Most yoga studios will advise that you arrive at a yoga class 10 -15 mins early to warm up. Unfortunately, this presents a problem for many students who worry they don't know what to do and fear that they are doing their warm-ups "wrong."
Sitting on your yoga mat waiting for class to start can be awkward, and time can be spent wondering if you're doing suitable poses. Some students have admitted to lying down before class or arriving just before class to skip the warm-up.
In this blog post, we will talk about four simple yoga poses that are easy to remember and simple to do. These poses will have you looking like you know what you're doing and, at the same time, keep you injury free.
We are going to explore
* Good warm-up poses should .....
* What are the four best yoga warm-up poses?
* Why these four poses are the best?
Good warm-up poses should ......
Good warm-up poses should ........ Bring blood flow to the muscles - Along with blood comes energy, oxygen and nutrients. By encouraging the increase of blood to your muscles, you are preparing them to have what they need to work. This helps you to get the most out of more challenging and less familiar poses.
Good warm-up poses should ........It gives your body and mind the correct cues helping to inform them what is coming up. Good warm-ups are always appropriate for what comes after them. You don't run a marathon to warm up for a yoga class, and you don't do only leg stretches to warm up for a game of table tennis. You want easy yoga poses and joint movements to warm up for a more challenging yoga class. Warm-ups that get the heart beating at the same speed as it will need to be for the rest of the class. Warm-ups should get the blood circulating to the right areas, brush away cobwebs in the muscles and lubricate joints that you might use later in the class.
Good warm-up poses should ........Contain easy poses. Poses that your body can do with confidence. Simple poses can help you focus on your body and what is happening today. Simple poses help you focus on the quality of posture and breathing. When we Practice more challenging poses, we spend time on shapes and thoughts such as "Is my alignment what the teacher is asking for in this pose?"
Good warm-up poses should ........Prevent common injuries by beginning to work muscles and slowly open joints before you extend to the fullness of your ability. For this, I always think of bread being needed. If you don't knead bread properly, you end up with scones. If you don't warm up appropriately, your stiff when you "do" your yoga poses. You don't get the depth out of the pose, and your muscles are more prone to injury.
What are the four best yoga warm-up poses?
Heroin Pose - Virasana
Knees in together and feet about mat width distance apart. This turns the Hips inward. The main aim is to lower the bottom towards the ground between the feet. If you can't get your bottom down to the ground, feel free to sit on a block, book, or stool to give you more space while your hips soften.
Be careful of your knees in this pose. You should not feel any pain or discomfort in this area. If this pose is too much, you can do this pose one leg at a time with the other leg out in front and a forward fold. The Heroin pose encourages a turned-in position of the hip joints. We don't often turn in the hip joint, and if the hips are stiff and don't easily assume this position, the knees can take on some of the strain. While the hips are built to turn in, the knees are not. Discomfort, pressure or knee pain is a sign that you should make the pose easier on the body. This will bring all of the work of the Heroin pose into the hip joints. Over time as the hip joints open and soften, you will find that you can go deeper into this pose without doing damage to your knees.
Downward-facing hero pose - Adho Mukha virasana
Big toes touching and knees mat width distance apart. Fold forward, and if appropriate for you, rest your forehead on the ground. This pose is sometimes known as a child's pose. I usually do the child's pose with my arms beside my body and my spine in a much more rounded position. I use the downward-facing hero pose to lengthen and traction out my spine. This neutral spine is a position that we don't see in many poses and is one you should take full advantage of. It is not forward, back bent or twisted, or side bent. It is just long, or what we osteopaths would call tractioned out. A long tractioned spine position helps to decompress and make space within the spine. Downward-facing hero pose also benefits you by gaping and opening the knee joints, helping to improve lower limb circulation and warm up the hip and ankle joints. It makes a good warm-up because it prepares the soles of the feet for standing poses.
Easy Crossed legs -Sukhasana.
This is not a well-named pose; most people I know do not find crossed legs "easy". The name easy crossed legs is used to distinguish between this pose, a loosely crossed-legged position, where the knees are relatively close to each other, and the more advanced pose, where the knees are far away from each other with the ankles lined up in front of the body's midline. Easy and advanced cross legs are very different poses with different purposes. When practising easy crossed legs as part of a warm-up sequence, we want to make the most of the knees close together to warm up the outer hips and the top of the lateral hamstrings. To make the most of the easy crossed legs, it is best to bring both legs out in front to start, and when you cross the legs, you take one ankle under the opposite knee and then fold that leg in front, giving you a loose crossed leg position. It is tempting at this point to want to pull the legs in, but when you pull the legs towards you, you will tighten the cross legs and change the effects of the pose.
Butterfly pose / bound angle pose - Buddha Konasana
Butterfly or bound angle pose is a classic hip warm-up pose; it uses external rotation of the hips. The hips cannot be fought with. There are so many very strong muscles that cross the hip joints. The more you force the hips, the more these muscles will tighten up and resist the movement. The best way to get the hips to increase their flexibility is to relax and let them open over time. I have seen many people get into butterfly pose and push on one of their legs with their hands to try and get that leg to open down towards the ground. If you are one of those people, I challenge you to consider this pose a warm-up. To let the legs, over time, open down towards the ground and, in some cases, actually put pillows and cushions under the knees allowing the knees to relax and be supported. You will find that although you feel you are using less effort, your hips will open faster.
Why these four poses are the best
No right or wrong answer exists to the best poses to warm your body. It is hard to warm up for a class when you don't know what is coming in that class; for this reason that I have given you four poses that will suit any style.
If you are a person who can listen to your body, then you can go with what your body needs on that day. However, most people (especially if you are new to yoga) need more structure hence these four poses. So feel free to take these four poses and make them your own.
These four Yoga poses were adapted from an Iyengar yoga class I took a while ago. The aim was primarily to warm up the hips and feet for the standing poses. Iyengar yoga is famous for its standing poses. However, for two reasons, I have kept them as my essential yoga warm-ups for any yoga class.
In our modern lives, we spend too much time sitting; our hips are static and stiffen up in a sitting position. After eight hours of sitting per day, it is too much to ask the hips to do an hour-long stretching session and support you in different places without an excellent warm-up to unlock them.
The majority of things my students complain about are their backs or their knees. Stiffness in the hips means that if we are trying to force our bodies into a foreign position and can't get the movement we desire in our hips, we can overuse and push into the joints next to the hips to try to make the "shape" we expect the joints that take the most of this forcing are the knees and the back.
My online studio the four essential warm-up poses. If you are already a member, you can view it here. In this link, you can do the four essential warm-up poses at the same time as me while I give you instructions on how to safely do each pose and alternatives for if you have knee pain or other injuries that might mean that these poses need to be modified.
I have also recently added a video for my online studio members called Twisted Dragon Pose, which demonstrates the poses within a class structure.