Waking up feeling stiff every morning is not a great way to start the day. It can make you apprehensive about getting out of bed and no matter how old you are can make you feel one hundred years old!
In Lennox Head in the northern rivers of New South Whales I teach people of all ages Pilates to help them do life better. A common complaint of my clients is waking up feeling stiff in the morning. A regular movement practice like Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga or Chi Kung is great as a long term solution for feeling stiff, sore and a hundred years old when you wake up in the morning.
However all of us need a quick fix every now and then! The series of movements in this article are moves you can do before you get out of bed to warm up your joints and stimulate circulation and return your blood to your heart for oxygenation before you bounce out of bed.
You may be surprised at how gentle these moves are. That’s deliberate. This series is intended for just after you wake up, we are coaxing the body awake. Don’t underestimate the power of these movement to set you up for a great day of moving just because they are gentle.
Lift your feet
Our blood circulation and lymph slow down during our long overnight sleep.This is why lifting your feet is a great movement to do first thing. I have demonstrated these movements on a roller because it is nice to do these moves with your hips slightly lifted. You could use a pillow or two under the back of your hips for the same effect or you could lift your feet without lifting your hips.
Once your feet are raised, legs reaching to the ceiling, it’s time to get your ankles moving. Start by pointing and flexing your feet luxuriously. Then start to circle your feet one way and then the other. You want most of the movement to be in the ankles with activation in the calf muscles. This activation of your ankles and calfs helps to return your blood to your heart and loosen up your ankle joints so they ready for weight bearing when you stand up.
Gentle lymph drainage is great when you feel stiff every morning. With your hips raised and legs and feet in the air begin gently brushing your skin from your ankle to just above your knee, one leg then the other. The lighter the touch to your skin the better. Tickling your lymph just under your skin to get it moving.
Joseph Pilates was very interested in internal cleansing of the body by flushing the lymph “discharging through your bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue products created by muscular and mental activities”. Clearing the lymph in this way can reenergise your body from the inside out.
Breathing deeply with a ling controlled exhale, making sure you breathe all your air out before your next inhale helps with this ‘internal cleansing’ oxygenating the blood as you move the lymph.
Do each leg a fee times before moving on the other one and repeat both legs a couple of times. You might even feel your cheeks flush a bit as a result of this exercise!
Bicycles both ways
Borrowing now from the Pilates repertoire, hips raised legs and feet in the air, let’s get your legs moving! Bicycles continue this movement of the blood and the lymph as well as mobilising your knees and hips. Begin cycling the legs forward, see if you can touch your foot on the bed as you slide it back towards your bottom, this will activate both the front and back of your hip as you move through hip flexion and gentle hip extension.
Cycle forward for at least 25 circles on both sides.
Then reverse the direction and again as you push your foot away from you see if you can touch the bed with your foot before lifting it into the air. Enjoy the range of movement you are getting in your hips, and take this at your own pace. A brisk pace is nice but you can also slow this down to really articulate through your legs. Listen to what your body wants to do. Do this backward direction at least 25 circles on both sides.
We are moving up the body now to attend to the mid-spine and rib cage. This area can become a bit locked up during sleeping. We want to move any tightness between the facet joints of the spine and between the spine itself and the back of the rib cage.
Lie on your side and make sure your neck is line with your spine, not higher or lower. You can support your head on your arm as shown or have a low pillow beneath your head. Bend your knees and bring your top hand behind your head elbow bent in front. Take a breath in before you move, exhale as you reach your top elbow back, twisting through your waist. Support your head and neck in your hands and allow your eyes to follow your elbow.
Move gently and notice any tightness. You don’t have to force any tightness out, just move gently through it, filling any tighter parts with breath as you move through the twist. After a few rotations this should start to feel delicious! Give yourself at least 6 repetitions of this each side.
As your spine and rib cage begin to glide more easily begin to focus on your breath, inflating your ribs on your inhale and letting them deflate on your exhale. This will set you up with a deep breathing pattern before you get out of bed.
The cost of waking up stiff every morning
Notice the little spring you have in your ankles, a little more ease in your knees, hips swinging a little freer, breath coming more easily. Noticing these tiny changes allow them to be registered by your nervous system, your brain gets the message that all is well. We can move out of survival mode and into living.
Enjoy your day!
If you are interested in how Pilates can help you live better just get in touch on the details below.