You’ve had those mornings where you wake up and everything hurts. So have I. After I had practiced yoga for a few years, I started using certain poses to ease my aching lower back and stiff hips on those mornings. Sometimes it is the only way I can make it to the coffeemaker upright, and often it is the difference between a good attitude and a sour one. Here are 5 yoga poses that I often use. Do them first thing, and they will help loosen you up and work out that morning pain and stiffness and get the edge on the rest of the day. I’ve described some of them in terms of flow, so you can put them together into a short routine if you prefer.
1. Downward-facing Dog: Stand upright with feet hip distance apart, weight balanced between them (Mountain Pose). Fold over so your hands touch the floor, also hip distance apart. Be sure to keep your abdomen pulled in and you’re your knees if you need to in order to get your hands to the floor. From this position, step back with one leg and then the other, so that you are now in an inverted “V” position. Maintain your hands and feet symmetrically, your hands flat, and your feet raised at the heels. The shoulders and arms should be held away from the ears, the lower abdomen pulled up and in to support the lower back. This stretches the spine, and also the muscles at the back of the legs and up to the hips, while working the arms and shoulders. “Walking the dog,” or lowering the heels of the feet alternately while working the hips will also loosen up the hip joints and hamstrings, helping to work out a stiff lower body.
2. Upward-facing Dog: If arching your back does not cause pain, this pose is great for working the stiffness out of your back, especially when used as a flow with Downward-facing Dog. Be aware though that those with back issues, like me, will have days they can do this and days they cannot. This is true with any yoga pose. Upward-facing Dog begins from the floor; the body is outstretched, you are lying on your stomach, hands on the mat at either side of your chest, elbows hugged in close to the body. Push yourself up with your hands, keeping the abdominal muscles engaged. Tilt your head upwards. If you wish to make it a flow move, turn the toes down before you come up, and from the upward position, slowly use the legs and lower body to lift yourself into the inverted V of Downward-facing Dog. Do this slowly, as it takes good control and strength of the abdominal area to keep pressure off the back. Done correctly, though, it will keep your back limbered and loose, rather than stiff and painful. Good for sciatica pain.
3. Pigeon Pose: An excellent hip-opening pose often used by runners to belay stiffness. The version I will describe proceeds from Downward-Facing Dog (see above). To stretch the right hip: raise the left leg slightly and move it to the center of the mat. Then raise the right leg and point the knee skyward. Slowly bring the right leg, folded as it is, so the right knee touches the right wrist. Keep contact between the two as you begin this pose. Raise your torso upright and flatten your left leg to increase the opening of the right hip. Do not overdo it; there are many levels through which this pose can be taken. Work the left leg down and try to flatten the right leg against the floor until you feel a good stretch. To intensify the stretch, bring your arms out in front of you and bend forward, allowing them to stretch forward across the mat. This will push your hip open. To come out of the pose, position your hands as in Downward-Facing Dog and use them to return your feet to the back of the mat into that pose, from which you will repeat these moves for the left hip.
4. Cat-Cow flow pose: This is actually two poses, but one flows into the other, and the back-and-forth movement helps to ease the lower back. You are on all fours with straight line between shoulders and hands in front and hips and knees in back. Both are comfortably hip-distance apart. a. Cow Pose: Breathing in, flatten the back and loosely hold in the abdomen. You should be able to balance a wine glass on your back; i.e., it should be flat. A dip in the back, also known as “hammock back,” will put pressure on the spine and is a sign that you’re not engaging your abs. b. Cat Pose: Breathe out from cow pose and pull the abdomen firmly up and in, rounding the back like an excited cat’s arched back (Cat pose). Push all the air out of your lungs while maximizing the rounding and tightening the abdomen. Then return, breathing in, to cow pose. Repeat the flow slowly, paying attention to the breath.
5. Cobbler’s Pose: Also known as the Butterfly Stretch. Sit upright with the soles of the feet touching each other in front of you. Hold your feet and allow your knees to drop to either side. To open up the hips, press down on your legs across the kneefold by pressing the elbows downward and bending slightly forward. Keep the abdomen tightened to avoid putting pressure on the back from the forward bend. Your goal is to get the knees to touch the floor. An excellent hip opener. As with all exercise programs, check with your doctor if you have any issues that might complicate a program of physical fitness. You want to avoid injury, so that you can benefit from the building of strength and stability that a good, regular yoga practice can give you.
Find more yoga poses with pictures and information here: