Let’s be real—unless you’re the type of person who wakes up ready to go, mornings are tough. Whether it starts with a workout, a meditation, a grab and go breakfast, or the sound of you hitting your snooze button, a full body stretch is always helpful.
“Stretching in the morning is beneficial because it starts the blood flow to joints and muscles of your body,” Dr. Dominic King, a medical orthopedic physician, tells SELF. In general, your body doesn’t sleep in one position all night, and you’ll move around some as you switch sleeping positions. However, you may still feel stiff in the morning because you’re not moving much. Stretching opens up blood vessels, which gets blood flow moving, Dr. King explains.
“When I think about starting my day and waking up my body and the muscles, it’s really important to do it properly,” Lauren Porat, founder of YogaSpark, a hot yoga studio in New York, tells SELF. To boost your energy, “you want to choose something that introduces breath and awareness of breath,” Porat says.
The one full body stretch you can do to become more alert and active every morning is reclined bound ankle pose, Porat advises. You’ll pretty much hit every muscle with this good morning stretch, including your chest, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. You also open up your pelvis, which after a full night’s sleep, where you’re likely sleeping with knees together and curled up tight, it’s a good way to get blood flow back into your legs, Dr. King says.
The exercise also helps wake you up by boosting bodily awareness. “It’s like a reverse child’s pose. Child’s pose is great, but if I wake up I want to bring a bit more awareness [to my body] and lying on my back is a good way to do it,” Porat says.
It’ll also make your back feel awesome. “It’s almost a back neutralizer because your back is totally relaxed into the floor and takes a bit of that natural arch we have in our backs out, so it relaxes your low back muscles as well,” Porat says. There’s no strain on your lower back, which is one of the most common workout pains.
Here’s how to do the perfect morning stretch, which will target your upper body, hips, and legs.
To get into the starting position, lie faceup and bring the soles of your feet together and open up your knees. Take your arms out to your sides in an L shape (elbows bent, forearms on the ground), and start to breathe in and out.
To deepen the stretch in your chest, extend your arms out, as pictured.
Next, keep your elbows on the floor as you draw your straightened arms up and overhead. Pause, then pull them back down alongside your torso, keeping them in contact with the ground, as if you’re doing a snow angel. You’ll feel your shoulders start to loosen up a bit more after a few of those.
End the move by stretching out your lower back, hamstrings, and calves.
After that, you can open up your shoulders and chest a bit more with a supported pose, where you place a pillow underneath your shoulders. Pull one leg into your chest and hold, stretching out your low back and hamstrings. Then switch legs. You can also pull both legs in at once and give yourself a big hug. “Press your low back into the mat to find a more neutral spine and you’ll stretch out your hamstrings,” Porat says. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Return your legs to the outstretched position and then sit up. Once your torso is upright, bow your chest forward and grab each one of your knees to feel the stretch in your hamstrings, Dr. King suggests. Pull your toes toward your head to feel the stretch in your calves.
Throughout the stretch, control your breathing and scan your body.
Once you’ve settled into the starting position, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Try to count how long you can inhale for and then repeat that on the exhale. Match your inhale to your exhale, slowing down your breathing to calm your nervous system.
As you inhale, allow your belly to rise, filling up your lungs completely. As you exhale, deepen the full body stretch by allowing your knees to drift further toward the ground, and draw your shoulders away from your ears.
If you have any pain, modify the pose with yoga blocks or towels.
“Scan your body from the top of your head all the ways to your toes and take note of any tension or anything that feels wonky,” Porat says. When you open up your knees, if there is any tenderness or pain at all in them or your hips, stick some yoga blocks under them, so they’re not touching the ground. You can also sub in fluffy sweatshirts, towels, or blankets if you don’t have yoga blocks. Feel free to improvise.