Routines. Some people live by them, some people rebel against them. The fact is that most successful, health-conscious folks stick to at least one. This is the one they do in the morning to set themselves up for a frictionless, stress-free day. For a large majority of people, part of this routine includes morning stretches.
Can you spare less than 10 minutes in the morning to get limbered up, revved up, and ready for your day? If so, read on!
The Importance of Routine
If we can convince you to commit to any kind of routine, it would be the one you do in the morning. A morning routine clears your mind. With a routine in place, you can put your energy into the important things by spending less time focusing on less important decisions each day.
For instance, former President Barack Obama’s morning routine used to include a daily choice of either a blue or gray suit.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” said Obama in an interview for Vanity Fair magazine in 2012. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make .”
By making morning stretches part of your daily routine, you don’t need to think about it each day… and you’ll start your day off on a high note.
What Happens to Your Body and Mind by Morning
If you’re like most people, you probably wake up most mornings a little groggy with at least some amount of muscle stiffness. In addition, there may be a million annoying thoughts racing through your head… and possibly even some back pain to boot!
According to a recent survey, most Americans wake up thinking about either their finances or the tasks they must do during the day .
Most adults also wake up with achy joints and sore muscles.
This has more to do with physiology than psychology. When we put our bodies to rest, not only do we lie horizontally with very little movement for hours, but our body’s core temperature lowers, just as the planet does at night. Our body temps gradually decrease as the night goes on, reaching a max low point just before dawn, when the alarm clock goes off .
According to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Manchester in England , the body’s biological clock also suppresses anti-inflammatory proteins during sleep. This means that the natural pain relievers in our bodies during the day are not as prevalent when we sleep.
They are absent in the early morning as well. With our cold bodies, racing minds, sluggish blood flow, and stiff joints, no wonder most of us reach for coffee first thing in the morning.
There is another solution to the early morning blues. Starting the day by gently stretching for 5 to 10 minutes and taking a little time to calm the mind with meditation can help reduce scrambled thoughts and aching bodies.
The 9-Minute Morning Stretch
A simple search on Google will populate dozens of morning stretch routines that target different muscle groups. Have fun exploring all of them or create one that suits your individual needs.
In the meantime, we’ve compiled some of the best morning stretches to create a simple routine which will have you flexible in both mind and body, ready to start the day in no time.
#1. Mountain Pose / Time: 1 minute
On a mat or carpet, stand with your feet flat and hip distance apart. Put your palms together in front of your chest. Take a moment to tune in to your body. Stand tall and imagine your joints completely aligned.
Breathe and feel the expansion and contraction of your chest and rib cage. As you exhale, release the tension in your neck and shoulders. Take 3-5 more conscious breaths.
On your next inhale, raise your hands above your head, keeping your palms together. As you exhale, try to reach the ceiling with your hands while imagining your ribcage and shoulder blades reaching for the floor.
Gaze straight ahead and take one more inhale and exhale. Slowly bring your hands down to chest level again, keeping your palms together.
#2. Raised Arms Side Bends / Time: 1 minute
Starting in Mountain Pose, raise your arms over your head again as you inhale. Next, take your right wrist in your left hand. As you exhale, bend to the left until you feel a stretch on the right side of your body.
Be sure to keep your chest open (no slouching) and your gaze forward. Stay in this position, stretching to the left side, for two more complete breath cycles. Each time you exhale, try to stretch a little more.
Slowly come up to center. Then switch sides by holding the wrist of your left arm and stretch to the right. As you stretch on both sides, pay attention to your core. Stay centered with both feet on the floor for balance. Bend your knees slightly if needed. After you have stretched on both sides, come back to Mountain Pose.
#3. Rag Doll / Time: 1 minute
From standing, exhale as you bend slowly forward, reaching for the ground. Be sure to bend from your pelvis area, instead of your lower back, and bend your knees to bring your knees to chest as much as you need to for balance and comfort.
Hang and breath softly, allowing your upper body to simply droop while feeling a gentle hamstring stretch (the muscles on the backs of your thighs).
You can brush your fingers on the floor, clasp your hands around your elbows, or lightly place your hands on your ankles or knees. Remain inverted for 2 or 3 breaths.
Come up very slowly, imagining each vertebra becoming upright one at a time. Once upright, take one or two slow, deep breaths to center before moving on to the last stretch.
#4. Heaven and Earth Stretch / Time: 1 minute
This stretch is inspired by energy medicine master Donna Eden . She herself says that Heaven and Earth may be one of the oldest stretches ever, used in tai chi and other ancient healing and martial art modalities for centuries.
Stand upright with your arms at your sides and your feet flat on the floor and slightly apart. Rub your hands together and shake them out. As you inhale, stretch one hand to the ground while the other arm reaches to the ceiling.
Flatten your palms (one should be facing “Heaven” and the other to “Earth”). As you exhale, look down at the hand that is reaching for the ground. Slowly bring both arms to center (straight out from your shoulders). Then reverse for another 2-3 breaths. This move is a great one to do outside, especially barefoot for grounding, and facing the sun as it is just coming up.
It is hard to not smile while doing this move and it can give you energy all morning long. It’s also a great one to do whenever your energy dips throughout the day or you have encountered something stressful.
#5. “Gratitude for the Day” Reflection / Time: 5 minutes
After completing the stretches, sit on your bed (on the side or cross-legged) or a chair. Expand and contract your spine from your hips slowly 3-4 times, inhaling as you expand and move forward, and exhaling as you contract.
If you are familiar with the “cat/cow” stretch, this is similar, only it is done while sitting (see graphic for cat/cow movement).
Go back and forth as many times as you want, until you feel an easy stretch in your lower back. But don’t strain; take your time and go slow.
Next, close your eyes and monitor your breath. There are dozens of ways to reflect, and many involve specific breathing techniques. For this one, just observe your breath, as well as thoughts that may come in and out of your mind. The purpose of the first two minutes of this reflection is to eliminate judgement. Simply observe whatever is happening both inside and outside of you.
Finally, for the last three minutes, zero in on one thing you are grateful for as you start your day. Focus on that and imagine the gratitude for this one thing filling your heart with warm light. As you breathe in and out, imagine this light encompassing your whole being.
Dozens of studies have connected feelings of gratitude with improvements in health. For example, a 2015 study of heart disease patients, conducted at the University of California, San Diego in conjunction with the Chopra Foundation in La Costa, California, found that individuals who displayed tendencies towards gratitude and appreciation had less fatigue, were less prone to depression, slept better, and had less systemic inflammation overall .
Whether you are already keen on routines or would rather do without them, why not give this simple morning stretch and gratitude routine a try and see what happens. You may find that the rest of your day, and even your entire week, is better off for it!