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Every morning for the last six years, almost without fail, I’ve rolled out of bed and onto a yoga mat. My short 10- to 15- minute morning yoga practice has evolved slightly over the years, but in general, it hits all the same notes: It’s a mini mobility, core work, bodyweight strength, and physical therapy session that puts me in the right state of mind and body before starting the day.
Sometimes, the yoga routine gets truncated for travel, races, or other life stuff. But in the six years I’ve been doing it, the benefits far outweigh the annoyance, and I’ve only skipped it a couple of times.
Is it easy? Hell, no. Every morning, I catch myself wondering if push-ups will ever get easier. (Answer: They sort of do, but then I take them to the next level.)
How I Started Doing Daily Morning Yoga
My relationship with morning yoga all started in 2016, when I was staying at a tiny studio Airbnb in Louisville, Kentucky. It was yet another race weekend where I was acting as team manager for pro cyclocross team Aspire Racing, headed by four-time national champion Jeremy Powers.
I realized something on that trip: I felt like crap. I hadn’t ridden or run regularly in weeks. My training had gotten more and more sporadic as work had gotten more and more hectic, and I could feel the effects. (The time spent in planes, trains, and automobiles wasn’t helping either.) I was sore, inflexible, and starting to feel pretty damn soft. But with a full season of travel left before I’d be back to my normal schedule, no resolution to get back to regular training was going to work.
A few months earlier, I had interviewed Strala Yoga founder Tara Stiles for Bicycling and fallen in love with her high energy, fast-paced yoga, and particularly with her short 10- to 15- minute yoga videos on YouTube. I made a decision in Louisville: I’d do one of her yoga videos every morning for a month and see if it made a difference. (And to write an article, of course.)
It turns out that 15 minutes of morning yoga each day, for 30 days, can make a huge difference—so much so that when the month was up, it didn’t occur to me to stop. I was feeling more limber, less achy, and—thanks to Stiles sneaking in push-ups and other bodyweight work—I was feeling strong, even though my mileage on the bike (and running) wasn’t increasing. More importantly, I was feeling like an athlete again.
“Creating positive rituals is the most powerful means we have found to effectively manage energy in the service of full engagement,” writes Jim Loehr in The Power of Full Engagement, which explains that our energy is what we need to manage, rather than our time. And this ritual was powerful indeed.
Here’s why doing yoga every day works, especially morning yoga, and how to create your own a.m. routine.
My Morning Yoga Routine
I’m a yoga instructor in my spare time, and I developed this morning yoga routine over the years, adding and subtracting moves until I found what worked best for me. I wouldn’t suggest this routine to everyone—feel free to adapt it. But it starts with a series of bodyweight exercises, then progresses into a yoga sequence.
Check it out in the sped-up video below, along with an outline of the moves.
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Part 1: Bodyweight Exercises
- 1 minute high plank
- 1 minute forearm plank
- 1 minute side plank with leg raises
- 1 minute forearm plank
- 1 minute side plank with leg raises
- 30 seconds bridge
- 10 reps glute bridge marches per side
- 15 reps straight leg lifts
- 25 reps crunches
- 25 reps clamshells per side
- 25 reps side leg lifts per side
Part 2: Yoga Flow
Perform a sun salutation sequence of poses: Start standing, with hands in prayer at chest. Then reach them overhead. Next, reach hands down toward the floor as you fold forward at the hips. Place hands on the ground, then step back to plank pose. Lower halfway to floor like you would for a push-up, then drop hips and lift chest into cobra (elbows bent) or upward-facing dog (arms straight). Then, lift hips and press back into a downward-facing dog. Next, walk hands to feet back into a forward fold. On an inhale, lift halfway, hands to shins, then fold again on an exhale. Reach arms overhead and back to prayer. Then repeat.
Aim for 4 sets of sun salutations, working in pigeon pose and warrior II pose after your downward-facing dog and before coming back to standing. Make sure to perform pigeon and warrior II on both sides.
Want to add more work? Complete 3 sets of 10 to 12 push-ups while you’re down in plank, before lowering into cobra or upward-facing dog.
Do what works best for you in the morning, adding in the extra poses and strength work whenever it feels right.
6 Benefits of Daily Morning Yoga
1. Cements my athletic identity
Back in 2016, I was doing pretty much everything other than embracing my athletic identity, despite working in the cycling industry in a half-dozen different capacities. (Ask any cycling journalist what they don’t have enough time for, and we’ll all say “riding.”)
In the classic self-help book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey asks: “What one thing could you do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?” For me, that thing was ensuring that every day, I was doing something—maybe not a full ride or run—for my athletic self.
2. Starts my morning on the right foot
“If you want to make your complete 180, rethink your morning and evening rituals—your most important habits,” says legendary strength coach Dan John in his book, Attempts.
Science backs this up: Researchers found that morning exercise led to a better ability to make good decisions and better cognitive function throughout the day. And I’ve noticed that starting the day with a mini-workout makes me much more likely to get in my actual training ride or run later in the day—in addition to making other healthy choices, like drinking water (instead of a fourth cup of coffee) or adding extra veggies to lunch.
3. A sneaky way to dip into fasted workouts
I’m not a fan of long, fasted-state workouts, since I am an extremely hangry person, and some research studies say fasting for endurance efforts isn’t in the best interest of women. But 15 minutes of movement pre-breakfast might be the best of both worlds—not so much that my cortisol is spiked, but enough to break a light sweat and increase my heart rate slightly.
Small scale studies have shown that even a light workout in the morning improves fat-burning and metabolic efficiency.
4. Helps me tap into how I’m feeling
I know a lot of people rely on their Whoop score, heart rate variability numbers, or whatever other app or device gives them insight into their overall feeling of pep for the day. While I love objective data, I’m a bigger fan of figuring out how I feel based on how easy or hard the push-ups in my morning routine feel. They’re never easy, but some days are harder than others. It gives me a few minutes to reflect on if I’m feeling a little low on food or water, or if maybe Ineed to ease up on intervals later. If I’m feeling awesome, it’s a good boost heading into whatever workout is on tap that day.
5. The math makes sense
On average, my routine takes about 15 minutes every morning. The yearly total—15 minutes multiplied by 365 days—comes to 5475 minutes, or 91 hours. That is, technically speaking, a shitload of bonus training that I don’t even think about anymore.
6. It finally gets me to do some stretching
We all have those stretches and mobility exercises we’re supposed to do, but be honest: How often do you actually do them? I know for me, the morning is the only part of the day I’ll really carve out time to do the work I need to do to keep my body happy.
In Ready to Run, Kelly Starrett makes a favorite point of mine: “If you’re going to make the demands on your body that being an athlete requires, then it’s your job to support that body.”
How to Make Morning Yoga Happen
I’ve learned a few steps that will make your morning yoga routine stick:
Create your cue, routine, and reward
Journalist and self-help author Charles Duhigg writes that a habit loop consists of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue: You wake up. The routine: Whatever yoga flow or mini strength workout you want to do. I recommend sticking to a single simple routine to get started, either written out on an index card or using a video that you’ve already bookmarked. Don’t wake up and try to figure out what to do while you’re still groggy!
And then, there’s the reward. Maybe you decide that you don’t get that cup of coffee until you’ve done your 10 minutes of yoga. My personal reward? I watch my favorite TV shows while I go through my flow. It’s not Instagram-perfect, but it gets me out of bed.
Set up your space
Leave the mat and any equipment out for the morning. When I first started this experiment, it took a couple of false starts to get a few days in a row, largely because of how ‘yoga-ish’ I was trying to make it. I had grand visions of myself doing my morning yoga on the beach, or at least on our tiny terrace, getting into a Zen meditative state.
The reality, though, is that I’d rather watch reruns of Frasier (don’t judge) while I do my yoga, and with my husband Peter and my mini-dachshund DW also doing their morning stretches, our workout area gets crowded quick. But when we are home, we have our spots in the house that are ideal for our morning yoga, and my iPad is always charged. I know some people will actually put their yoga mat directly beside the bed so that they literally step onto the mat right as they get up. That’s a genius idea, especially for a busy parent who knows that as soon as he or she exits the bedroom, it’s game on.
Adapt your routine
For the first six months, I followed one of Tara Stiles’s 12-minute videos, every single morning. After a while, I could do the entire routine by memory, and I was finding it harder to get excited about following along to any tutorial, regardless of how much I like Stiles. I tried a few different videos, but ultimately, my routine was easier to stick to if I let myself enjoy TV. I like core work and push-ups, too, so my routine grew to include long plank holds and push-ups throughout. I eventually also added in rehab exercises recommended by my physical therapist. As a result, it’s a routine that hits all the right notes for me.
Start shorter than you think
Even two minutes of sun salutations equals big gains: nearly 12 hours per year of added training, to be precise. The head-clearing benefits are similar whether you do two or 20 minutes of mobility work or yoga in the morning. If your life is so hectic that you read this entire article mentally rolling your eyes (I see you), you can still take two minutes of time in the morning.
Stack the habit to get started
My favorite tip along these lines came from ultra runner and entrepreneur Jax Mariash, who told me that as she waits for her French press to brew in the morning, she does squats. That’s habit stacking that I can get behind: Coffee and some strength and mobility. This is a great way to get started for people who don’t feel like they can carve out the time to do a full routine, since it’s just using time that is otherwise spent meandering around the kitchen, or aimlessly checking social media, while the coffee brews.
Don’t stress about the streak
I love a ride or a run streak—sort of. For some, it’s a critical accountability tool. For others, it’s a reason to throw in the towel the second the streak gets broken. Bad news: If you’re doing something for years and years, you will miss a day on occasion. I’ve missed only a couple, and truncated plenty. And while missing a day annoys me, I know that the pursuit of perfection is impossible at best, dangerous at worst.
If you skip a day, don’t stress over it. Try to add a few squats, maybe a sun salutation in your office, or even just a mindful moment of deep breathing in the car if you can, and resolve to hit the mat tomorrow morning.
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