The majority of us sleep in a curled-up position and have a tendency to remain in one spot for most of the night. This dynamic morning practice is meant to unravel all the stiffness that sleep delivers. It includes thigh stretches and side stretches, shoulder openers, and backbends—which will help give you an added energy boost.
You’ll begin with Sun Salutations. These moving meditations are a perfect way to welcome the day, follow your breath, and stretch your body. Sun Salutes help me open my shoulders and stretch my hamstrings, while also building my core, arm, and back muscles each morning.
Use this practice to wake up and enter the rest of your day with your best foot forward. Keep a strap or towel handy in case you feel stiff in your shoulders and could use a prop.
Sun Salutation A
For your first Sun Salutation round, you may want to spend a little more time in each pose to slowly wake up your individual muscles—feel free to do that. Then, as you cycle through in the next rounds, hold each pose for one breath—except for the last Downward-Facing Dog Pose, which you can hold for five breaths.
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet hip-distance apart. On your first inhalation, stretch your arms overhead. If you have no neck issues, lift your gaze up with your arms and bring your palms together in prayer position. (If that’s not comfortable, keep your gaze directly in front of you and/or keep your hands shoulder distance apart.) On your exhalation, fold forward, touching your fingertips to the floor. On your next inhalation, rise halfway up and pull your heart and crown of your head forward toward the front of the room. Bend your knees place your hands on your mat and step back to Plank Pose (an upper push-up position). Check that your hands are shoulder-distance apart, your fingers are spread wide, and the creases of your wrists are parallel with the front edge of your mat. Keep your hips almost as high as your shoulders and take your gaze forward just a bit so that your neck is in line with your spine. On your next exhalation, lower halfway down to Chaturanga Dandasana (not shown)—an incredibly challenging pose. If your shoulders collapse or your elbows pinch in to support you in Chaturanga, then lower all the way down to your belly instead. From either position, lift into Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Make sure that your wrists are lined up directly below your shoulders and your arms are perpendicular to the floor. You can keep your gaze directly forward or, if you’re very open in your back, you can gently shift your gaze upward. Root down firmly through the tops of your feet so that your legs are not touching the floor and lift up through your heart and the crown of your head.
On your next exhalation, roll over your toes, and lift your hips up and back into Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Check to make sure your hands are still shoulder-width distance apart with your fingers spread wide and wrist creases parallel to the front of your mat. (If you have tighter shoulders, you can take your hands a little wider apart and turn them out slightly toward the edges of your mat.) Gaze back at your feet and line them up so that they are hip distance apart with the inner edges in two straight parallel lines. (If your hamstrings feel tight, practice Down Dog with bent knees.) Take 5 deep breaths in Down Dog. Practice rooting down evenly through the whole of each hand as you extend your hips up and back toward the wall behind you. At the bottom of the fifth exhalation, step, walk, or carefully jump to the top of your mat. Inhale and draw your spine to a long extended position, with the crown of your head and heart moving forward to the front of the room. Exhale, fold forward. (Remember, you can bend your knees if your hamstrings still feel tight.) On your next inhalation, rise all the way up to standing and reach your hands up, lifting your gaze toward your thumbs. If it feels comfortable, bring your hands together overhead and look at your thumbs with your palms in prayer position. Exhale and lower your arms down by your sides. Repeat this whole sequence 3–5 times.
From the top of your mat step your left foot back to the back edge of your mat. Place your left knee down on the mat and walk your hands to your front knee. Square your hips and shoulders forward toward the front of your mat. If it feels comfortable, reach your hands up towards the ceiling. Have your hands shoulder distance apart and keep your gaze directly in front of you. Gently bend your front knee forward so you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip and thigh. Take 5 breaths here. Then, switch sides.
Standing Side Stretch
Stand at the top of your mat and take your feet hip-distance apart. Spread your toes wide apart and ground down through the four corners of each foot evenly. Reaching your arms over head take your left wrist with your right hand, lengthening up towards the ceiling, lift your navel in and up and lean over to the right side. You don’t have to lean very far to feel a good stretch in your side body. Try not to lean forwards or backwards. Hold the pose for a few deep breaths and then switch to the second side.
Prasarita Padottanasana A (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend A) with Inner Thigh Stretch and Prasarita Padottanasana C (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend C)
Facing the long side of your mat, take your feet about 4–5 feet apart and move your toes slightly in toward one another so that they are slightly pigeon toed. Place your hands on your hips. Take a deep inhale and lift your chest up. As you exhale, fold forward and place your hands to the floor shoulder-distance apart. Inhale and lengthen your spine forward. As you exhale, fold all the way down. Walk your hands back so that your fingertips are in line with your toes. Keep your hands shoulder-distance apart and allow your head to hang down so that your neck feels long and relaxed. Feel the weight evenly distributed in your feet and take 5 deep breaths here.
For the inner thigh stretch, inhale and extend your spine forward rising up onto your fingertips with your arms straight. Turn your right foot out slightly and start to bend your right knee. (If you are tight in your inner thighs, just bend your knee slightly and keep both feet flat on the floor.) If it feels OK, you can bend your right knee all the way down to a squat with your left leg extended and your left toes up toward the ceiling. If this is comfortable, walk both hands forward as far as you can and bow toward the floor. Take 5 breaths here and then switch sides. After you’ve done the second side, come back to Prasarita Padottanasana A (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend A), folding forward with straight, wide legs. For the C variation, take your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers together. (You may want to take a strap or towel between your hands.) Reach your arms overhead and feel the stretch across the front of your chest and into your shoulders. Take 5 breaths here. If you’re ready, ground your feet and on your next inhale, rise all the way up to standing, leading with your chest. Step back to the top of your mat.
Come onto your hands and knees facing the front of your mat. Lower your elbows down onto the floor and interlace your fingers. Place your elbows shoulder-distance apart but no wider. Root down with both of your forearms evenly and gaze back toward your feet. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back. This pose is very similar to Downward-Facing Dog Pose. (If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees.) Keep your feet hip-distance apart. As you root your elbows down and forward, feel the opening in your upper back and shoulders. Take 5–10 deep breaths, and then lower back down onto your knees and lift back onto your hands.
Hands-and-Knees Spinal Twist
From a hands-and-knees position, take your left arm and lace it it underneath your right arm. You will be resting on your left shoulder with your left arm extended out and your left palm facing the ceiling. Walk your right hand over to the right and place your palm flat on the floor about 6 inches or so away from your face. You should have your right thumb in line with your eyes. Keep your feet hip-distance apart, and tuck your toes under to help you keep your hips and legs stable. Push your right hand into the floor to take your twist deeper. Draw your outer right hip back toward the wall behind you. You can rest your left ear on the mat. Take a few deep breaths here and then switch sides.
See also A Sequence to Cut Through Stagnation
Salabhasana (Locust Pose), variation
Come all the way down onto your belly. Extend your arms back by your sides, and then reach your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. (You may want to grab a strap or towel between your hands). Keep your feet hip-width apart, and on your next inhale, lift your chest and legs up off the floor. Use your back strength to help you rise up. Reach your knuckles towards your heels and keep your gaze in a comfortable place a bit in front of you on the floor. Don’t crunch your neck by trying to take your gaze up at all. Hold here for a few breaths, and then lower all the way down and rest on your belly with your left ear on the floor and your arms by your sides.
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Stay on your belly and shift your gaze forward. Bend both knees and reach back and grab the tops of your feet or ankles. On your next inhalation, lift your chest and legs off the floor. Kick your feet back and up toward the ceiling, and broaden across your collar bones. This pose is also to help strengthen your back body and open up your front body. Try lifting up a little bit higher, working to draw the tops of your thigh bones and your lowest ribs up off the floor. After a few breaths, lower down gently and rest on your belly with your right ear on the floor and your arms by your sides.
As a side note, I really used to dislike this pose. As someone who began yoga with a very stiff spine, this pose would take everything out of me. Now I cherish the work it requires and I am grateful for the strength and balance it has brought to my body. If this one is difficult for you, just hold it for as long as you can and rest for a few breaths when you come out. If you can repeat it a few times, it can be helpful and will allow you to go a little deeper. I promise it will change over time and get easier as you practice it.
Baby Ustrasana (Baby Camel Pose)
Come into an upright kneeling position at the front of your mat. Interlace your hands behind your back and lift your chest. (You may want to use a strap or towel between your hands.) Work to continue to keep your chest lifted as you reach your arms up and back behind you. If this feels comfortable, you can move toward a little bit more of a backbend, reaching your knuckles toward the floor behind your toes. Breathe into your upper chest and imagine your spine moving toward your front body. If you have no neck issues, you can release your head all the way back. Take 5 breaths here. As you’re ready to come out, rise up on an inhale, allowing your head to be the last thing to come up.
See also Bend Back, Feel the Buzz
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Make your way onto your back and bend your knees, placing your feet hip-distance apart with your heels close to your hips. Root your feet down firmly and lift your hips off the floor. If you can comfortably interlace your hands beneath you, do so here and laterally rotate your arms so that your shoulders are underneath you. If you can’t interlace your fingers, reach and take hold of the side edges of your mat and shimmy up on onto your shoulders. From either hand position, work to lift your chest up by grounding down with both feet evenly. Take 5–10 breaths here and then slowly release back down onto your back. You can repeat this pose a couple times.
Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)
Stay on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Rock a little side to side. On the third or fourth rock, allow both your knees to fall all the way over to your left side. Stack your knees and place your left hand on your right knee. Twisting toward the right, reach your right arm out at shoulder height and release your shoulder down toward the floor. Hold this pose for 5 breaths, and then switch sides.
Happy Baby Pose
Come back to center, and hug your knees back into your chest. Now take your knees wider than your torso and lift your feet up so that they are facing the ceiling. Reach up and take your hands onto your outer feet. Keep your knees wide and draw your knees down toward the outer edges of your body. Rock a little side to side, gently massaging your back on the floor. After a few breaths, release the pose.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
For this final resting pose, extend your legs down onto the floor and take your feet wider than your hips. Move your arms slightly away from your body and rotate your palms to face the ceiling. Lift your chest up slightly, and bring your shoulders underneath you. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Feel the exhalation and give yourself permission to rest more fully with each consecutive exhale. Stay here for 5 minutes.
See more of Claire Mark’s daily sequences: