Mornings can be tough. And if your daily cup of coffee just isn’t doing it for you lately, adding some movement to your daily routine might be just what you need. And science agrees! Studies show that exercise has an acute positive effect on cognitive function and your ability to concentrate. In other words, your morning sweat sesh can help you feel more alert and focused post-exercise.(1)
Building energy doesn’t require burpees or jump squats (although if that’s your thing, then more power to you), but some gentle yoga poses that turn up the heat a little will do just fine. Try these 8 poses to cultivate some positive energy to feel refreshed and ready for your day!
1. Mountain (Tadasana)
Benefits: This pose is more than it seems. Mountain pose gives you an opportunity to ground down through your foundation and increase postural awareness. Take the opportunity to turn inward and focus on activating your core and postural muscles, while grounding down through your feet and expanding your breath.
How To: Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, pushing down through all four corners of your feet evenly. Pull your shoulders back and down, with your palms facing forward at your sides. Pull your ribcage down towards your pelvis but keep your heart space open. Tuck your tailbone down slightly and engage your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
2. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
Benefits: This pose brings the heat! Feel your body start to wake up as your quads, core, and upper back muscles are activated in this pose.
How To: Begin in Mountain pose. Bend your knees as you sit your hips back, and keep your weight primarily in your heels. Reach your arms overhead as your shoulders pull back and down. Slightly tuck your pelvis under and engage your core. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Benefits: Improve your focus and open your body to receiving positive energy with Warrior II. This hip and chest opener helps you focus on body awareness and postural alignment to stimulate your mind and muscles.
How To: Begin in down dog and step one leg between your hands at the top of the mat. Rise up to open your body to the long edge of your mat, arms extending forwards and backward. Stack your shoulders over your hips, and knee over your ankle. Seal the outer edge of your back foot to the mat. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Chaturanga Dandasana
Benefits: This fiery asana tests your upper body and core. As a challenging posture, chaturanga stimulates an increase in heart rate and blood flow, waking you up physically and mentally.
How To: Start in high plank pose. Inhale and shift forward on your toes, exhale and bend your elbows as you keep them tucked into your torso as you lower to hover a few inches off your mat. Hold for 1-3 deep breaths.
5. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
Benefits: Tree is a balancing posture that requires focus and concentration. As a single-leg pose, it activates the small accessory muscles of the lower leg and foot to fire up the lower body.
How To: Begin in Mountain pose and start to shift your weight to one foot. When you feel stable, place the sole of your opposite foot against the inside of your shin or thigh. Extend your arms overhead, keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears. Hold for 3-5 breaths, and repeat on the opposite side.
6. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Benefits: This gentle backbend opens your heart space and activates your posterior chain (the muscles in the back of your body). Cobra creates space in your chest to allow big expansive breaths and send oxygen out to your muscles. Backbends are particularly energizing as they stimulate your nervous system through spinal extension.
How To: Begin on your stomach with your palms planted on the mat on either side of your chest. Inhale as you peel your chest off the mat, activating your upper back muscles and staying light on your hands. Tighten your core and tuck your tailbone down towards the mat. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
7. Camel (Ustrasana)
Benefits: Camel pose is a deep backbend that opens the chest, providing similar benefits to Cobra. Doing a few warm-up backbends (like Cobra or Upward Facing Dog) is a great way to prepare for this asana, doubling down on the backbend benefits!
How To: Begin kneeling on both knees, lengthening your tailbone down and the crown of your head up towards the sky. Bring both hands to your low back to support your lumbar spine. Continue lengthening your spine as you start to bend back, keeping your chest open. Option to keep your chin tucked, or let your head drop back if that feels okay on your neck. Hold for 1-3 deep breaths.
8. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Benefits: Inversions, even gentle ones like downward dog, bring freshly oxygenated blood to your brain for an energy boost. This posture also provides a nice stretch for the chest and hamstrings.
How To: Begin in high plank. Lift your hips up towards the sky as you press your chest back towards your thighs. Bring a soft bend to the knees allowing your heels to ground towards the ground. Let your head and neck release, and press evenly through all ten fingertips.
Bonus: Classic Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
Benefits: This sequence of poses pairs your breath with movement for a flow that heats up your body and awakens your mind.
How To: Begin at the top of your mat in mountain pose. Inhale, reach your arms overhead and send your gaze up. Exhale, forward fold, hinge at the hips, and let your upper body get heavy. Bend your knees a little or a lot to take any pressure out of your low back. Inhale, half lift by placing your palms on the front of your shins and maintaining a flat back. Lengthen your spine by reaching the crown of your head forward and your tailbone back. Exhale fold to plant your palms on your mat and step back into plank. Inhale and shift forward on your toes, exhale lower your body all the way down to your mat. Inhale, untuck your toes and peel your chest off the mat for cobra. Exhale, lower back to your mat and push up through plank into downward facing dog. Inhale, bend your knees. Exhale, and step to the top of your mat for forward fold. Inhale, halfway lift. Exhale, fold. Inhale, rise up, and reach for the sky. Exhale, mountain pose, and bring your hands in prayer to heart center. Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
1. B., Labban, J. D., Gapin, J. I., & Etnier, J. L. (2012). The effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance: A meta-analysis. Brain Research, 1453, 87–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2012.02.068. Accessed 6 October 2023.