5 Yoga Poses To Practice First Thing In The Morning

Physical Therapist & Registered Yoga Teacher By Jessica Moy, DPT
Physical Therapist & Registered Yoga Teacher
Jessica Moy, DPT, is a doctor of physical therapy, certified yoga instructor, and feminine embodiment coach. She holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy at the University of Maryland Baltimore and earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland College Park.
Woman Meditating in the Morning

Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

What you do in the morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. That is why creating an easily accessible daily ritual can help set you up for success no matter what state you wake up in or what the day ahead holds for you. 

In addition, more and more studies are showing how practicing yoga can be the key to optimizing your mind, mood, and health. The best part? A yoga sequence can take less that 15 minutes per day and be done in the comfort of your own home!

Here are my top five poses to help you start your day off on the right path. This should only take five to 15 minutes depending on how long you would like to repeat each movement. Most are designed to follow breath to movement, and it's best take your time with each pose.

1. Diaphragmatic breath

First, we will start with pranayama. The word “prana” translates to life force or breath, and “yama” means to reign in or control. The basis of starting to tune into your body is using the vehicle of breath. 

An easy one to start with is dirgha breathing or diaphragmatic breath. 

Image by Jessica Moy

How To:

  • Place one hand on the heart and one had on the belly. This can be done sitting up, lying down, or any position that can afford you some stillness.
  • Begin by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
  • As you continue, try to make your exhales just a bit longer than your inhales. Start with inhaling for a 3-count and exhaling for a 4-count.
  • The mind will wander—this is normal! Just gently guide your focus back to the breath. 

Next, we will focus on pratapana, which translates to “stoking the fire” and is indicative of a warm-up using gentle, easy movements. The focus of the following poses is to warm up the spine after being still overnight. Here we will focus on the six movements of the spine. If any of these do not serve your body or feel good, please modify as needed or skip altogether. Remember, your morning practice should be gentle and nourishing as your body transitions from sleep to wake! 

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2. Cat and cow

Jessica Moy - Cat Cow

Image by Jessica Moy

This can be performed on all-fours, seated in a cross-legged position, or if you have tighter hips can be performed in a low kneel as pictured. This movement stretches and extends the spine.

How To:

  • Use the hands anchored to the fronts of knees or ground. 
  • Inhale and pull the heart and chest through the arms lifting the chin gently. 
  • Even though the belly is moving forward, keep the lower navel pulled in slightly to protect the low back.
  • Exhale and round the back, dropping chin to chest; really feel the shoulder blades move apart here.
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3. Side bend

Jessica Moy - Side Bend

Image by Jessica Moy

How To:

  • Inhale to reach both arms up. 
  • Exhale to side bend to one side using the hand on the ground to push you even further away toward the opposite side.
  • To further the pose: Reach up and over while looking up. This will create space in the side body and rib area.
  • Also, rounding slightly down while looking down will create more sensation in the back near your lats and shoulders (pictured below).
Jessica Moy

Image by Jessica Moy

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4. Twist

Think of this as gentle twisting. This often is the most difficult of these five poses, so allow the body to let you know when to stop and think of twisting from your core instead of using the shoulders to pull you through.

Jessica Moy - Seated Twist

Image by Jessica Moy

How To:

  • Inhale to reach both arms up. 
  • Exhale using the front hand to anchor to the opposite knee and back hand to place behind you. 
  • With each inhale elongate through the crown of the head and use the exhale to deepen the twist.
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5. Figure Four

This last one is great for stretching the hips, which we often hold so much tension in. It can be held statically or can also be used to rock gently side to side matching your own breathing pattern. 

Jessica Moy - Figure Four

Image by Jessica Moy

How To:

  • Start by crossing the ankle over the top of the thigh.
  • Use your arms to sit up fully and elongate your spine. If this causes discomfort or compression in the low back and take this posture lying on your back. 
  • Try to keep equal pressure on the sits bones to ensure you haven’t swayed too much to the side that is currently bent.

If you're sitting there thinking, “Well I don’t have enough space to do yoga” or “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga,” please know that these are common misconceptions that many people have. Yoga is more than just the asanas or poses. Yoga is the use of the body’s physical state to gain further understanding of ourselves spiritually and mentally. In understanding how our more subtle energies present in the body, we can make better use of the tools provided in yoga, such as the movements, to act upon and shift our state into a more harmonious mind-body connection. I hope you'll give these poses a try, and in doing so, reap the benefits that yoga has to offer.

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