Morning Yoga Routine to do before you even get out of bed!

After teaching my late class at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch this evening, the oh-so-ominous topic of the dreaded Home Practice came up, as it often does. The talk was about how only coming to class once a week isn’t enough, but that it can be so very challenging to do any yoga at home, what with the dinner / dog / TV / sofa / children / work / (fill in the blank) getting in the way while you are trying to make your way to your mat. I suggested that the solution is to do a quick yoga routine in the morning before even getting out of bed – I firmly believe that 10 minutes of mindful yoga a day is far more powerful than an hour once a week, as long as you are using those 10 minutes to really connect with your breath, listen to your body, still the mind and focus on an intention.

As such, I was reminded of a lovely article on the Gaiam blog by Sadie Nardini  that I saw a while back. She gives some very simple yet effective asana for whilst you are still cuddled up in your duvet on these cooler Autumn mornings.  To see the original post (with photos) click here, or read on for the description of what to do.

Enjoy, and let me know how it goes!

Waking up doesn’t have to be something you do begrudgingly after pressing the snooze button nine times. It can be something you want to do, a crucial 5-minute window of opportunity that changes your whole day for the better.

If used wisely, the few minutes between being in dreamland and getting up can boost your best mood, kick start your commitment to eat well, and increase your likelihood to work out that day — all while you’re still in bed! All that’s better than one more snooze button press, I’d say.

Whether your exercise form is yoga or not, studies say that if you wake up in a way that stimulates the body’s blood flow, balances the hormonal system and detoxes you, you’re more apt to continue those healthy habits all day long.

My students love this next sequence, for its ability to do all of the above, plus shake off sleep and promote more energy and alertness, while maintaining a calm, centered mind. Studies, schmudies … my clients say that doing this sequence (or not) is often what makes them decide to continue on with their morning workout, or to skip it.

Beginning to move mindfully before the mind’s resistance gets involved is a magic bullet — before the other eye opens, you’ll already well on their way to an endorphin-filled morning, and a more focused, fit, and self-confident day.

Now, that’s worth waking up for!


The Practice


Directly out of sleep or snooze, come to lie on your back. Place the feet together, knees open wide. Rest one hand an your lower belly and one over your chest as you begin to take slow, deep breaths through your nose. Inhale, and expand your body so the hands rise. Retain the inhale for a few beats, then let your exhale happen naturally as the hands fall. At the end of your exhale, contract around your navel to gently press the remaining air out of your lungs. Retain the exhale for a few counts.

Repeat for 10 breaths.



Start to work the kinks out of your low back and begin your cleansing inversions as you draw your knees back beside your ribcage. Press your hips towards the mattress, so your seat doesn’t lift up, and draw the knees down with fingers around the big toes, outer feet or behind your knees.

Hold for 5-10 breaths.



Take the pillow from behind your head and bend your knees to lift hips and place the pillow underneath. To fully detox, legs and hips must be elevated above the heart, heart above the head. So if more pillows are in order, keep ‘em handy. Lift your legs into the air, or rest them on your bed board or wall for more support.

Hold for 10 breaths or more.



Slowly roll onto your right side, and gently press up into a cross-legged easy seat. Wrap your right elbow over your left, bend the arms and touch left fingers to [or towards] the right palm. Lift your elbows to shoulder height, but drop the shoulders. Keep a long spine, and after a few breaths, try rounding the spine, chin to chest, to stretch the upper back.

Take 5-10 breaths here, then uncross arms and repeat with left elbow on top.



Return to a neutral spine, and bring your left hand onto right knee. Reach your right arm into the air on an inhale, and keeping the spine long, exhale and begin to spin your chest, right shoulder and head to the right. Circle your right arm behind you, fingertips down. Inhales maintain the length of your torso, exhales help you to gently spiral through the heart and neck as you tone and spark your energy.

Take 5-10 breaths on each side.



After your twist, swing your legs off the bed and come to stand with bent legs. Make fists and place them in the opposite elbows (Bent elbows and fists trigger your body to release tension in the back muscles). Fold over your bent legs, and relax your back, shoulders and head completely. Breathe here, feeling any unwanted tension draining into the floor. BTW: This is a great pose at work, or anytime you’re feeling an energy crash and want to get back on track!

Remain in the pose for one minute, then slowly roll to stand, reach overhead for a full body-stretching inhale. Continue into your morning workout, or go start your day from center!


Yoga: Religion versus Spirituality

My parents are both deeply spiritual as opposed to religious (see definition below) and having grown up in an atheist home, I’ve always been fairly sceptical when it came to following or committing to a mainstream doctrine. My mum and my dear old gran were both yoginis, so maybe I was brainwashed in that respect from an early age, in the way that many kids are in many ways led by what their role models do in front of them on a daily basis. I’ve definitely held a somewhat romantic idea of being a ‘child of the Universe’ and a believer of science rather than any specific school of thought from an early age, but as I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, I find that I am teetering increasing between the two – old school vs new school; orthodox vs (perceived) hippy-chick weirdness. The thing that makes it even more interesting (well, to me at least; perhaps you find it deathly boring, in which case I would suggest that you close your browser pretty much now) is that my sister went the other way, embracing the old school, orthodox and reborn way of thinking about religion. Thank heavens (safe enough?) that we have learnt to respect our differences as the years march on.

Herewith some explanations of some of my current thoughts.

Yoga, for some, becomes a spiritual experience, leading to confusion about how its practice impacts one’s religious beliefs. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who explore yoga actually discover that it strengthens and deepens their own faith.

In her book Back Care Basics, Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz explains: “Because yoga has its roots in the Hindu culture of India, there is a popular misconception that yoga is a religion. Just as the practice of the Japanese martial arts of karate and aikido does not require becoming a Buddhist, the practice of yoga does not require you adopt Hinduism. Rather yoga is non-sectarian, promoting health and harmonious living.”

Yoga is fabulous for physical health. A regular regimen will strengthen your muscles, increase your flexibility and improve your balance. In Western cultures, many people pursue the practice strictly for these benefits. However, most long-term yoga participants discover that the ultimate goal of yoga is to strengthen your connection with the source of all creation. In many cultures, this source is called God. In other cultures, the source has different names. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the practice of yoga enhances your physical and mental well-being and can strengthen your relationship to what she calls ‘the Divine’.

So, what is the difference between spirituality and religion?

Dr. Larry Dossey, a leader in the field of spirituality and healing, describes spirituality as “a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself.” Dr. Rachel Remen describes it in this way: “Spirituality is inclusive. We all participate in the spiritual at all times, whether we know it or not. There’s no place to go to be separated from the spiritual. The most important thing in defining the spirit is the recognition that spirit is an essential need of human nature.”

Religion is an organized system of faith or worship. According to Dr. Dossey, it is “a ritualized form of spirituality involving a specific set of beliefs, worship and conduct.” As a path for spiritual growth, yoga enhances and deepens many different religious practices. Yoga is not a system of faith or worship, but it does foster a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself. In other words, yoga fosters spirituality in a way that is compatible with many different religious beliefs.

Next question: How does one practice spirituality in yoga?

Many people begin to cultivate a greater sense of connection with each other, with the physical world and with the Divine simply by practicing the physical postures, control of the breath and meditation. People who choose to can also study the moral precepts of yoga. These guidelines for healthy living are known as the yamas and the niyamas.

The yamas are universal guidelines for ways of interacting with others and include nonviolence, truthfulness, no stealing, moderation and no hoarding. The niyamas are personal observances and include purity, contentment, zeal, self-study and devotion to a higher power. Together, the yamas and the niyamas are moral and behavioral observances that serve as a catalyst to self-acceptance, healthy relationships and spiritual growth.

The Million Dollar Question: Yoga – a religion or not?

At the closing ceremony of the “Yoga into the 21st Century” conference in New York City in September of 2000, T.K.V. Desikachar offered some thought-provoking comments on the subject of the relationship between hatha yoga and religion. “Yoga was rejected by Hinduism,” he noted, “because yoga would not insist that God exists. It didn’t say there was no God but just wouldn’t insist there was.” And, he added, there was an important lesson for yogis inherent in this schism: “Yoga is not a religion and should not [affiliate] with any religion.”

One could easily argue in support of Mr. Desikachar’s assertion: Yoga has no singular creed, nor does it have any ritual by which adherents profess their faith or allegiance, such as baptism or confirmation. There are no religious obligations, such as attending weekly worship services, receiving sacraments, fasting on certain days, or performing a devotional pilgrimage.

On the other hand, there are ancient yogic texts (most notably, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) that many regard as scriptures, revelations of truth and wisdom meant to guide the lives of yogis down through the ages. And there is an elaborate moral code (the yamas and niyamas, as mentioned above) that, while not uniformly espoused or understood, is widely studied and promulgated. Likewise, while there is significant variety in the ways hatha yoga is taught, raising questions about what is and is not a proper yoga posture, most yogis would probably tell you that they’d know a pose when they saw one, leading one to suggest that the various schools of yoga could be considered “sects” of a larger quasi-religion.

Still, most would disavow the term “religion” if it were applied to yoga. This begs the question: If hatha yoga is not a religion, what is it? Is it a hobby, a sport, a fitness regimen, a recreational activity? Or is it a discipline such as the study of law or the practice of medicine? The odd truth is that there are ways in which the practice of yoga resembles all of those pursuits.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the difference between the word “religion” and another word commonly associated with it, “spirituality.” Spirituality, it could be said, has to do with one’s interior life, the ever-evolving understanding of one’s self and one’s place in the cosmos—what Viktor Frankl called humankind’s “search for meaning.” Religion, on the other hand, can be seen as spirituality’s external counterpart, the organizational structure we give to our individual and collective spiritual processes: the rituals, doctrines, prayers, chants, and ceremonies, and the congregations that come together to share them.

The fact that so many yogis report spiritual experiences in their practices indicates how we might best view the ancient art. While many Westerners come to yoga primarily for its health benefits, it seems safe to say that most people who open to yoga will, in time, find its meditative qualities and more subtle effects on the mind and emotions equally (if not more) beneficial. They will, in other words, come to see yoga as a spiritual practice. But, without credos or congregations, it can’t properly be regarded as a religion—unless we say that each yogi and yogini comprises a religion of one.

So, what do you say? Is yoga your religion, or does it enhance your existing faith?