3 Ways to Start Your Day with Easy Yoga

Young woman doing yoga twisting mat indoors near window

Forget coffee. (Or at least save it for later.) One of the best ways to start the morning is by climbing out of bed and into your body.

For me, that means rolling out my yoga mat and doing a few simple things to start the day well. But these three practices require no mat and no prior yoga experience—just a willingness to feel a little better in the morning. (Check with your doc, of course, but you may be able to do all of these with a decent amount of ease. )

1) Alternate Nostril Breathing

Before even getting out of bed, I recommend this gentle breathing exercise. You can also do it pretty much anywhere—on the toilet, in the shower, in the passenger seat of the car.

  1. Make a loose fist with your right hand, thumb and ring finger out.
  2. Gently press your thumb on the crease in your right nostril, essentially closing it.
  3. Inhale through the left nostril.
  4. Shift so the ring finger covers the left nostril.
  5. Exhale through the right nostril.
  6. Inhale through the right nostril.
  7. Close the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  8. Inhale through the left, close off the left, and exhale through the right. Close and inhale through the left, etc.
  9. Keep going for a minute or two, or up to five minutes. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders a bit—this should be a slow, steady breath, with no extra tension being held in the body.

The yogis say this breath calms the nervous system and balances the two hemispheres of the brain. I say it’s an instant chill-out that feels good and is a delicious way to start the day.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating:

2) Cat/Cow Pose

You don’t need much space for this, and the only prop is some padding under your knees if you’re on a hard floor—just fold a towel or a blanket.

  1. Get on all fours, and see that your thighs are parallel to one another, and that your hips are directly over your knees.
  2. Now see that your hands are spread out and your arms are aligned with your shoulders.
  3. Take a slow breath in.
  4. For “Cat,” exhale while raising the center of your upper back toward the ceiling (think of one of those cartoon Halloween cats), while releasing your neck and dropping your head toward (not on) the floor.
  5. Then, as you inhale, slowly shift into “Cow” by raising your tailbone and the center of your chest—you’ll be creating a kind of sway-backed horse look.
  6. Be aware that your neck stays gently curved, with no crook.
  7. Shift back into Cat, exhaling and dropping your head. Imagine you’re being pulled from above by a clear thread that grows from behind your heart.
  8. Shift back into Cow, reaching the tail and chest up.
  9. Go back and forth between the two, and see that you’re breathing. Inhale on Cow; exhale on Cat. Do five rounds of each—more if inspired.

This is a lovely, gentle way to awaken the spine and get synovial fluid moving and lubricating your joints. It may surprise you how much this gentle action can make a difference in how you feel.

3) Empty Coatsleeves Exercise

This is not an official yoga pose, but my beloved teacher at Yoga Teacher Training showed me this, and I love it.

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees softly, ever so slightly bent.
  2. Extend your arms out to the sides and make sure you have plenty of room in all directions.
  3. Now start slowly rotating your torso (like you might if you were doing the Twist—Google it) so that your arms swing like a helicopter propeller. At the end of each swing, they may wrap around your body a little. Let them—bonus massage.
  4. Keep turning and swinging those arms. You can start lifing up your heels a little bit to get your whole body into it. Chances are you kids will be happy to join you in this.
  5. Do it for up to five minutes, but even one minute can help.

This wakes up the whole body, clearing the cobwebs, quite literally, from your muscles. It helps lubricate the spine, free up the fascia—the layer of connective tissue just over your muscle and under your skin. Plus, you’ll be hard-pressed not to smile—perhaps the best boost of all.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating: