Do you want to get started with a morning yoga routine, but aren’t sure where to start? Does the idea inspire you but also feels a little overwhelming or unrealistic given your current life circumstances? You aren’t alone. Many a modern yogi can identify with this feeling – I know I can!
Mornings are a magical time and the idea of practising yoga as soon as we get up may sound idyllic. A perfectly blissful, energising start to the day. But modern life being what it is, the image we have in our heads may feel at odds with day-to-day reality.
We have jobs, school, family commitments, own unique personal struggles and challenges to contend with. None of this makes it easy when it comes to committing to daily morning practice. But the secret is not to ignore the rhythm and texture of our lives. Instead we have to embrace it and work with it. Shape it gently into something that supports our yoga as part of the fabric of our daily lives, rather than something separate.
When it comes to setting up a morning yoga practice (or any regular routine), it’s important to be realistic about what we have the time and bandwidth for and what we don’t. We can also pause to take stock of our current routines and habits. Where might we be able to make more space in these existing patterns? Feeding the kids/pets/yourself isn’t exactly negotiable. But perhaps 15 minutes of hitting snooze or scrolling social media in the morning could instead be spent on the yoga mat.
When it comes to creating a morning practice we can stick to, the key to success lies in preparation and keeping things simple. And in being persistent. The below tips are ones that have worked well for me and I hope you find them helpful too. I’d love to hear how you get on – please do get in touch. Do you have any tips of your own to share? I'd fascinated to know what works for you.
#1 Prepare your space the night before
The foundation of a good morning practice is being prepared. If you roll out of bed and have to spend ten minutes clearing a space for your mat and hunting around for something to wear, not only will this put you in a bad mood, but it will make you much less inclined to actually practise.
Take a few minutes before bed to ensure your space is ready. Get your mat rolled out, your props to hand, and lay out the clothes you want to wear. This way, you have set an intention to practise when you get up, and are removing any barriers just waiting to turn into excuses given half the chance.
Your space doesn’t have to be fancy – let go of those images you see on social media of super-chill yoga rooms. Real life is messier and so much more complicated than these carefully curated representations. If you have space to roll out your mat and enough room to move (and not kick anything over) - perfect! That's all you need. Likewise, you don’t need to wear anything special – no expensive yoga pants required. Any clothes that allow you to move freely and that you feel comfortable in will do the trick.
#2 Start with (lemon) water
Start your morning practice (and your day) with one simple thing – drink a glass of water. With this step, you signal to yourself the respect and appreciation you have for your amazing body. By drinking water first thing, we are treating ourselves with kindness by rehydrating and nourishing the body. Our levels of hydration are also linked to mental alertness, so what better way to wake up?
You may choose to have a bottle of water beside your bed ready for when you wake up, or a special glass or mug ready in your kitchen. You can drink your water cool, or perhaps try warm lemon – a tradition Ayurvedic morning practice to stimulate the digestion. (TIP: Keep a container of sliced lemon in the freezer, so you always have some to hand.)
Take your time to drink mindfully. Notice the feel and temperature of the glass against your the skin of your hands, savour the refreshing taste of your first sip. Make this step into a simple ritual of mindfulness and self-care, setting the tone for your practice.
#3 Take time for stillness
What is yoga? The sage Patanjali teaches us that “yoga citta vrtti nirodhah” (Yoga Sutra 1:2) – yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. One of my favourite translations of the Sanskrit word “vritti” (the movements of the mind) is “to whirl”. I find this so descriptive of how the mind can often feel. A whirlwind of activity, one thought spinning off after the next.
Giving ourselves time for silence and stillness helps us find space between the vritti. Helps us glimpse the peace within. If you don’t already have a regular meditation practice, consider incorporating this into your morning routine. Or you might explore resting for a few moments in Savasana or Balasana (Child’s Pose).
By taking time for stillness first thing in the morning, we can pause in the liminal space between sleep and the activity of the day ahead. So much magic can be found there. This is a space for just being, of limitless possibilities, untroubled by worries about the future or regrets of the past. Allow this moment to embrace and strengthen you.
#4 Keep it simple and realistic
This step is possibly the most important for creating a morning practice you can stick to. Be realistic about the time you have for your yoga. And then adjust slightly for the unexpected, as well as our human bias to underestimate how long things take.
If you think you have 30 minutes for your morning practice, plan for 20. That way you won’t feel rushed or stressed if suddenly you find yourself halfway through with only a few minutes left and no time for savasana. You can't relax if your mind is already jumping off the mat, making breakfast, and rushing out the door for your daily commute!
When it comes to planning the content of your practice, keep it simple. Stick to what you know and (most importantly) stick to what you enjoy. To start with, your practice could be a few rounds of cat-cow and two or three of your favourite asana. You can of course build on this as you grow in confidence and settle into your new routine. But by keeping things simple to start with you are much more likely to stick with it.
#5 Be consistent
Habit-forming takes time and patience. It may seem obvious to say so, but it isn’t enough to want to start a daily practice – you have to actually show up. And you have to keep on showing up.
This step follows on from the last. Our simple and realistic practice is the foundation on which we build this habit of showing up on the mat each morning. Of course, each day will be unique and it's important to work with that too. Some days we may wake up feeling amazing and ready to face the day. Others we may be in a grumpy mood, our back may feel stiff, or the cat has been sick on the mat (yuck!).
Take each day as it comes and have a consistent thread of dedication to your practice. Show up, however each day finds you. Welcome in and accept everything with a sense of compassion. It’s okay to not feel like practising. Sometimes those are the days we need our practice the most. It doesn’t have to be amazing. You are amazing for just showing up.
#6 Practise gratitude
Living your life with an attitude of gratitude has a profound impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing. It can bring about a shift in mindset that leaves you feeling happier and more connected to yourself, your loved ones, and to your community and the wider world.
By cultivating a practice of gratitude, we make time every day to reflect on what we value and appreciate. Take a moment either at the start or end of your practice to list a few things you feel grateful for. You can write them down or list them in your head. Or alternatively simply let your attention rest on a feeling of deep gratitude within.
Gratitude practice does not mean that we wander around seeing the world as a bed of roses. There are many hardships in the world around us, suffering and injustice. But practising gratitude allows us to honour the things we value and take note of what makes our world a better place.
Don’t forget to include yourselves in this practice. Gratitude and compassion start within and radiate out into the world around us like ripples on a pond. What better way to start the day?