6 Reasons Why Yoga Is a Great Way to Start the Day!
By Maura Tibbs (as printed in the Team Beachbody newsletter)
Sometimes it just feels great to start the day with a good workout. That being said, springing out of bed and hammering out a session of P90X® Plyometrics can be a tall order. If this scenario sounds familiar, you might want to consider a little morning yoga—a workout that increases energy, performance, mental clarity, strength, and flexibility. Furthermore, doing yoga has all kinds of other benefits: it can help strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, and ease anxiety.
So let's take a look at some of the reasons a few vinyasas can do you a world of good!
- Yoga offers options for your changing day-to-day workout needs. Luckily, there are tons of options when it comes to choosing your morning yoga routine. You can opt for a high-impact or core-focused sequence to build heat and energy, or select a slow-flow video to warm up your muscles and lubricate your joints. You can pay attention to stretching your tight hamstrings in Downward-Facing Dog, or work on strengthening your quadriceps using Warrior II or Chair Pose. One of the primary benefits of doing yoga first thing in the morning is that it can help warm up your body after it's been at rest. At the same time, those tight, sore muscles might be a little more vulnerable at this point, so check in with your body to get a feeling for its injuries and limitations.
- Yoga can help you detoxify and recover from the weekend! These days, a lot of yoga is geared around the theme of detoxification, as depicted in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where a heartbroken Jason Segel attends a yoga class. His teacher, played by Kristen Wiig, urges him to "sweat it out, sweat out all the toxins," as he's desperately struggling in Downward-Facing Dog.
The reasons yoga aids in detoxification are complex and interesting. When you lengthen and stretch your muscles (as well as contract the opposing muscles), you're increasing the function and flow of your lymphatic system. This means that stretching your muscles can help you fight infection and aid your body's removal of toxic waste. After a twisting posture, your internal organs experience a flow of more oxygenated blood, resulting in better function of your organs and more energy throughout the body. So if you had a "big" weekend and you're feeling a little seedy first thing in the morning, consider a good toxin-purgin' sweat. Maybe Monday should be Yogaday!
- Yoga is about helping clear, focus, and ultimately free your mind. Early writings about yoga define it as having control over the fluctuations of the mind. I like to use the term "monkey mind," which is the state when your thoughts seem to be jumping around in all directions. The focus on breath and action in yoga increases mental clarity and focus. If you have a tendency to lose your keys or forget files on the kitchen counter when you're on your way to work in the morning, a focused and intense yoga routine can help organize your thoughts. Yoga can help you get out the door on time, keys in hand.
- Yoga can be prescribed to help manage pain. Doctors often suggest yoga as an aid for patients who suffer from joint pain, inflammation, and arthritis. A 2010 study in the journal Pain showed that the practice of yoga can also potentially counteract some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Because yoga works out the whole body, it can help strengthen the muscles around the spine, which can help relieve pain and ease compression, particularly when it comes to the lower back, as demonstrated in a 2005 study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine. Spinal disks, which are very vulnerable to herniation or compression, can benefit greatly from increased freedom of movement. Doing yoga just once or twice a week can help your back become more supple and flexible. Yoga can be a great way to alleviate the pain of an aching lower back, a symptom many people experience first thing in the morning, after having not moved for 8 to 10 hours.
- Yoga can help your recovery process after injury. If you've lived an active life, odds are you've sustained an injury or two at some point, the symptoms of which can return from time to time. I suffered a hamstring injury a while back, and if I don't stretch regularly, I find that my hamstring can tighten up or become tender. After having injured any muscle or tendon, strengthening and lengthening are an important part of recovery and rehabilitation. Also, overuse injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome, can be painful and debilitating, and Plank Pose and Dolphin Pose are great ways to strengthen muscles in your forearms to help support your wrists.
- Yoga can help teach techniques for self-actualization. Phil Jackson successfully coached the L.A. Lakers to five NBA titles, helping a group of hostile players transform themselves into a well-structured and highly communicative team. The secret to Jackson's success earned him the nickname "Zen Master." His coaching methods have always emphasized teaching tools for self-actualization, which can often lead to success: meditation, breathing, visualization, and the ability to "live in the moment." You can apply the visualization and meditation techniques embraced by the Lakers and their coach to your own yoga practice by focusing on controlling your breath while ignoring the temptation to leave the present or let your mind wander. It's a great way to lend focus and calm to the start of your busy, potentially stressful workday.
If you'd like to add visualization and meditation to your yoga routine, a great way to begin is simply to sit on your mat, close your eyes, and set an intention. Your intention could be a feeling you wish to generate by meditating, or a theme that can help motivate personal success during the rest of your day. For example, I like to set the intention for stability. The visualization that I apply is the image of a tree. Once I grasp the image or sense of stability by imagining a large oak tree, I try to embody that feeling by imagining growing roots and planting them in the earth. The result of this meditation leaves me feeling confident, focused, and in control. Yoga Booty Ballet® Pure and Simple Yoga is a great example of an intention-based yoga routine.