This past year I’ve really struggled with establishing a solid morning routine. Between waking up and leaving the house for work–with a shower/hair/makeup routine somewhere in the middle–I’ve experimented with doing hip-strengthening PT exercises, practicing therapeutic yoga DVDs, sitting in meditation for at least 10 minutes, committing to 10 sun salutations (5 A, 5 B), reading books while walking around the park, meditating with alternating mudras, and dancing around the living room in my pajamas.

Regardless of which activity I choose, the key is that I warm up as soon as I wake up. Even on my wedding day more than 7 years ago, I woke up at 6 a.m. and, before I headed off to the hairdresser, rolled around in my underwear, stretching and loosening up my limbs. I don’t consider myself “creaky” yet, but as I move into my 30s I am more aware of that car-in-the-winter feel that sets in overnight. Starting a day without stretching is like heading off to work without brushing my teeth–terribly icky and not recommended.

After doing the Kripalu yoga video the other day and being reacquainted with pratapana (Kripalu’s version of “warming up”), I was also reminded about the importance of going through the 6 movements of the spine before engaging in any other movement. The spine is that what holds us all together, and giving it the proper warm up will enable all other limbs to kick in gear.

The great thing about these movements is that they can be adapted for people comfortable being on the floor, those who wish to stay seated, and for others who prefer standing. Whatever variation I choose, I do about 5 to 10 of each movement.

Seated variation (can be done in easy/hero pose or in a sturdy chair)

Part A. Extension/flexion

Spinal extension

Spinal flexion

 Part B. Lateral (side-to-side) movement

A beautiful C to one side...

...and on the other.

Part C. Twists

Wring it out, like a wet sponge!

Other side, different angle (from which you can see the severity of my hypermobile elbow joints).

Floor variation (for those comfortable on hands and knees)

Part A. Extension/flexion

The well-known "cat" pose

...followed by dog/cow pose.

Part B. Lateral movement

Keeping the spine in one plane, curve head, shoulders, spine, and hips into a "C" on one side

...and then the other. Try not to raise the head to look back at hips.

Part C. Twists

Slide arm under chest while turning head in that direction. No need to settle in this warm-up; I just let my head tap the floor and draw up to move to other side.

Be sure to keep hips over knees!

Standing variation (great for adding hara breaths)

Part A. Extension/flexion

Extend up to sky, slight backbend, chest lifted. (inhale)

Drop down, swinging arms behind hips. Give a big sigh on the descent! (exhale-HA!)

Part B. Lateral movement

Bend to one side, letting that arms slide down leg. Draw other arm up to armpit, like a monkey. Hara breath can be done during the drop; inhale while drawing back up to center.

Increase the speed/breath to create more heat.

Part C. Twists

Imagine your arms are empty coatsleeves. Gently swing them back and forth as you twist side to side, one wrapping in front of body, the other behind. Exhale HA! at final point of twist; inhale while swinging back through center.

I always picture myself as a washing machine agitator during this movement.

Since last week, I’ve been mindful of starting each morning with those 6 movements, and the end results feel pretty darn good. Most mornings I do all three sets, starting with the floor exercises and working my way up to standing. Incorporating the deep hara breaths really gets things warmed up and opens up my chest, throat, nose, and mouth, clearing the path for the pranayama practice that follows. The spinal movements open up the space between each vertabra, thus opening the pathways for greater energy/prana flow.

I’ll show you the remainder of my morning routine in a future post. Until then, remember to brush your teeth, wash your face, and move your spine!

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