It is a prerequisite to prepare the body for an injury-free, fulfilling, and strong workout. If we look closely, a warm-up session is the ideal way to stir up our body into alertness by increasing the flow of blood to all our muscles, and enhancing circulation.
In addition, the routine creates flexibility in our tendons, allowing our bodies to explore more depth when performing asanas. So while yogis can be creative and customize their own sequence, it is advisable to follows three basic rules:
1) Always move in one direction only—upwards or downwards—head to toes, or from your toes to your head.
2) Make sure you follow and sustain the same breathing pattern. Your breath should flow easily and naturally, and be deep (not shallow). Knowing when to inhale and exhale with ease and for long durations is essential.
3) Lastly, attempt to engage all your muscles and joints.
With that in mind, here’s a warm-up routine to help you kick-start your practice:
Tadasana, Or Mountain Pose
Benefits: Improves balance, strengthens the core, tones and stretches the knees, thighs, back, and arms, relieves constipation, improves blood circulation, strengthens the digestive system, and improves flexibility.
Step 1: Stand with your feet together. Firmly ground all your toes, tighten your shins and thighs so your knee caps pull up, pull in your core, lift your chest, shoulders rotated back and relaxed, spine erect, crown of the head extended straight upwards, eyes focused straight ahead.
Step 2: Be sure to keep your arms relaxed by your sides, palms facing forward. Hold for five full breaths (five long inhales and exhales).
Step 3: Inhale, lift your arms up over your head. Extend up through your fingers and be very sure not to stress your shoulders.
Step 4: Press down on your feet, elongating your spine as much as you can. Hold for three full breaths. Exhale and bring your arms back down by your sides.
Utkatasana, Or Chair Pose
Benefits: Tones leg muscles, strengthens the hip flexors, knees, ankles, calves, and back, strengthens the core, opens the chest and shoulders, and stimulates the heart.
Step 1: Stand with your feet together, so your heels and toes touch.
Step 2: Lift your arms up so that they are parallel to the floor. Engage your entire arm so that your elbows are locked and triceps muscles are contracted.
Step 3: Stretch your fingertips forward, shoulders relaxed.
Step 4: Next, sit your hips down into an imaginary chair. Keep your weight back in your heels.
Step 5: Now, lift your chest up and keep your spine straight by keeping your upper body back. Hold for five full breaths. Gently exit into starting position.
Uttanasana, Or Forward Fold
Benefits: Great way to relieve depression and anxiety, keeps the spine in great condition, calms the mind, and improves the digestive system. It is also good for people suffering from high blood pressure, great for relieving sinuses, treats infertility, stimulates the liver, kidney and spleen, cures insomnia, relieves headaches, increases spine flexibility, and strengthens the thighs, knees, calves, hamstrings and hips.
Step 1: Stand with your feet together, heels and toes touching. Place your hands on your waist and jump to open your feet about 4-6 inches wide.
Step 2: Press your feet firmly into the ground and contract your legs tight. Take a long inhale as you stretch and lengthen your spine upwards, with the crown of your head extending up to the sky.
Step 3: Exhale and bend forward from your waist, core pulled in tight. Keep your chin and chest protruding forward, and come down with control as low as you can.
Step 4: If you are flexible and can touch the ground, gently press your palms on the floor and soften your shoulder blades.
Step 5: Lengthen your neck and gently pull your shoulders away from your ears. Relax and breathe here for five full breaths, and gently exit by placing your hands back on your waist, core tight; come up with control to your original position.
Step 6: If you are unable to reach the ground, try coming down half way and place a chair in front of you to place your hands on, hold for five full breaths and exit slowly.
Step 7: Press into your feet and activate your legs, moving your thighs back and lifting your tailbone upward.
Step 8: Press gently into your hands and soften between your shoulder blades. Extend the crown of your head forward creating extension in your neck and draw the shoulders away from your ears.
Ideally, surya namaskars or sun salutations are considered to be the best way to warm up the entire body. But, these asanas can hit all the right spots and prep your body for an intense session, too.
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