When we wake up, one of the first things we usually do is stretch our arms, legs and core from the stiffness that accumulated overnight. If you think about it, you spend hours on end not moving while you’re asleep, so of course your body is going to have the urge to loosen up a little bit.
Dedicating yourself to a routine of morning stretches will not only help you get rid of pain and stiffness, but it can actually help balance your weight and prevent obesity. It is also excellent for stimulating the lymphatic system, which is essential if you want to prevent the spread of cancer and other diseases.
Stretching, Yoga and Weight Loss
The ways in which stretching and yoga help assist in weight loss or weight maintenance have been narrowed down to the following (1):
– Energy expenditure during yoga sessions
– Allowing for additional exercise outside yoga sessions by reducing back and joint pain
– Heightening mindfulness, improving mood, and reducing stress, which may help reduce food intake
– Allowing individuals to feel more connected to their bodies, leading to enhanced awareness of satiety and the discomfort of over-eating
Other studies, such as the one led by Guarracino and colleagues examined men and women aged 18 years or older on a program of heath yoga or relaxation yoga for up to two years. The two forms were significantly beneficial in controlling weight (2).
This isn’t surprising, given the amount of core strength and balance required to perform even the most basic yoga pose.
Why Do We Need To Stretch In The Morning?
While many of us would rather hit the snooze button, using that time to stretch instead is a really important practice for the body. This is especially true if you plan on sitting down for most of the day (I’m talking to you desk workers!).
Because we don’t move much when we sleep, we often wake up feeling stiff and kinked. For this very reason, morning stretching is essential to get the blood moving back into our muscles and joints. And while we’re on the topic of blood, stretching helps improve our circulation (great for anyone who has chronically cold hands and feet). By improving circulation, you’re helping nutrients get delivered to muscle tissue, which in turn helps your body perform daily activities with more ease.
Stretching also helps alleviate that groggy fog we struggle with when our alarms go off. By improving circulation in the body, stretching not only wakes up your body, but it wakes up your brain, too. This is good news for those who aren’t morning people, and even better news for those who have a tendency to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
In addition, if you’re someone who feels stressed on the job (like the other 80 percent of Americans), stretching can help relieve the tension that usually builds up in our back, shoulders and neck.
But that’s not all. Performing a routine of morning stretches can improve your posture, and ensure that those long hours sitting at a desk don’t take a nasty toll on how you carry yourself.
12 Morning Stretches To Relieve Stiffness and Burn Fat
Some of my favorite morning stretches are outlined below. They can be performed 2-4 times in a row as soon as you get up, but if you don’t have time right in the morning, you can perform them any time of the day. Generally, I like to hold each pose for 30 seconds, focusing on my breath and relaxing deeply into each pose. You can take your time in each posture, or you can perform it like a flow instead.
Whatever method you choose, I’ve outlined the steps below so that you can enjoy the beautiful benefits of morning stretching.
Following the infographic above, I start with the first posture (top left corner), and go in sequence to the next in line (second posture from the top left corner and so on). The following instructions are for the left to right sequence of stretches.
1. Child’s Pose: start by kneeling on the floor, and allow your big toes to touch. Fold your torso forward and allow your arms to either rest at your sides, or stretched out in front of you. Breathe deep here.
2. Standing Forward Bend: on an inhale, come up into standing position with your feet parallel and facing forward. Exhale and bend forward so that your palms touch the ground in front of you, bending your knees slightly if necessary.
3. Downward Dog: inhale and step both feet to the back of your mat, fingers spread wide and weight pressed firmly through your palms. Press the hips back and up, reaching the chest towards the thighs. Lift up through your tailbone to keep the spine straight and long. You can press your heels into the floor, feeling a stretch in the back of the legs.
4. Three Legged Dog: inhale and lift one leg, then lower with an exhale. Repeat on the other leg, inhaling with the lift and exhaling with the lower.
5. Lunge: inhale and step your left foot to the front of your mat, keeping your right leg as straight as possible. Your left leg will be bent, with your knee directly over your ankle. Hands are resting on either side of your left foot, and head is facing up and looking forward.
6. Crescent Lunge: inhale and bring your arms up, palms together. Stay in the lunge position, and keeping your spine long and shoulders back, look upward.
7. Warrior II: exhale and bring your arms parallel to the floor. Inhale and turn the hips and shoulders towards the front and reach out through the finger tips. Turn and look at the left middle finger. Sink your hips down towards the floor, and reach the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine. Relax the shoulders down and back, pressing the chest forward.
8. Reverse Warrior: exhale and come into reverse warrior by bringing your right hand down to rest on the right leg. Inhale the left arm up towards the ceiling, and reach the fingers away from each other. Look straight ahead or up at the ceiling. Keep the left knee bent, pressing into the feet with the legs strong.
9. Triangle Pose: inhale and straighten your front left leg. Extend your left hand toward the front of the room, lowering it down toward your shin or ankle. If you’re more open, bring your left hand down to the floor on the inside or on the left foot. Reach your right fingertips towards the ceiling, opening up your chest while doing so. Bring your gaze up towards your right fingertips.
10. Plank: inhale and come down into a plank by bringing both hands and feet onto the floor. Engage the core and don’t extend the neck up – keep your gaze down toward the ground.
11. Upward Dog: inhale and lower your knees, then your chest and chin down to the mat (butt in the air). Bring your chest forward through your hands, and lift your upper body up, looking back. Thighs and bottom of the feet still touching the mat.
12. Cat & Cow: inhale and come to all fours. Inhale and let your belly drop down, while you lift your gaze and tailbone to the sky – do not crank the neck, let your eyes do the work. As you exhale, slowly tuck your chin towards the chest, lift your mid-back towards the sky and scoop your tailbone under. Repeat 6-10 times and rest.
By performing these stretches every day, you will start to feel stronger, and more toned as your body adjusts to the poses. Let me know in the comments below if you have a daily stretching routine of your own!