To keep students safe, and prevent injuries, warm-ups should take place before asana practice. When you do no warm-up, you are left with cold muscles, tendons and ligaments, and as a result you can be more vulnerable to injuries. Yoga involves a lot of stretching, and it would be easier for a yoga-related injury to occur on a body that has not been prepared through a warm-up.
Warming up can gradually increase your heart rate and blood circulation. It loosens your joints and prepares your body for physical activity. In addition to prepping your body, some warm-up stretches can help ease your mind into the yoga mindset.
So how do you warm-up for a yoga session? Here are a few warm-up stretches to try.
- Pelvic Tilts: This involves lying down on the mat and slowly pressing your lower back against the floor. Do this by curling your tailbone up toward your belly button, creating a tuck to your pelvis. Doing this takes the arch out of your spine so that your back lays flat on the floor. Next, untuck the tailbone by arching the tailbone down to create a small arch in the lower spine. Then repeat. This is a subtle but exaggerated movement that relaxes your spine. It is particularly effective if you have a stiff back and need to loosen it.
- Eagle Arms: This is a simple pose consisting of your arms crossing over each other. This moves straightens your back and stretches your shoulder blades together. Below is a picture example for you.
- Head Tilts (or Neck Stretches) While Sitting Cross-Legged: This is the move that is often pictured with practicing yoga. This warm-up is a great for warm-ups as neck stretches are a fantastic way to ease the tension and stress that builds in the neck, face, and jaw. This loosens the muscles and prepares the body for a relaxing session. This warm-up is best practiced in a seated position. To practice this technique, tilt your head to each side or around in a circular motion to loosen the stiff areas in your neck and shoulders. Keep in mind that the head should never drop back. Caution: Although this warm-up is fantastic for reducing tension, it can be harmful if practiced incorrectly. Aggressive neck rolling, or hyperextension of the neck, can impede blood circulation to the brain which can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain, dizziness, and sometimes temporary loss of consciousness. It can also affect the nerve pathways in the back of your neck by pinching the nerve, which can result in pain down the arms, numbness, or even weakness. This can happen to anyone but it most common with students in their mid-thirties and older. Because of this, we caution advising students to hang their heads back in a hyperextension of the neck. Avoid neck rolls with the head tilted back. You should also never put any pressure on the neck with your hands. Gently placing your hands behind the head is okay, but you should never pull down on the neck. To safely practice this warm-up, with a slight extension back to open the throat, below is an example of how to do so:
- Once in a comfortable seated position, lengthen your back. On an inhale, slowly drop the head forward towards your chest. Exhale as you slowly bring the head back to center and then, slowly and slightly, tilt the head back to open the throat (Do not roll in this position). Inhale and come back to center. Continue to breath as you inhale again and drop your head forward to your chest. Slightly tilt your head to the right for a couple of breaths and then come back to center. Do the same to the left. On an exhale come back to center and lift your head, being sure to align your neck and spine. Repeat this for a couple of cycles (typically 2-3 times).
- Downward-Facing Dog: Asanas can also be used during your warm-ups. This yoga move consists of balancing on both of your feet and hands while you face the floor, and stretching your hips upward. This move affects several parts of your body in a very positive way.
- Reach for your Toes: This is a very basic stretch that usually goes with a warm-up. This is similar to Forward Bend, Standing or Forward Bend, Seated.
- Quadriceps Standings: This move consists of standing up, raising your heal toward your buttocks, and grabbing your ankle to stretch your quadriceps.
- Spine Curve: This move consists of laying face down on the floor, then pushing your chest up by your arms. This stretches your spine and back muscles. This is similar to Sphinx.