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I recently led a retreat in Mallorca, Spain, and each day I snuck outside before sunrise—and before anyone else was awake—so I could practice my morning yoga routine.
It can be easy to overlook our yoga practice. But I find that the times when it’s tempting to skip yoga are when I need it the most, which is exactly why I make a concerted effort to find time to move on my mat early in the morning so that I can find stillness in the rest of my day.
The following stretches, Sun Salutations, standing postures, twists, core, backbends, and hip openers allow me to stretch and strengthen in all the ways I need without being intimidating or overly intense first thing in the a.m. This is my morning yoga routine.
A 45-minute morning yoga routine
Whenever possible, I take my early morning yoga sessions outside. There’s magic in a sunrise. It literally brings light to our day. Hearing the bugs welcome daybreak and feeling the night air turn into the warmth of day activates my senses and reminds me that true nature is within us and all around us. If you can’t practice outside, you can experience it vicariously with this sequence.
We start in Child’s Pose. If your knees feel tricky here, be kind to yourself and shift your hips forward a little. You should feel no pressure to get your hips onto your heels. Simply find a place to settle in and land in your breath. Your arms can be in front of you or alongside you.
Cat and Cow
From Child’s Pose, shift onto all fours (you might want to pad your knees here by folding the yoga mat onto itself). Enjoy a few rounds of Cat and Cow. Inhale and bring your chest forward into a little backbend.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
From Cow Pose, exhale and find your way to Downward-Facing Dog. In your first Down Dog, it can be nice to move around a little and feel where the rust and dust of sleep have landed. Eventually, nurture stillness.
From Down Dog, lift your right leg behind you, bend your knee, and allow your hip to open. You can add circles at your hip or take a twirl with your ankle.
From Three-Legged Dog, straighten your right leg behind you and shift yourself forward into Plank. You can keep your right leg lifted, although you are the expert of your own body, so you might decide that lowering your foot to the mat is best this morning.
Stay here or come onto your left fingertips and then extend your left arm forward, as if you’re shaking someone’s hand. You can also bring your left knee to the mat to help with balance.
Low Lunge sequence
From Superman, come back to Three-Legged Dog and then shift forward as you bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest. Round your upper back a little you did in Cat and step your right foot next to your right thumb. Bring your back knee to the mat but keep your back toes tucked. Pause here.
From Low Lunge, bring your hands to the mat, framing your right foot. Lift your back knee and straighten your front leg but stay with the forward fold. Take creative license here and flex and point your front foot or shift back and forth between straight and bent front knee, borrowing the rhythm of your Cat and Cow dance.
Lower your back knee to the mat. Come upright, lift your arms overhead in Low Lunge, and hook your thumbs. Keep your thumbs hooked as you try to pull them apart and let that action lift you.
Keep your thumbs hooked as you lean to the right and then to your left and repeat. On the second round, as you lean right, you might drop your right hand toward the ground or a block. Do the same with your left hand as you lean to the left.
From Lunge, step your back foot forward with your feet mat-distance apart. Bring your arms alongside you, chest parallel to the ground, and hook your thumbs behind your back and try to pull them apart. Imagine Cobra or Upward-Facing Dog in your upper back.
Stay here or reach your arms forward, arms alongside your ears.
Wide-Legged Chair Pose
From Skier’s Pose, lift yourself upright into wide-legged Chair Pose. Keep your arms alongside your ears.
From wide-legged Chair Pose, straighten your legs, stand upright, and step your feet together, hip-distance apart or closer, in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Inhale your arms overhead, exhale as you fold forward in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and step back into Plank. (I’m somewhat notorious for being long-winded while I hold students in Plank, but you can choose to lower your knees to the mat and Cat-Cow it out anytime.)
From Plank, shift your hips up and back to Down Dog. Repeat the sequence from Three-Legged Dog to wide-legged Chair Pose.
From wide-legged Chair Pose, bend your knees more, angle your feet slightly out, and lower your hips into Squat. If this doesn’t work for your knees, straighten your knees a little to come into a less intense squat or sit on a couple of blocks.
Lower your right hand to the mat and reach your left arm to the sky for a twist. Then bring your left hand to the mat and reach your right arm high.
Standing Forward Bend
From a Squat, turn your feet forward, take them hip-distance apart, and fold forward into Standing Forward Bend. You can interlace your fingers behind your back, if you like, and bring them up and overhead as you move your legs toward straight but do not lock your knees.
Bring your hands to the mat, step back to Plank, and lower all the way down onto your belly. Adjust your legs hip-distance apart or wider. Interlace your hands behind your back and press down through the tops of your feet as you reach forward and up with your chest. If you want, you can lengthen and lift through your legs in a long and strong Salabhasana (Locust Pose).
If you want, you can extend your arms alongside your ears as you might have done in Skier’s Pose.
From Locust, lower your forehead to the mat. Place your hands next to your ribs, curl your toes under, and come back to Tabletop or push yourself straight back up to Plank. Make your way back to Down Dog, our humble bow.
Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)
Take several rounds of Surya Namaskar A. From Down Dog, exhale out your breath as you come high on your toes and walk your feet forward to your hands. Inhale as you lift your heart and chest halfway in Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend), exhale and fold forward in Standing Forward Bend. Inhale, rise, and reach your arms alongside your ears in Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), and then release your arms alongside your body to fully inhabit your Mountain Pose.
Inhale and reach your arms toward the sky, exhale and fold forward. Inhale as you lift your heart forward, exhale and step or float back to Chaturanga or all the way to your belly. Inhale into Cobra or Urdhva Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog), exhale to Down Dog and pause for several moments. Repeat this 3 times.
Sun Salutation B
From Down Dog, walk or float to the front of your mat. Bend your knees back and come into Utkasasana (Chair Pose) with your arms alongside your ears. Pause here. Then straighten your legs in Mountain Pose. Exhale and fold forward in Uttanasana. Inhale and lift your heart, exhale step or float back to chaturanga (you can skip any vinyasas and simply step into down dog). Step your right foot forward into Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) or you can instead take High Lunge. Swing your hands to the mat and come back to Plank and either come directly into Down Dog or take a vinyasa.
Take your left foot forward and inhale into Virabadrasana 1 (Warrior 1). Once again, bring your hands to the mat choose your exit and find your way to Down Dog. Take up to 3 more rounds of Sun Salutation B.
Walk forward to the front of the mat. Inhale and lift halfway and then exhale and find a seat on the mat as you extend your legs and arms straight ahead into Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose). You can keep your feet on the mat, hold the backs of your legs, it might even be helpful to bring your hands to the mat behind you for support.
From Navasana, lower your feet on the mat, hip-distance apart, and bring your hands to the ground behind you, fingers facing you. Lift your hips and your heart into Reverse Tabletop and find extension in your hip flexors. Breathe. Lower down, cross at your ankles, roll forward over your knees, and either take a vinyasa or step directly back into Down Dog.
Crane or Crow Pose
From Down Dog, walk forward into a squat again, this time exploring the opportunity to take Crane or Crow Pose if you feel so inclined. Eventually, come to stand in Mountain Pose.
From Mountain Pose, step your left foot back, bend your front knee, and extend your arms as you come into Warrior 2. Stay still or straighten your front leg as you sweep your arms overhead and then bend your front knee back into Warrior 2. Eventually settle back into stillness in the pose.
From Warrior 2, come into Reverse Warrior as you keep the bend in your front knee and bring your front arm up and back toward your left leg. You can rest your left hand lightly on your back leg or bend that elbow and take it behind your back as you reach for your right hip.
Extended Side Angle Pose
From Reverse Warrior, keep the bend in your front leg as you come into Extended Side Angle with your forearm on your thigh, your hand on a block, or your fingertips on the mat.
From Extended Side Angle, come back through Warrior 2 and into Reverse Warrior. This time, straighten your front leg.
Extended Triangle Pose
From Reverse Triangle, hinge at your hips and lean forward into Triangle Pose. Rest your right fingertips on your front shin, a block, or the mat. Reach your left arm might toward the sky or overhead. Turn your gaze up under your left arm.
Half Moon Pose
From Triangle, transition into Half Moon by balancing on your right foot and extending your left arm toward the sky. If you like, take Chapasana by bending your lifted knee and reaching your top hand behind you for your foot.
Revolved or Twisted Chair Pose
Step back into Warrior 2, straighten both legs, and turn all your toes to face the long edge of the mat. Heel toe your feet together or hip-distance apart. Bring your hands to prayer and twist to your right with your left elbow on your outer right thigh. You can straighten your arms here or even adventure into Side Crow, an arm balance.
Revolved Half Moon Pose
From Twisted Chair, shift your weight into your right foot, come onto your left toes, then lift your left heel and extend it straight behind you like a letter T in Revolved Half Moon, with your left hand down on the mat and your right arm reaching toward the glimmering sky.
Step back into Chair Pose and twist to the left with your right elbow on your outer left thigh. Once again, you can extend your arms or take Side Crow. Come onto your right toes, then start to kick yourself in the butt with your right heel before you find your letter T, standing on your left leg for side two of your twisting Ardha chandrasana right hand down left arm towards the glimmering sky. Step back into Chair and stand upright in Mountain Pose.
Take the second side of your Warrior 2 sequence by repeating Warrior 2 through Half Moon Pose on your left side but on your left side.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
From Half Moon on your left side, step back into Warrior 2. Straighten your legs and turn all toes to face the long edge of your mat for Prasarita Padottanasana, with your hands interlaced behind your back. Breathe.
From your Prasarita Padotanasa, slowly release your bind and stand upright. Make your way to the front of the mat. Find your way to Down Dog, whether you take another Sun Salutation A or fold forward and step directly back into Down Dog. Walk or float to a seated position and then lie down on your back.
Bend your knees, place your feet on the mat hip-distance apart, and lift your hips into Bridge Pose. You might choose to interlace your fingers underneath you like they were in your forward fold a moment ago. Lower down and place one hand on your heart and the other hand on your low belly. Stay here or take one more backbend of your choice, either repeating Bridge or maybe visiting Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose).
From Bridge Pose, release your back to the mat. Draw your knees toward your chest and take a supine twist by shifting your hips to the right and dropping your knees to the left. Then switch sides.
After your Reclining Twist, pick your version of Pigeon, whether you remain lying on your back in a Figure-4 shape, come to a seated double pigeon (you might recognize it as Agnistambhasana or Fire Log Pose) by stacking your shins, or find single Pigeon by swinging one leg straight behind you into hip extension with your front knee bent like half of a cross-legged seat. Breathe. Repeat your hip opener on the second side.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
The last part of your yoga morning routine is to lie down into the arms of the Earth and luxuriate in your sunrise Savasana.
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