, spine, and chest muscles.
3. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasna)
Lunging is a great way to open the “front body” — your chest, hip flexors, psoas (the muscle that flexes the hip) and quadriceps. Start in downward-facing dog, and step the right foot forward between your hands. In this variation, release your back knee to the mat. Line up your right knee and ankle, draw in the navel to support your low back, and sink the hips toward the floor only to the degree that feels right in your body.
Bring both hands to your right knee for support, and breathe. If you’re comfortable, reach your arms toward the sky, and if you feel strong in your center and in your low back, clasp the hands behind your back (or work with a strap). Breathe into the space at the front of your heart. Hold for five to eight breaths, and switch sides.
4. Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
Start in crescent pose, with your right knee and ankle in line, and your hands in prayer at your heart. Inhale, and when you exhale, draw in the navel and shift forward, lifting the back leg and keeping a bend in your front (right) leg. Make sure your torso is parallel to the floor. Think about pushing your back foot against the wall behind you and lengthening the crown of your head forward.
Start to straighten your standing leg, pressing the thigh bone gently back. Spin the left hip down, left inner thigh toward the sky, as you draw the right hip back. Once the hips are level, work to lengthen and energize the back leg. The strength in this pose comes from your center, so be sure to draw the navel toward the sky.
5. Headstand (Sirsasana)
This is an advanced posture, so if you’re not comfortable doing a headstand, please run your legs up the wall. Otherwise, start in child’s pose, and connect to your breath. Then kneel with your hips resting on your heels, and clasp your elbows with your hands. Keep the elbows where they are, and interlace your fingers, keeping the heels of your palms together. The elbows and hands should form a triangle. Place the crown of your head on the floor, and let the back of your head rest against the heels of your palms. Straighten the knees and lift the hips, so you’re in an inverted “V,” and walk your feet forward as much as possible, while keeping the spine long.
You never want to kick into a headstand; rather, lift yourself up by actively drawing in the navel and lifting the pelvic floor (you’ll also have to shift your hips forward). Walk the feet forward until you can’t anymore, all the way to the tips of the toes, so the weight is now mostly on your arms and your head. Start with your knees bent, close to your chest, and your feet close to your butt, toes pointing straight up toward the sky. If you’re comfortable, you can extend the legs skyward. Actively press into your forearm and wrist bones so that no more than 30 percent of your weight is on your head. Draw in the navel, lift the pelvic floor, and spin your inner thighs toward the space behind you. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels, and try to stand on the ceiling.
Over time, work your way to 25 breaths in this pose. When you come out, rest in child’s pose, as all the blood will have gone to your head. Turning your world upside down is a literal way of shifting your perspective and looking at the world with fresh eyes. Always a good way to start the day!
Photo Credit: Joshua Nelson for mindbodygreen