This tutorial was previously published on July 11, 2016.Mornings aren’t the best time of day for me. Despite having to wake up at 5am to get ready to teach most days, I am actually not a morning person. My body needs time to wake up and warm up in order for me to function at my best. Having a morning ritual really helps get my blood flowing and my mind alert. Besides a hot cup of tea and a 20-minute meditation, my morning ritual consists of several stretches that warm my body up. Doing these every morning when I wake up helps transition me into full movement for the rest of my day. Breathing throughout each of these stretches is important. Hold each one for about two minutes while breathing to get deeper into the stretch as your body relaxes. Here are 5 stretches you should do every morning to get your circulation going, focus your mind and energize your body.
1. Spine Twist– A Spinal twist is a great way to warm up a stiff back and cleanse the body through the breath. Cross your right leg over the left while lying on your back. For those who are more flexible, you may wrap your entire right leg around and hook your toes around the inside of the other ankle. Move your hips over to the right so that your hips are in line with your shoulders. Extend your arms out to your sides on the ground to anchor your shoulders. Take a deep breath in and exhale as you lower your knees down towards the ground on your left. Try to keep your right shoulder down as much as possible. If keeping your right shoulder down makes your knees lift off the ground, you may place something underneath your knees to support them. A yoga block or rolled up towel or blanket works well. Hold this twist as you breathe deeply trying to increase your rotation as time goes by. Taking deep breaths in this twist cleanses the body as you wring the stale air out of your lungs. Repeat on the other side.
2. Neck Stretch- This can be an intense stretch first thing in the morning especially if you have a stiff neck. Start off gently and work your way up to a deeper stretch. Sit down on the ground with your legs criss-crossed. If you have tight hips, you can always sit on a blanket or pillow to lift your hips higher than your legs. This goes for all stretches in a seated position. You should be able to sit up and over your hips with your back straight. Keep your back tall and straight with your abs engaged. Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head. With your elbows pulled into the sides of your head, slowly lower your chi to your chest ad use the pressure from your hands to gently pull down, stretching the back of the neck. I feel this stretch radiate down my spine into my upper back. You can do little rotations to the right and left side to get into different areas of the neck. Keep the stretch in your neck by not slouching in your back. Breathe and repeat as many times as you like throughout the day. This is a great stretch to do if you’re at a desk all day or on the computer.
3. Upward Stretch into Side Stretch– Stay sitting on the floor. You may sit cross legged or if you have the flexibility in your hips, you can cross your right shin over your left so that it helps to anchor the left hip down. Interlace your hands and flip your palms upwards as you straighten your arms over your head. Take deep breaths as you reach from both sides of your torso, sending energy out and up through your palms while keeping your shoulders down away from your ears. Place your right hand on the ground beside you and rotate your left hand in the air so that your pinky is facing forward. Slowly walk your right hand over and lean to the right side, keeping your left hip down. If you are very flexible, you can lower your right elbow onto the ground to get a deeper stretch on the left side. This is a good stretch for your lower back and sides. Hold the stretch for two minutes before switching to the left.
4. Single Leg Forward Fold– Sitting upright on the ground, extend one leg straight and bend the other leg to the side with the sole of the foot placed on the inside of the straight leg’s thigh. Lengthen your torso by lifting your chest up and out before lowering your body down over the straight leg. Reach for the foot of the straight leg, flexing and grabbing the toe if you can. Otherwise, lean forward and just place your hands on the floor. I love this stretch because it not only stretches the hamstrings, but with a long enough hold, you also get a nice release in your lower back. The lower back is usually the tightest for me first thing in the morning and this is a perfect stretch to help release it. Repeat on the other leg.
5. Standing Twist– Transitioning into a standing position now, you will place your legs apart, wider than your shoulders. Turn your legs out slightly so that your toes are pointing away from your body. Hold your arms out to your sides and rotate to your right on the balls of your feet, allowing your feet to move with you. This is a stretch that requires more focus and balance than the others which is why it is done last. Once you have rotated your torso as much as possible to the right, lower your heels back down and reach both hands to the far leg, trying to touch the back of the thigh. Keep your weight on the front leg with the back leg straight. Hold and breathe, incorporating all the elements of a twist, a forward fold, and side stretch in one. Slowly untwist to face front again and repeat on the other side.
This entire stretch routine should take about 10 minutes of your morning. Do your mind and body a favor by practicing these stretches when you wake up. You will notice an increase in clarity, energy and focus to start your day off right!
More morning fitness tutorials: 7 Tips for a Great Morning + a.m. Yoga Routine
Also by Crystal: 4 Pilates Exercises for Knee Pain (Video)
Photo: Crystal Chin