Morning Yoga Stretches: 12 Poses in 10 Minutes

Transform how you start your day with this quick routine you can do while your coffee brews.

Young attractive smiling woman practicing yoga, stretching in Scorpion exercise, variation of vrischikasana pose, working out, wearing sportswear, grey pants, bra, indoor full length, home interior.
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When your alarm goes off, are you the type to lounge around for a while, loafing in bed? Or do you make the most of your morning? The difference between lazing versus engaging your muscles can really set the tone for the day ahead.

“Moving first thing in the morning is a great way to set an intention for your day,” says Molly Schenck, a registered somatic movement educator, therapist, and certified yoga teacher. “It not only wakes the body but allows you to focus on what you want to accomplish, challenges you may need to navigate, and keeping a positive mindset throughout your day.”

A morning fitness routine doesn’t need to derail your schedule. With only 10 minutes, you can reset your day with a grounding (yet energizing!) yoga routine.

Why you should start your day with yoga

Even if you don’t fancy yourself a “morning person,” starting your day with something that is a value-add rather than another thing you have to check off your to-do list can cause a ripple effect of positivity. “You will absolutely feel better even after a few minutes of morning yoga, so let it be a nourishing practice that starts your day off right,” says Kelly Smith, a globally renowned yoga and meditation teacher, founder of Yoga For You, and host of the chart-topping Mindful in Minutes podcast. The practice should be a pleasant start to the day rather than a chore. “Let it be easy, and don't overthink it.”

Why 10 minutes of yoga will benefit your day

Ten minutes may not sound like enough time to accomplish anything fitness-related, but your muscles disagree — especially after a long night spent in a relatively constrictive position. “Even 10 minutes of yoga a day has been shown to help reduce stress, improve mobility and flexibility, improve your posture, and boost energy and mental clarity,” says Smith. “It will also help reduce the discomfort in the upper body most people have if they work desk jobs.”

What are the benefits of morning yoga?

There are so many benefits to yoga, both physically and mentally. Since yoga is an introspective practice and a form of mindful movement, you are getting the benefit of connecting with your body first thing, which will, in turn, help reduce morning stress and anxiety. Beyond that, expect increased energy, mobility, and flexibility. “It is also great for your joints because they are self-lubricating, meaning the more you move them, the easier they will move for you during the day,” says Smith.

Speaking of flexibility, yoga works on gently lengthening or “stretching” the muscle fibers over time. Gently engaging and lengthening the muscles in your body will eventually improve your flexibility, says Smith, comparing it to your favorite hair tie getting stretched out with use.

Which yoga is best for the morning?

When deciding what type of yoga is best for you, Schenck says to first become clear on your why because your purpose will inform your choice.

“If you enjoy a slower wake-up process and setting yourself up for success throughout your day, a gentler practice may feel best,” she says. “If you want a workout, a fast-paced asana practice would be best — Vinyasa or Ashtanga. I find if there’s a morning where I’m not sure what movement to do, I go with multiple variations of sun salutations.”

On the flip side, if you feel anxious, yoga nidra is best for calming your body and mind, which is why it’s also great as a before-bed practice.

Find the best poses for a morning yoga routine

Your goal is to help awaken your body, so where do you start? “Focusing on larger muscles when stretching will draw the most amount of blood flow and circulation,” explains Austin Martinez, vice president of training and experience at StretchLab. “Therefore, focusing on the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, erector spinae (muscles along the spine), and the chest area would be best.”

The following is a 12-pose morning yoga flow from Alexa Idama, an Atlanta-based Pilates and yoga teacher and the creator of Low Impact Fit. The flow is a recommendation, but you can adapt it to suit your preferences and body. “You can always add an additional yoga posture of your choice to this flow or spend longer in some of the ones your body needs more time with,” advises Idama. “You can also change the order of this sequence to suit your needs, making sure you always start with some gentle warm-up stretches before going into deeper, longer stretches.”

Schenck agrees that morning routines should be adaptable. “If someone isn’t jiving through a particular sequence, no worries,” she advises. “They can try it in a different order or adapt the movement to meet their needs.”

If yoga is old hat and you’re looking to kick the intensity up a notch, Smith suggests adding some sun salutations (or modified ones: child's pose to modified push up, lower to belly, inhaling baby cobra, then return to child's pose) to boost circulation and also stimulate lymph fluid movement.

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12 yoga poses for a morning flow

For, Idama created a gentle, low-impact yoga routine. Follow these moves to complete a gentle 10-minute routine. If you find one position particularly helpful or relaxing, feel free to stay in it for an extra breath.

Child’s Pose (with side bends)

Person in child's pose and then bending to the side

Benefits: Stretches hips, spine, thighs, and ankles

  1. Come to all fours. Bring your knees a little wider than your hips, with feet slightly closer together.  
  2. Reach your hips to your heels, with arms extending forward. Lengthen into your fingertips and tailbone. 
  3. Allow your chest to sink between your arms and thighs as you exhale. Take at least 4-5 breaths here, allowing yourself to settle deeper into the pose with each breath.   
  4. For a side bend, walk hands to the right side of your mat, reaching your hips away from your hands. Feel the length through the left side of your body.  
  5. Switch sides on an inhale and repeat.  

Cat and cow

Yoga pose: cat cow

Benefits: Mobilizes the vertebrae, creating more mobility and functionality in the spine.

  1. For Cat: Come onto all fours, with knees in line with hips and hands in line with shoulders. Round your tailbone under your knees and let the neck relax. Gaze inward. 
  2. Round your spine by pulling your navel and ribs to the ceiling. Press hands and shins gently into the mat.     
  3. For Cow: Inhale and move the eyes and tailbone away from each other. Look slightly upward and allow the spine to arch. 
  4. Exhale and round the spine to find cat pose again.  
  5. Repeat this 3x.  

Downward facing dog

Downward dog yoga pose

Benefits: Stretches the posterior chain (hamstrings, spinal extensors, and glutes). Strengthens arms, legs, and feet.

  1. From an all-fours position. Tuck the toes under and stretch the hips up so your body forms an inverted letter ‘V.’ 
  2. Reach your hands out, feeling the stretch through your back and pushing your tailbone toward your heels. 
  3. Imagine you are standing on your legs. 
  4. An option to work actively in this position is to pedal the legs. Bend one knee, then the other. 
  5. Do this as many times as feels good. About 4-10 repetitions.   

Low warrior with hands behind the back

Low warrior pose for yoga

Benefits: Stretches chest muscles and front of thigh. Works to open hips and shoulders.

  1. Take a wide step forward. 
  2. Both knees bend, with the back knee coming all the way to the mat. Make sure the front knee is not extending past your ankle. 
  3. Reach arms around your back, clasping your hands behind you. 
  4. Stretch the arms back to lift and open the chest.   
  5. Repeat on the other side.  

Half splits (hamstring stretch)

Half splits yoga pose

Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and calf muscles.

  1. In a kneeling lunge position, frame your front foot with both hands.   
  2. Send your hips back and lean into your front leg to feel the length of your hamstring. 
  3. Try to keep hips square. 
  4. Relax your head and neck. 
  5. Repeat on the other side. 

Seated forward fold

Seated forward fold yoga pose

Benefits: Stretches posterior chain and creates flexibility in the spine and hips. Improves digestion.

  1. Come into a seated position and extend your legs in front of you.  
  2. Fold the upper body forward, rest your hands on your shins, and let your head relax off your shoulders.   
  3. Inhale and exhale all the way out. Walk your hands slowly up the legs to come back up.

Half-legged forward fold (Janu Sirsasana)

Forward fold yoga pose

Benefits: Stretches hamstrings, spine, shoulders and groin. Stimulates the liver and kidneys.

  1. In a seated position, bend one leg and place the foot against the opposite inner thigh. 
  2. Fold yourself over your extended leg. Hands press gently into the mat beside your front leg. 
  3. Abdominals gently pull inward to support the spine.   
  4. Focus on breathing fully in and out. Allow yourself to relax and settle more into the posture with each cycle of breath. 

Windshield wipers

Windshield wipers yoga pose

Benefits: Creates functional mobility in the hips and releases tension in the lower back.

  1. Sit on your mat with knees comfortably bent and feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Lean back slightly and place your hands behind your hips. Use your arms to support you in this position. 
  3. Sway your knees side to side like windshield wipers.  
  4. Do 3 more sets. 

Leg seated twist (Marichiyasana)

Seated twist yoga pose

Benefits: Improves spinal mobility, opens the shoulders, and improves posture and breathing.

  1. Sit on your mat and bend your knee. Place the foot as close to your right butt cheek as possible. 
  2. Gently rotate toward the right leg, wrapping the left arm around the leg as if you were giving it a hug. Right hand comes directly behind the right hips.  
  3. Press down with your hand to lift through the spine. Look over your right shoulder. 
  4. Focus on breathing fully. Take 3-5 breaths before repeating on the other side. 

Reclined twists

Reclined twist yoga pose

Benefits: Improves spinal mobility. Lengthens supporting spinal muscles and releases the lower back.

  1. Lie down on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms come out to the sides.
  2. Let your knees drop to the right. Take your gaze to the left. Breathe in and out.  
  3. Take 3-5 full cycles of breath. 
  4. Repeat on the other side. 


Bridge yoga pose

Benefits: Strengthens hamstrings and glutes while engaging muscles of the front body.

  1. Lie down on your mat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your heels under your knees. Legs are hips width apart. 
  2. Arms long by your side gently pressing into the mat. 
  3. Roll your hips up about a fist width of the mat. 
  4. Gently stretch your knees forward as your hips come up. 
  5. Roll down through the spine and repeat 3-5 times. 

Happy baby variation

Happy baby yoga pose

Benefits: Releases pelvis and lower back. Can help improve breathing.

  1. Lie on your back and bring your knees up to your armpits.  
  2. Hold on to your shins with your hands. 
  3. Gently rock from side to side, massaging your lower back.  
  4. Inhale deeply in and out. Feel yourself grounded. 

Seated breathing

Seated meditation yoga pose

Benefits: Improves breathing patterns, oxygenates the body, and calms the mind.

  1. Sit in a seated position with your legs crossed and eyes closed.  
  2. Exhale all the air out of your lungs through the lips.  
  3. Inhale through the nose.  
  4. Exhale through the lips.  
  5. Repeat for 5-10 cycles of breath.  

Tips for practicing morning yoga

It's important to remember everyone is different, so always trust your own body, listen to what it needs, and take it slow when you're first starting a yoga practice. “Think of your body when it is starting yoga like a credit card,” suggests Smith.

Getting started: preparing for morning yoga

The habit of practicing yoga in the morning begins the night before. A good night’s sleep is critical, but Schenck also urges everyone to set themselves up for success by making sure they go to bed with the intention of waking up to engage in movement. “The night before, gather the things you want to have available for your practice — a journal, a candle, mat, blocks, etc. — and make sure they are readily available for you in the morning,” she says. “Make it as easy as possible to roll out of bed and into movement. If possible, practice near nature or near indoor plants that keep the air clean.” Follow a grounding bedtime routine. If it helps you unwind, follow this 15-minute bed yoga routine to help you sleep.

In the morning, it’s ok to practice on an empty stomach or nourish yourself first with breakfast — it’s just a personal preference, though traditional yogis would practice before eating. Wear any attire you can move comfortably in; Schenck is a big fan of practicing in pajamas, as that makes it even easier to create a habit because there are fewer excuses to skip it. As you get going, start light: Smith advises saving more intense poses or deeper stretches for the end of your practice after your body is warmed up and activated.

Does this take the place of regular workouts?

Stretching falls into the category of movement, and Martinez says any type of movement is beneficial to the body. However, unless you’re doing a really intense yoga practice (something far beyond this 10-minute stretch), it’s probably just one tool in your arsenal of exercise options. “I encourage clients to incorporate as much variety as possible into their movement practices, so think of adding yoga as a way to build a more robust movement vocabulary within your overall wellness and fitness routines,” says Schenck.

Mindfulness and breathing techniques

Before diving right into your stretch routine, Smith likes to focus on a couple of mindfulness exercises. First, she takes a minute to check in, without judgment, to see how she’s feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally to get a gauge on what she’s experiencing today. Next, she’ll do a few rounds of “senses cycling” to bring herself into the moment — asking herself what she hears, sees, smells, tastes, and feels. And then she’ll do a short, guided meditation targeted to whatever she may need that day (motivation, focus, calm, etc.).

Once your mind is primed, turn your attention to your breathing. Smith says deep belly breathing helps to calm the nervous system, clear the mind, and get the breath flowing, which in turn stimulates your circulation and lymphatic system. She’s also a fan of alternate nostril breathing to activate both sides of the brain and reduce mental fogginess and fatigue.

“Creating that mind-body connection with awareness of breath allows you to start your day with a sense of calm,” says Idama. “That calm often sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

Cooling down: relaxation and savasana

Once you’ve completed the routine, regardless of whether or not you broke a sweat, you’ve earned a cooldown. “Many would argue that savasana is the most important and the most challenging pose in yoga,” says Smith. “It is hard to practice intentional stillness, but it is important for mind/body health. It is important to include this even for a minute or two each time you practice, as it helps reduce blood pressure, calms the nervous system, and reduces stress and fatigue.”

And don’t be alarmed if you feel a bit sore as you settle into your new daily habit. “Any time we place new demands or strain on our body with movement, the body must learn and adapt to that new movement,” says Martinez.

At the end of the day, follow this healthy new practice up with a cooldown, and you’ll start and finish the day strongly.