I love watching Gingi, my orange tabby, stretch every morning as he wakes up. He opens his green eyes and lets his entire body stretch, so elegantly, it makes me feel as if stretching is the most natural thing to do when waking up. It reminds me that I also used to stretch first thing in the morning when I was a child, and as I grew older this great habit unfortunately disappeared.

During this pandemic year, I have been practicing yoga three times a week. Since my travel and music tours got rescheduled thanks to COVID-19, my practice has been very consistent and even inspired me to release new music: the “Inner Violin” album, violin songs dedicated to zen, yoga, and meditation. During this past year, my yoga practice has become a habit and has impacted me profoundly. Gradually, it has even changed my posture and the way I move.

One day I woke up in the morning and started stretching my body like in the old days. I could not believe it.

I sat on my bed in my pink PJs and stretched. I noticed that I was doing the same yoga stretches I do at the beginning of every yoga class. So simple and yet so effective. My yoga teacher, Zeni, from Pure Bliss Yoga, in Fort Lee N.J., likes to start her classes with gentle yoga stretches while in a seated position. It always seems like a perfect transition to the yoga practice, right after the initial meditation, and before we start the yoga asanas (poses). It is a gentle way to wake up and warm up the body, and I now do these stretches first thing every morning in my PJs, before I have my coffee and start producing new songs. These few seconds of simple movements energize me, put a smile on my face, and even help my violin playing posture. These five stretches have become my daily stretching routine. You don’t need to practice yoga, be flexible, or in shape to enjoy the benefits of stretching. Try it yourself!

How to stretch?

My daily stretching routine

Start in a seated position. This could be sitting on your heels, or, perhaps more comfortably, sitting cross-legged. If you find your knees lifting higher than your hips, prop with a pillow under your seat.

1.  Stretch up to the sky
Inhale in the morning light as you sweep your arms out and up to the sky.  Exhale and circle your arms back down to the earth. Take a moment to feel the surface under your fingertips — your bedsheets, or the ground wherever you may be sitting! Repeat a few more times — breathing in more light and more joy with each inhale, and rooting down through your fingertips as you exhale. You may find both your breath and your movements extending and expanding just a little more with each consecutive round.

Benefits of stretching: This movement lifts your energy up and helps you feel more grounded preparing you for a great day. A great stretch for upper back pain

2.  Side stretches
Walk your right hand out to the right, as far as you can, keeping your left sit-bone down. Bend your right elbow toward the ground, to go a little deeper. Now stretch your left arm up and over the head to the right, turning the palm to face down, but actively reaching through the fingertips. Think of your trunk lengthening out of both sides of the waist. Breath and repeat to the left!

Benefits of stretching: These side stretches help the spine get more flexible and rejuvenate your whole being. I personally find this gentle movement to be a helpful stretch for lower back pain.

3.  Stretch and twist to the sides
Start with twisting to your right. Basically, your left arm will cross in front, right arm behind the torso. Try placing your left hand to the outer right knee while turning your torso to the right, and wrap your right arm around your low back, with the palm facing away, or if available to you, hand might tuck in the left hip crease. Your chin will gently move in the direction of your back shoulder. Send your gaze down the sides of your nose, toward the tip and beyond. Keep the eyes and face relaxed. You can stay here for three breaths (that’s three inhales and three exhales). You might feel like a wet hand towel being wrung out, as you try to squeeze out of you all the lingering tiredness and sluggishness from the night before. With each inhale, feel your spine getting taller and your lungs expanding bigger. With each exhale, release all that doesn’t serve you, weighs you down, binds you, or pollutes you, and squeeze in your belly button a tiny bit further back toward the spine. Don’t forget to repeat on the other side! To twist left, your right arm will cross in front and the left arm, crosses behind! And don’t forget to breath.

Benefits of stretching: These twists will stimulate your digestion, and help you purify and sparkle from the inside out. It is the perfect stretch for lower back pain. (Note, if you are pregnant, please skip this. These types of twists are contraindicated for pregnancy.)

4. Stretch like a cat
Interlace your fingers in front of you and round your back like a cat. Draw your stomach inward. This movement rejuvenates the body and gives an instant energy boost. You will be stretching the back of the neck and lengthening the spine. Here is my daily stretching routine inspiration: Gingi.

5.  Stretch and bend forward
Walk your hands forward. Draw your belly in and wiggle your sit-bones back but keep them rooted down. Let your head and whole back relax and get heavier toward the ground. Stay here for five breaths. 

Benefits of stretching: This forward fold stretches your glutes and gives you one more pause to check in with your inner self before you get your legs moving. Another great stretch for lower back pain.

This simple morning daily stretching routine of gentle movements will help your body wake up and find dynamic balance as you navigate about your day. You will instantly feel energized, mobilized, centered, and ready to seize the day!

A very special thanks to my yoga teacher, Zeni Pepper, for contributing to my well-being and also helping with the descriptions of these yoga stretches.