Benefits of a Morning Yoga Practice
Yogis have known for thousands of years that yoga improves well-being, but its advantages are now backed by science.
Starting a morning yoga practice can make you feel immediately calmer, but it also has several long-term health benefits. From decreasing anxiety and depression to improving heart health and feelings of social connection, the effects are well-studied.
Pressing pause on the morning rush to enjoy a yoga practice can help you carry a happy and relaxed feeling throughout the day. In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of this ancient practice and guide you through a morning yoga routine for beginners.
What Is a Yoga Practice?
Yoga is a physical and mental practice combining postures and breathing techniques. It was developed over 5,000 years ago in Northern India. The word yoga was first used in the Rig Veda, a written collection of rituals, mantras and songs that the Vedic priests used.
Although it was first created as a spiritual practice, some people today enjoy it as a form of exercise and relaxation. There are several forms of yoga. Here are some of the major types and their differences:
- Hatha. Hatha yoga is a general term for any routine with physical postures. Other types fall under this umbrella. Typically, Hatha is best for beginners learning basic poses at a slow pace.
- Jivamukti. Jivamukti includes spiritual teachings and focuses on fast-paced transitions between poses (vinyasa). It may also include chanting and meditation.
- Restorative. As the name suggests, this type focuses on relaxation using fewer poses held for longer.
- Bikram. Also known as hot yoga, this intensive practice involves a set of poses done in a heated room, similar to a sauna.
- Ashtanga. This type is more intensive and involves a set of six specific sequences that link the breath and movement.
- Kundalini. This more spiritual type of yoga is about releasing energy. It often combines poses with meditation, chanting and mantras.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years: first as a spiritual practice, and later for its physical and mental benefits.
In the 3rd century BCE, Buddhists practiced yoga as an eight-step meditation for calmness. In the mid-19th century, Westerners started learning about it, but it didn't become widely known until the 1930s or ‘40s. During the 1980s, yoga’s popularity increased, and people started reporting physical health benefits.
Since then, the benefits of yoga have been widely researched, and studies prove its multiple advantages.
Since yoga is a meditative practice—and the stress-relieving benefits of meditation are well-documented—it may not come as a surprise that yoga can also help you relax.
In a 2005 study, women suffering from mental distress were asked to participate in a three-month yoga class. Researchers found their levels of stress and psychological outcomes were significantly improved. Other studies have proven the scientific reason for this mental benefit—yoga reduces cortisol levels, a stress hormone. Multiple studies have shown that those who regularly practice yoga have lower cortisol levels than those who don’t.
Research has also shown that yoga can help ease anxiety. A 2009 study found that going to a two-month yoga class could significantly reduce perceived levels of anxiety in women. Researchers concluded that it could be considered an addition or alternative to treatment for anxiety disorders.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder, can also be relieved by the practice. In one study, researchers found that its effects were comparable to therapy and medication-based treatments.
May Reduce Depression
Several studies looking at the effects of yoga on specific populations show that it might help relieve depression. A 2006 study researched the effects of Sudarshan Kriya yoga on alcohol-dependent people. Compared to volunteers who didn’t practice yoga, those who did had significantly lower depression scores after.
Other research has shown that yoga significantly reduced depression and distress in breast cancer patients. While we don't fully understand yoga's impact on the disorder, a review of research concluded that yoga was an effective treatment.
Improves Strength and Flexibility
Many different yoga poses can help you increase your strength and flexibility. One study showed that after eight weeks of yoga, people improved their flexibility up to 35%. Also, the group's chest and abdominal strength were significantly increased, allowing them to do six more push-ups on average.
Increasing your strength and flexibility can also help improve your balance. This can help you maintain or increase your mobility with age, leading to fewer falls.
Discover the benefits of a morning stretch routine for mobility and long-term health.
Relieves Chronic Pain
Research shows that yoga can help prevent or reverse chronic pain. In fact, one researcher said that yoga has the opposite effect of chronic pain on the brain. Brain scans show that patients have reduced gray matter (likely related to pain-induced depression and anxiety).
On the other hand, studies show that yoga practitioners have more gray matter in multiple areas, including those related to controlling pain.Another study compared carpal tunnel patients who were given a wrist splint to those who did yoga for eight weeks. Yoga turned out to better reduce pain and improve grip strength. Since poses can be modified, most people can find an appropriate routine, regardless of their health concern.
May Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can contribute to health issues such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. While more research needs to be done to confirm the link, one study showed that regular yoga can protect against inflammatory diseases. It does this by changing pro-inflammatory cytokine levels—proteins that regulate the body’s response to disease and infection. A 2019 study also concluded that yoga might be a viable treatment for inflammation caused by a variety of chronic conditions.
Improves Circulation and Heart Health
If you have poor circulation, it means your blood can’t flow to other body parts. This can cause tingling, pain, numbness and cramps. While you should always aim to treat the underlying cause, yoga is a way to improve circulation.
A 2019 study showed that yoga can boost circulation, helping people recover from major heart attacks. Patients who took an hour each day to practice had hearts more efficient at pumping blood, making them about 16% less likely to die in the next five years. However, that wasn’t the first study to prove that yoga is good for heart health. It has also been found to reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL), both leading causes of heart problems.
May Improve Sleep
According to a national survey, over 55% of people who practiced yoga said it helped them sleep better. It intuitively makes sense that a relaxation practice helps calm your mind, allowing you to sleep better. But research also backs this up. A 2013 study found that a long-term, everyday practice improved elderly people's sleep quality.
A small Harvard study also showed that yoga may help chronic insomnia by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
Promotes a Sense of Connection
Yoga was first developed as a spiritual practice, and many people practice it today to gain a better sense of connection to the world around them. Even if you don’t consider yourself a religious or spiritual person, feeling socially connected has been proven to reduce the risk of death—both in general and from specific diseases.
To put it simply, those who feel connected generally live longer. Studies show that yoga facilitates a sense of connectedness with others and increases social interaction. When researchers asked practitioners why they believed their relationships improved, they said they thought yoga helped them change their perspective, leading to more patience, mindfulness and kindness.
Yoga Routine for the Morning
Starting your morning with yoga can make you feel relaxed while also passing on the health benefits described above. All you need to get started is a mat or rug. Below is a simple morning yoga routine for beginners.
How to Breathe During Morning Yoga for Beginners
There are different breathing techniques practiced during different types of yoga. For this sequence, we recommend slow, deep breathing. While performing each pose, pay attention to your breath. When you inhale, feel your lower abdomen expanding, then your middle abdomen and then your chest.
Once you've achieved a full inhale, release the air in the opposite order: your chest, middle abdomen, and then lower abdomen. When you inhale, your abdomen should physically expand. When you exhale, it should be pushed inwards.
If you’re not used to conscious breathing, you may not feel the difference between the air in your abdomen and chest. However, with practice, you’ll gain a better awareness of where the breath is.
Aim to breathe very slowly. When you first start, you may only feel capable of shallow, quicker breaths. That’s okay. Over time, you’ll notice each inhale and exhale lasting more than a couple of seconds. Breathing this way may feel almost mechanical at first, and you may need to keep reminding yourself of the technique. That’s normal. With practice, it can become second nature.
Lie on your back with your arms by your side and palms facing up. Get into the habit of slow breathing with four breaths.
Roll onto your stomach with both palms planted by your chest. On your inhale, press your thighs and feet into the floor while using your arms to lift your chest off the floor. On your exhale, release your body back into the floor. Repeat for four breaths.
3. Child’s Pose
Get into a kneeling position and then bring your chest toward your thighs, resting your forehead on the mat. Stretch your arms past your head. Stay for four breaths.
Transition onto all fours with your hands planted on the mat and your wrists directly below your shoulders. Pressing your palms into the mat, inhale and look up, making a dip in your spine. On your exhale, tuck your chin into your chest, curving your spine. Continue for four breaths, moving with each inhale and exhale.
5. Downward Dog
From your cat-cow tabletop position, push down on your hands and extend your legs into a quick plank. Then, push your hips up and extend your hands past your head—a little wider than your shoulders. Allow your head to hang relaxed, rolling your shoulders away from your ears to release tension. Stay here for four breaths.
6. Low Lunge
Make a 90-degree angle with your right knee, allowing your left leg to stretch behind you. Reach both arms up toward the sky. Stay here for two breaths and repeat on the left leg.
7. Cobbler's Pose
For your last pose, sit on your mat with your legs bent and the soles of your feet together. Sit tall to elongate your spine. Stay for four breaths.
Practicing Yoga in the Morning
Morning yoga for beginners is a great way to improve your physical health while also clearing your head. While yoga can be beneficial during any time of the day, it can be particularly helpful when done first thing. Cortisol tends to be highest when we wake up. As we’ve described, yoga has been shown to reduce this stress hormone and make you feel calmer. This better mood can last throughout the day.
Since yoga may help you sleep better, you can carry this benefit into the next morning. Instead of dreading the alarm clock, you’ll have a better reason to wake up: you have a practice that makes you feel good.
If you work a job that requires you to sit or stand for long periods, the circulation boost can help fight the poor blood flow you may experience each day. And instead of feeling stiffness during your daily tasks, you can stretch those muscles first thing—helping you move easier.
You can also use your morning yoga routine to set an intention for the day. For example, in the sequence above, you may wish to stay in cobbler’s pose for a few extra breaths and ask yourself, “What do I want to focus on today?”