We’ve all been there—the fog of rising early in the morning, the slump that hits us right after lunch, the daze of being unable to make another step in the direction of our dreams because we ARE exhausted.
Many of us turn to yoga when we want to find calm and relax into our already over–stimulated lives, but can yoga help us when we need to stay awake? I offer you an affirmative “Heck YES!” Here are a few yoga poses and practices that demonstrate just how.
1. Upward-Facing Salute – Urdhva Hastasana
We begin with Urdhva Hastasana because it’s a pose your body naturally does when it wants to wake up. When you yawn really big or take your first morning stretch in bed, you will find the shape of Urdhva Hastasana emerging—your arms lift over your head, your belly and chest broadly stretch, and the muscles of your legs engage and extend away from your head.
Every backbending pose in yoga, including Urdhva Hastasana, offers these same benefits: they stimulate your sympathetic nervous system and increase your energy. Think of being startled—you gasp, throw your hands over your head and arch back. This startle response prepares you to have a confrontation or to run away—or perhaps in our case, just get you through that 2pm meeting.
2. Breath of Joy
Popularized by the author of Yoga for Depression this breathing technique acts as a catalyst for increasing breath capacity beyond shallow, upper-chest breathing so that we can wake up to life again.
There’s a palpable power in sweeping your strong arms through space, inhaling deeply through three short bursts of breath, and letting out a long, loud exhale while bowing forward. This breath will quickly get your blood pumping and your brain firing.
3. Downward Facing Dog –Adho Mukha Svanasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana is an excellent counter pose for the other backbends mentioned in this piece and it offers the invigorating actions of strengthening your arms and your legs, stretching your spine, and bringing your head below your heart.
This mild inversion will increase blood flow to your brain and energize your whole body. Advanced yogis can hop into full handstand pose from here to feel the powerful effects of a total inversion.
4. Reverse/Exalted Warrior Pose – Viparita Virabhadrasana
If Breath of Joy didn’t teach you that a deeper breath can pick you up faster than a double espresso, this pose will reiterate the message. Viparita Virabhadrasana stretches the tiny intercostal muscles between each of your ribs that, when unstretched, can limit your capacity to breathe deeply.
In addition, the pose energizes your lower body—stretching your hips and groins while strengthening your legs. Bonus: You get to enjoy the pose on each side for double the wake-up effect.
5. Dancer Pose – Natarajasana
Natarajasana takes all the benefits of a backbend and adds the focus of standing on one leg. Finding your point of focus and maintaining your balance are sure to teach you that closing your eyes and drifting into a peaceful sleep is the furthest thing from your reality right now.
Next time you find yourself struggling to open your eyes wide and breath deep, I hope you turn to your yoga – it’s a powerful, versatile practice that leaves you more than awake to what comes next.
Image credit: Mandy Martini