This post takes you through some warm-up exercises you can perform to prepare your body for yoga practice. Warming up your muscles increases the flexibility of your joints, gets your blood circulating and loosens stiff muscles to help prevent injury. You should perform a warm-up sequence at the beginning of every yoga practice. You can include any of the poses discussed in this chapter in your own personalized warm-up sequence…
Neck stretching exercises are useful for warming up your neck and relaxing your neck, head and face. You may also find that neck stretches can relieve mental tension or stress that you may be experiencing. You can perform neck stretches in a seated pose, such as Easy Pose or Lotus Pose. You can also perform neck stretches in a standing pose, such as Mountain Pose, or while sitting in a chair.
As you perform neck stretches, you should focus on sending your breath to the muscles in your neck that you want to relax. By focusing on your breath while stretching your neck, you can also help improve your awareness of your breathing as you practice yoga. You should never feel any strain when stretching your neck. Make sure you only move your head to a position where you feel a comfortable stretch. You should also keep your jaw and shoulders relaxed throughout the exercise. Use caution performing neck stretches if you have problems with your neck.
How to do a Neck Stretch…
- Begin in Easy Pose.
- Exhale and lower your chin toward your chest.
- Visualize the space you are creating in the back of your neck.
- Inhale and raise your chin toward the ceiling. Visualize the front of your neck and throat gently stretching and opening.
- Make sure you keep the back of your neck long and do not allow your head to drop back.
Shoulder stretching exercises are useful for relieving tightness in your upper back, shoulders and neck. You may also find that shoulder stretches can relieve stress and help clear your mind. Regular practice of shoulder stretches can increase the range of motion in your shoulders. You can perform shoulder stretches in a seated pose, such as Easy Pose. You can also perform shoulder stretches in a standing pose, such as Mountain Pose, or while sitting in a chair. As you perform the first exercise shown in the steps below, make sure you do not lift your shoulders. The stretch should only be a back and forward movement.
The second exercise requires that you focus on the opposite movement. As you shrug your shoulders up and down, try not to move your shoulders forward or back. For both exercises, allow your arms to follow the movement of your shoulders, rather than participating in the stretch. You should be careful performing shoulder stretches if you have a shoulder injury.
How to do Shoulder Stretching…
- Inhale and squeeze your shoulders back, bringing your shoulder blades toward each other.
- Visualize your chest opening and expanding.
- Exhale and bring your shoulders forward, creating space between your shoulder blades.
- Allow your arms to follow the movement of your shoulders.
Arm stretching exercises are an excellent way to warm up your arms in preparation for a yoga session. You can perform these exercises to improve the circulation in your upper body, particularly your arms, hands, fingers and the area around your heart. These exercises can also relieve tension from your shoulders and neck and even release tension from your mind. The steps below illustrate two arm stretching exercises. As you perform the first exercise, your entire body should feel balanced. You should also focus on how your breathing works in connection with the arm movements to warm up your body and focus your mind.
As you perform these arm stretches, you should feel the lift coming from your waist as you raise your arms. At the same time, you should feel your chest lifting and expanding. Expanding your chest can increase your capacity for deep breathing in this exercise. Make sure you use caution performing these arms stretches if you have shoulder or arm problems.
How to do Arm Stretching…
- Inhale as you circle your arms out to each side and then bring your palms together overhead.
- Your fingertips should be touching, with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling.
- Make sure your shoulders are relaxed down away from your ears.
- Your arms should be straight but your elbows should not be locked. Position your hands in Prayer Pose.
Prayer Pose is a basic arm position you can perform to create variety in many different standing or seated poses. This pose can help to increase the flexibility of your wrists. While performing Prayer Pose, lift your chest as you roll your shoulders back and relax your shoulders and elbows down. Make sure you keep the pressure between your palms gentle and soft.
You can also perform Reverse Prayer Pose, which is very similar to Prayer Pose, except you position your hands behind your back. This pose stretches your shoulders and elbows, in addition to increasing the flexibility of your arms, wrists, hands and fingers. In Reverse Prayer Pose, your hands should ideally be positioned between your shoulder blades, but only move your hands up as far as is comfortable for you. If you find this position too difficult, you can hold your elbows behind your back instead. Use caution performing Prayer Pose or Reverse Prayer Pose if you have shoulder, arm or elbow problems.
How to do the Prayer Pose
- Begin in Mountain Pose. Bend your elbows and bring your palms together in front of the center of your chest.
- Reverse Prayer Pose Begins in Mountain Pose. Move your arms behind your back and bring your fingertips together, with your fingers pointing toward the floor.
- Turn your hands inward until your fingers are pointing toward the ceiling. Press your palms together and slowly move your hands up your back as far as is comfortable for you. Your elbows should be lower than your wrists and your fingers should be pointing toward the ceiling. Lift your chest toward your thumbs as you relax your shoulders down.
Spinal Roll is a great exercise to perform to warm up your spine. This exercise can also relieve tension in your lower back, which is especially useful if you spend a lot of time standing. You can perform Spinal Roll as a transition from seated to standing poses. Spinal Roll is also useful for coming out of standing forward bends. Instead of coming out of a standing forward bend with a flat back, you can perform Spinal Roll which places less stress on your lower back. If you have lower back problems, coming out of a standing forward bend with Spinal Roll is particularly helpful.
As you allow your upper body to hang down in Spinal Roll, visualize space being created between each vertebra of your spine as your spine lengthens toward the floor. As you roll up, focus on rolling your spine up one vertebra at a time ––stacking each vertebra on top of the previous one. Make sure you use caution performing Spinal Roll if you have high blood pressure.
How to do the Spinal Roll
- Place your hands on the floor slightly in front of you, with your palms facing down.
- Press your hands into the floor. Exhale as you straighten your legs, lifting your hips toward the ceiling. Allow your hands to lift off the floor and your upper body to hang loosely toward the floor. Relax your head, neck and shoulders. Press your feet into the floor and bend your knees slightly.
- Tuck your tailbone under and inhale as you slowly roll your spine up one vertebra at a time. Your shoulders, neck and head should come up last.
Spinal Rocking, also called Rocking Chair, is useful for massaging and warming up your spine. Massaging your spine helps relax your nervous system. You can perform Spinal Rocking to alleviate drowsiness or stiffness you may experience when you wake up in the morning. Spinal Rocking is also useful for warming up your spine for inversions, such as Shoulderstad. Do not practice Spinal Rocking on a hard surface. Instead, spread a blanket the length of your body flat out on the floor. Make sure that when you roll back, your head stays at the same level as your spine and does not roll off the edge of the blanket.
In the modified version of Spinal Rocking, you can hold the pose to stretch your upper back and neck. Make sure you avoid this modification if you have high blood pressure, a neck injury or if you are menstruating. You should avoid Spinal Rocking if you have a neck, upper back or spinal injury.
How to do Spinal Rocking
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent, as close to your chest as possible. Your feet should be flat on the floor, hip width or slightly wider apart.
- Tilt your head toward your chest to lengthen the back of your neck. Keep your spine rounded as you exhale and roll backward.
- Straighten your legs slightly as you roll back. Make sure you do not roll too far back on your neck. Hold your legs just below or behind your knees.
Rock the Baby
Rock the Baby is a warm-up pose that provides an excellent stretch to your hips. You may want to perform this pose to prepare for seated poses, such as Half Lotus Pose or Lotus Pose. Rock the Baby is also a good stretch to perform in preparation for Lunge Pose. As you rock your leg in this pose, make sure you focus on the movement in your hip, not the movement of your leg. It is also important to keep your spine as straight as possible in this stretch.
If you find it difficult to place your leg in the crooks of your elbows, you can perform the stretch with one hand holding your knee and one hand holding your ankle. You may also want to extend your other leg in front of you to help you stay grounded as you perform the stretch. You should use caution performing Rock the Baby if you have knee or hip problems.
How to do Rock The Baby
- Clasp your right foot with your left hand.
- Place your right foot in the crook of your left elbow. Place your right knee in the crook of your right elbow.
- Your right shin should be parallel to the floor.
- Clasp your right knee with your right hand.
Leg Raises warm up your legs and strengthen your abdominals and lower back. This exercise is also beneficial for stretching your hamstrings. When you raise your leg in this exercise, your other leg may lift off the floor. Make sure that your other leg remains on the floor throughout the exercise. It is also important to make sure that you keep both of your hips on the floor throughout the exercise. To avoid arching your neck, you should lengthen your neck by tucking your chin toward your chest.
Only raise your leg until you feel a comfortable stretch. It is more important to keep your lower back pressed into the floor and your shoulders relaxed down than it is to raise your leg as high as possible. Even if you are flexible, make sure you do not move your leg past a 90-degree angle with the floor. You should use caution performing Leg Raises if you have problems with your neck or lower back.
How to do Leg Raises
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and your feet together.
- Place your arms on the floor at your sides, with your palms facing down.
- Tuck your chin toward your chest to lengthen your neck. Your shoulders should be relaxed and down.
- Exhale and press your lower back into the floor. Make sure your lower back remains pressed into the floor throughout the exercise. Your arms should be straight, but your elbows should not be locked.
- TipFlex your right foot. Inhale and lift your right leg toward the ceiling.
- Keep your leg straight, but do not lock your knee as you raise your leg.
- Your leg should not move past a 90-degree angle with the floor. Exhale and lower your right leg back down to the floor. As you lift and lower your leg, press through your heel and visualize your entire leg lengthening.
Pelvic Tilt is a warm-up pose that increases the flexibility of your lower back and pelvis. The rocking movement of this pose also helps to lengthen your lower spine. When you first perform Pelvic Tilt, you may be tempted to exaggerate the rocking motion of your pelvis. Instead, keep the movement of your pelvis natural and within your own range of motion. You should notice how the movement of your lower back creates a ripple effect up your spine. You should also try to coordinate the rocking motion with your breath and relax the muscles that are not directly involved in the pose.
You can modify Pelvic Tilt by adding movement to your upper body as you rock your pelvis. Make sure you do not use your arms to lift your head and neck in this modification. You should keep your elbows back and your chest open, making sure you do not feel any strain in your neck.
How to do a Pelvic Tilt
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, with your heels directly under your knees. Exhale as you gently tilt your pelvis and press your lower back into the floor.
- As your pelvis tilts, your tailbone curls up and your hips remain on the floor. Rest your arms on the floor at your sides, with your palms facing up. Press out through the crown of your head to keep your neck long.
- Inhale as you tilt your pelvis in the opposite direction and press your tailbone toward the floor. As your pelvis tilts, your lower back arches slightly.
- Visualize the rocking motion creating a ripple effect up your spine as you synchronize the motion with your breath.
- You can add upper body movement to Pelvic Tilt. Perform Pelvic Tilt, except interlace your fingers behind your head.
- Your elbows should point out to the sides. As you press your lower back into the floor, lift your chest, neck and head off the floor. Then lower your shoulders, neck and head back down as you arch your lower back. Repeat this modification three to five times.
Little Boat Pose
Little Boat Pose stretches and releases your spine, lower back and hips. This pose is often used as a warm-up pose. While performing Little Boat Pose, it is important to keep your arms and shoulders relaxed as you rest your hands on top of your knees. Do not use your arms to bring your knees toward your chest. Instead, release your hips so that your knees drop toward your chest naturally.
As you hold the pose, feel your body relaxing down to the floor with each exhalation. Visualizing yourself as a little boat bobbing on the waves of your breath may help you relax even further into the pose. You can modify Little Boat Pose to release and stretch your hips independently. You can perform Little Boat Pose holding only one leg, while the other leg remains bent or stretched away from you. Do not stretch one leg away from you if you have lower back problems.
How to do the Little Boat Pose
Avoid Little Boat Pose if you have recently had a hernia or a knee injury.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart.
- Rest your hands on top of your knees. Your arms and shoulders should be relaxed. Exhale as you relax your head, neck and spine toward the floor.
- Soften and release your hips to allow your knees to drop further toward your chest. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Draw your knees toward your chest. Release your lower back toward the floor.
- You can perform Little Boat Pose holding one leg at a time. This allows you to stretch your hips independently.
- Perform Little Boat Pose, except bring only your right knee toward your chest. Then repeat the modification for your other side.
- You can perform Little Boat Pose holding one leg and stretching the other leg away from you. This allows you to feel a deeper stretch in your hips and lower back.
- Perform Little Boat Pose, except start with your legs straight. Then bend your right knee and bring the knee toward your chest. Repeat the modification for your other side.