Nothing beats the energy of a group class coupled with the instruction of a knowledgeable teacher–but attending a daily yoga class is out of the question for most. However, just by investing a short block of time in the morning or evening, you’ll find that fitting in a short practice that will provide you with many of yoga’s benefits is easier than you think.
[If you are new to yoga, click on the highlighted links for a quick video/photo reference]
Morning Yoga. Focus on invigorating postures that increase circulation and support healthy posture and movement. Sun salutations are a classic series of flowing movements that will nourish your mind while building core strength and healthy positioning of the knees and feet. Including two rounds of both the classic A-series and B-series will strengthen your core and upper body, as well as the supporting muscles of your knees and feet. Follow this with a balancing posture (such as Tree Pose or Dancers Pose) to improve concentration and foot health. Finish with a chest/heart opening asana (such as Camel Pose or Bridge) to reinforce healthy posture and energy. This practice can also be a wonderful way to warm up for your favorite cardiovascular or strength training activity.
Evening Yoga. Taking a little time for yourself before bedcan reduce the stress from your day, improve connection with your friends and family, and prepare you for sleep. It can also make you more mindful about the evening habits that we often fall into at the end of a long day. It’s also a perfect way to finish your evening workout. You can start this practice with slower paced sun salutations or begin a more restorative practice by coming into Child’s Pose or Cat and Cow postures, which are especially helpful if you experience soreness in your low back. Hip openers, (such as Pigeon Pose) will counter the constriction of remaining seated at work during your day, as will a gentle counter pose/back bend like Upward Plank Pose. Finish your quick evening practice with a generous dose of forward folding to support quieting of the mind and a more restful sleep. Seated Forward Bend is a great option.
Just 5-10 minutes in the morning or evening can support strength, body awareness, flexibility, and the balanced mindset that are some of the benefits of a yoga practice. If you find yourself with a little extra time, you can combine or build on the postures above using Yoga Journal’s practice builder or the resources at MyYogaonline. The most important step is giving yourself the time to notice what your body and mind need most and providing that with a few directed postures.
Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.
Are there any good exercises to do right before bed to wind down the day or right when I get out of bed in the morning to get my day started? –Samantha
When thinking about exercise before bedtime and as you start your day, it’s wise to focus on the purpose and how it will affect your life performance. For instance, as you head towards bedtime your cortisol levels are dropping in preparation for sleep. If you perform an activity that boosts heart rate and breathing, it works against the natural rhythm of your daily cycle and can effectively keep you awake when you want to sleep.
One way to promote more restful sleep is to perform a nighttime routine that includes light stretching and meditation. Here’s a five minute evening exercise routine that’s easy to remember:
Lie on your back in a quiet, peaceful place.
Pull your knees into your chest and hold for 30 seconds.
With your knees into your chest, bring both knees over to your right side and relax them on the floor. Stretch your arms straight out from your shoulders and look to the opposite side (left side). Hold for 30 seconds.
Repeat this on the other side by bringing your knees over to the left side, stretch your arms out and look right. Hold for 30 seconds.
Relax with your legs and arms on the floor.
Close your eyes and focus on breathing in and out through your nose.
Visualize a beach and hear the sound of the waves hitting the beach.
Breath in to the rhythm of the ocean wave flowing up the beach.
Breath out as the wave draws back in toward the ocean.
Start with 1-2 minutes of this meditation exercise and build up to five minutes.
Now that you know how to bring things down at nighttime, let’s focus on how to pick things up to start your day. Sleep, although restorative, can also leave us feeling tight and stiff in the morning. Here’s a five-minute morning routine you can do anywhere:
Stand with your hands at your sides and take a deep breath in reaching your arms up along your sides toward the ceiling.
Exhale, bend at your waist and relax the arms down toward your feet, keeping your knees slightly bent. Repeat this sequence five times to wake the body and warm it up.
Next, from a standing position, bend at your hips and knees and squat until your legs are parallel to the floor while reaching your arms out in front and hold for 5 seconds. Press through your heels, pull your arms back toward you as if you were pulling something towards you until you’re in standing position again. Repeat 5 times slowly to wake the legs.
Lie down in push up position with your hands just beside your chest. Push yourself up into push up position and hold keeping your hips in line with your body. Suck your navel into your spine and draw your right knee into your chest and hold for 2 seconds. Then repeat with the left knee. Alternate bringing the right and left knee slowly into the chest while keeping your body in alignment for 60 seconds. Match your breathing to the rhythm of your movement, exhaling as you draw your knee into the chest and inhaling as you return to starting position.
It’s amazing how impactful a five-minute routine can have on your overall health. It all begins with matching the purpose of the activity with the flow of your life routine.