It’s starting to seem that there are more people these days practicing yoga, than not practicing yoga. It’s not surprising really – yoga has been around for several thousands of years; its roots are in India’s pre-Vedic era. It was in the 1850’s that its use was brought to the attention of the more educated people of the Western world.
There are so many types of yoga, in fact, there are over 100! The term however, was generally associated with the Hatha form of yoga when it arrived on Western shores. There are so many beneficial elements to yoga, and yoga poses are only one branch. This still remains the most popular branch of yoga practice here in the west.
Some of the most common styles of yoga:
- Hatha – the first introduced to the Western world and thus the one people are most familiar with, it is the perfect place for beginners to start with basic movements and breathing. Hatha is actually a term which encompasses all forms of yoga practice that focus on postures.
- Vinyasa – involves a series of poses; it’s a smooth flow from one pose into another pose. This is the physical style I am personally most acquainted with.
- Power – bigger, better, harder, faster – Power Yoga is a high intensity practice that will help build muscle.
- Ashtanga – like Vinyasa it is a series of poses, but it is combined alongside a special breathing technique.
- Bikram – or hot yoga, is carried out in a room with a high temperature (of around 105 degrees Fahrenheit) and runs through a series of 26 poses, it is challenging and not for the faint of heart.
- Iyengar – this yoga technique involves using objects to assist you in moving your body to the proper alignment, whether it is blocks, chairs, or straps.
Yoga has incredible health benefits associated with it, for both your physical, emotional, and mental well being. Physically speaking, yoga may help boost immunity, while increasing energy and decreasing aches and pains, it will improve balance, and flexibility, as well as strengthening muscles and endurance.
Many physical benefits of yoga are well documented, including lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular endurance, improved blood circulation, healthier digestion, lower respiratory rate for healthier lungs, and reducing risks for high blood pressure through improved blood circulation and oxygenation.
Yoga is frequently used in depression treatments, as mentally it can decrease depressive feelings and reduce anxiety, it also increases positive feelings, coping abilities, while enhancing enthusiasm, positive mood and alertness.
Why Start A Morning Yoga Ritual?
Some people read the news and rushing through the early part of the morning before starting off. This is an excellent way to set themselves up for a day of annoyance and angst … if you’re into that sort of thing!
Skip the news, you’ll find out about it by lunch anyway (or on your social media). Why not begin to create your morning yoga ritual instead? It will reduce any pain that you may be suffering with a chronic condition, or general aches and pains. Your morning routine is a wonderful way to set the tone for the day – a calmer, more positive tone.
According to a study by the American Physiological Association, a morning routine reduces your stress levels. Your levels of depression and anxiety drop while your satisfaction increases. That study wasn’t based around yoga, just a routine … so knowing what we know about the benefits of yoga combined with the benefits of a morning ritual, you can see how positive a morning yoga ritual can be.
By creating and sticking to this morning ritual, you are waking up and achieving something within your first waking hour, which is an ideal way to start the day. It is very self regulatory and satisfying. This will carry through your day, increasing your inspiration and productivity. Perhaps we can say it’s a bit like the old saying “start as you mean to go on.”
Morning yoga is also a wonderful way to enhance your spiritual wellbeing. Your morning begins with deep breathing, invigorating yoga postures, and meditation. You are instantly and more deeply in tune with your body – and at peace. What makes it such an attractive prospect for a morning ritual is that you can easily do it at home, including doing yoga poses right in your bed.
This makes it an ideal way to start your day off right and build a foundation for wellness throughout the day.
- Most exercise dominates the brain’s cortex, while yoga stimulates the sub cortex, which correlates with well-being.
- Yoga gives you higher energy levels post workout than cardio does, because it involves controlled breathing. Therefore, you feel less fatigue and more energized through the rest of your day.
Yoga Poses for the Morning
Everyday Health’s Chris Iliades, MD has recommended a number of yoga postures that are ideal for your morning routine, but we have selected the most popular four:
Bidalasana (Cat Stretches)
This is also known as the cat-cow pose. If you imagine how a cat arches its back when it stretches, then you already have a decent idea on how this pose works.
- Get on all fours and then gaze up at the ceiling. As you inhale drop your back toward the floor (creating a spinal arch) and look upwards. Think of pressing your armpits forward as draw your shoulder blades together behind you.
- Now do the opposite spinal movement and breath. Curve your back and exhale deeply, drawing your abdominals deeply in as you do this.
You would generally repeat this by breathing through 5 times, though of course you can do as many as you like so long as it’s feeling good to you!
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Better known as the downward dog, this is probably the most well known yoga posture and is named for its similarity to a dog stretching.
- Again, on all fours, your palms should rest on the floor at a slightly wider width than your shoulders. Be sure you are spreading your fingers wide. Then tuck your toes, tuck your chin in, and lift your hips into the air while dropping your head.
- Your chest starts to move back toward your thighs and your head is relaxed while your arms remain straight and strong. Draw your shoulderblades toward each other as you slide them down toward your tailbone.
- Start to roll your shoulders away from your ears. Play around with it. Bend your knees if that feels good, play with bending one knee at a time, stretching one heel at a time. You can also play with stretching one leg up toward the ceiling at a time, for a deeper hip opening.
- Keeping your hips high – when you are first starting out – is more important than the soles of your feet touching the ground.
- Try to repeat this 5 times, while taking rests in child’s pose in between.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Take a standing position, with your feet wide apart, but not as far apart as your body allows you to go. The feet should be approximately four feet apart.
- Your leg stance should be widened to leg length and your right foot turned out to the side, so that your toes are facing the front edge of your mat. Your heel should be aligned to the center arch of your left foot.
- Be sure that your left toes are pointing toward your right foot, at about a 45 degree angle.
- Float your arms out to the sides, taking a five-pointed star position.
- Begin to slide your torso out to the right, trying to keep your chest opening toward the ceiling. Reach with your right hand for the right shin, ankle, foot or the floor. You can also use a yoga block underneath your right hand.
- Keep your left arm straight up toward the ceiling, and gently turn your gaze toward your left thumb (this is your drishti, or gazing point. Drishtis help you focus more deeply and coax your body into a deeper pose).
- When you are finished with this side, gently engage your abdominals to bring yourself back to the five-pointed star position. Pivot your feet to prepare to move into the post on the opposite side.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
This is more of an intermediate level pose, but with some gentle movements and some yoga blocks it can be modified for many people.
- Begin in a kneeling position at the top edge of your mat. You may wish to move back a bit and fold the front edge of your mat back a couple of times to create a cushion beneath your knees. Or you may choose to use a folded yoga blanket for the same purpose.
- If you are just starting out, or if you feel your back will be quite tight, tuck your toes under behind you so your heels are lifted. This way, you don’t need to reach back so far with your hands.
- Place your hands on your hips, and draw your navel in deeply toward your spine to help support your lower back. Do this on an exhale.
- On an inhale, begin to lift your sternum toward the ceiling as you look up. Continue to exhale while drawing in the navel, and inhale to lift up with the sternum and chest while taking an upper back arch to lean slightly back.
- Reach for your ankles once your body lets you in deep enough (or reach for your toes if you left the tops of the feet flat on the mat, rather than tucking the toes).
- You may also use a yoga block on either side of you and place your hands on the blocks.
- Stay here and breathe until your body asks you to move out of the pose. Do this gently, and then sit back into child’s pose for a few rounds of breath.
Staying Committed to Your Morning Yoga Ritual – And to Yourself
Yoga is for both the body and the mind, so it is important to remove all distractions before beginning your poses. Turn off the phone, have calming music prepared and ready to go at the push of a button, and ideally begin preparing the mind before getting out of bed. Perhaps you’d like to burn a bit of incense to help set the mood.
Allow yourself to visualize the poses before you physically do them, this will keep your mind in the moment.
Yoga postures will increase your strength; breathing deeply and rhythmically will assist you in controlling your breath, and meditation will teach you to be mindful.
Stress and anxiety are par for the course in our modern world. By harnessing the power of mind-body practice and creating your ritual, you have the opportunity to disconnect from what isn’t serving your highest health and best interests. You may be surprised and delighted at how things begin to take new form in your daily life!
Be mindful of the effects this ritual has throughout your day:
Do you feel calmer? Are you more focused?
Do feel less stress? Do you feel more limber?
Do you have an extra spring in your step?
Do the usually annoying people in the office seem to bother you less?
Are you more mindful of what is going on inside your body?
Is your general sense of wellness improved?
Affirming such benefits and any others that you experience will help you to make the morning yoga ritual a long lasting habit. One last thing – I highly recommend getting a journal that you can use along with your practice.
Taking notes along the way can be an almost magical way of charting your journey, gaining further clarity, and realizing how far you have come in so many ways. Have fun, and Namaste!