Liz Wolgemuth of U.S. News and World Reports pretty much summed it up for me with: “When you put off exercise until your workday is finished, the abundance of scheduling conflicts that arise can be positively mind-boggling.”
If you have children and yoga practice with them around tends to look something like the image below, early morning quiet provides a welcome respite.
But even if you don’t have kids, the beauty of early morning can be the lack of distractions. I never get phone calls before 7 am. While there may be emails sitting in my inbox, very few senders are up to read a 5 am reply. In fact, very little can’t wait until 7 or 7:30 am when the rest of the household starts to rise.
Health Benefits of Early Morning Yoga
The Ayurvedics have long believed that early rising and a morning routine of cleansing, asana, breathwork, and meditation leads to physical and psychological health. Western science is also beginning to find measurable physiological benefits to exercise early in the day:
- A Belgian study that found intense exercise before breakfast could counteract the effects of a truly horrible diet.
- Studies have also shown that morning exercise may improve night-time sleep.
- Movement in the morning breaks up adhesions that develop between muscles overnight. Gil Hedley explains how a regular routine of movement and stretching can prevent buildup of mobility limiting fibers he calls “the fuzz” in the video below (warning: graphic content).
- Although athletic performance is generally better in the afternoon and evening, studies have shown morning exercisers tend to be more consistent overall than their afternoon-workout loving friends. For lifelong health, consistency is key.
Still daunting? Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some great tips for becoming an early riser.
Finding the Optimal Early Morning Yoga Practice
My morning yoga practice is about movement and breath. Dramatic pretzel-like asana is not required to reap the benefits of a morning practice. Like many yogis, I find I’m stiffer in the morning than I am later in the day, so I don’t tend to use my morning practice to work on poses requiring lots of flexibility. Once I’m warmed up though, I actually find I’m steadier and balancing poses come more easily than they do in the evening.
While some yogis like them, I don’t have a set routine. However, I tend toward variations of sun salutations – lunges, standing poses, gentle backbends and forward bends. Need some ideas for getting started? Here’s my go-to warm up.
Jen’s Morning Yoga Warm-Up
Balasana – Child’s PoseFocus: (hips, centering breath)
|<> Chakra Vrkrasana – Cat-Cow (spine, hips, shoulders)|
|Pavritta Balasana – Twisted Child’s Pose, or Thread the Needle (shoulders, spine)|
|Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose (hamstrings, calves, ankles, shoulders)|
|<>Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog to Palakasana – Plank (moving with the breath, hug heels & hands to the midline to engage the core)|
|<>Lunge to Pasrvottanasana – Pyramid Pose (moving with with the breath, no need to fully straighten front leg)|
|Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide Leg Forward Bend (Step back into dog, forward to forward fold, or pivot into wide-angle forward bend in between sides)|
|Twisted lunge to Quad Stretch (hips, quads, hip, flexors, shoulders) for Quad Stretch (drop back knee to floor, reach for foot; optional front hand to knee)|
|Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide Leg Forward Bend (Dog, forward fold, or wide-angle forward bend in between sides)|
|Uttanasana – Standing Forward Bend (hamstrings, calves, low back; bend knees to keep curve in low back)|
Follow a warm-up with a few sun salutations and you are off to a great start. For more ideas, check out Yoga Journal’s Rise and Shine sequence