The past few mornings, I’ve been doing a fun little wake-up yoga routine that only takes about 10 minutes. Sometimes it can be hard to get my yoga on first thing in the morning, so I’ve tried to find ways to get myself moving that aren’t too strenuous and won’t seem like a lot of work pre-coffee. This little practice can be done entirely while seated (and in pajamas) and incorporates some basic stretches, some yoga moves, and a series of neck warmups that I learned in African dance class. The neck warmups in particular really help to relieve tension, so I thought I’d share the love. A little practice like this is a great way to trick your grumpy sleep-deprived self into doing some yoga, and afterwards you’ll feel refreshed.
As you move through this warmup, always be careful to move gently and not too quickly, and don’t push past your natural range of motion. As you practice, you’ll probably be able to turn farther and move deeper, but if not, don’t worry about it: just gently work with where your neck happens to be today.
- Put on some music you like: something with a good beat but not too fast. It’s fun to do this warmup in time with music, but moving your neck too quickly could hurt! Don’t let the music distract you; it’s just there for the rhythm and to add some fun. You should always practice with awareness, especially any stretch involving your neck.
- Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your back straight. If you’re on a chair, you probably want to sit on the edge of the chair; if on the floor, straighten your spine and sit up nice and tall.
- Start off with some gentle neck circles, slowly circling your head around as if you’re trying to trace a giant circle in the air with your nose. Do eight circles clockwise, then eight circles counterclockwise.
- Come back to a neutral neck, then drop your chin down to your chest and look down. Then lift your head, dropping it back, and look up. Repeat this for eight counts: down, up, down, up.
- Next, turn your head and look to the right. Then turn your head and look to the left. Repeat for eight counts: right, left, right, left.
- Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, tilting your head. Then drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Repeat for eight counts: side, side, side, side.
- Now combine them together: down, up, right, left, side, side. That’s one. Do the full series eight times. If it feels good, do it another eight!
- Next, jut your chin forward and then tuck it back, like a bird pecking. We call this “the funky chicken”. Repeat for eight counts: peck, peck, peck.
- Shake your head, as if your neck is a spring and your head is going boi-oi-oing. (This is a small motion, like the side-side tilt above – not a full side-to-side shake or a headbang, just enough to shake out the kinks.) We call this “the bobblehead”. Shake it for eight counts.
- Alternate the Funky Chicken move and the Bobblehead move, eight counts each, repeating each move three or four times.
- Come back to a neutral neck. Stretch it out a little more by dropping right ear to right shoulder, then use your right hand to press your head gently down, stretching through the left side of the neck. Repeat this stretch by dropping the head to the left, and then drop the head forward and use both hands to apply gentle pressure, stretching down the back of the neck (make sure you’re sitting up straight for these stretches, and be cautious as you apply the pressure!).
I love this neck warmup at any time of day, but it seems especially refreshing first thing in the morning when my neck is stiff from sleep.
I also work in some arm stretches, which is great for a morning practice – I always want to stretch my arms first thing in the morning anyway. Stretch straight up overhead, then grasp one wrist and pull, then switch and grasp the other wrist, getting a nice stretch down each side.
Here’s one nice stretch that I just learned from Better Sex Through Yoga: lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm. Then do the other side. I was floored when I tried this – if you sit in an office typing all day, this stretch is amazing!
If you’re practicing on the floor, try beginning the practice in child’s pose and then move into rabbit pose to get the shoulders involved too. If you’re in a chair, you can get the same effect by bending forward, clasping your hands behind your back, and stretching up as you continue to bend.
Work in a twist or two as well, turning your body to one side, then the other, using a hand on the opposite knee for leverage as you look over your shoulder.
After a 10-15 minute practice, all the stiffness of sleep has dissolved away and I’m ready to face the day! And all without doing a single standing posture!