If you arrive early to a yoga session, you’ll probably witness your fellow students squeezing in some last-minute yoga warm up poses – but is this really necessary?
The answer?… Yes!
Yep, warming up properly for your yoga practice is crucial for optimising your pose performance, avoiding injury and many other benefits.
But, knowing which poses, how to do them and where to begin can be tricky.
Which is why we’re going to walk you through:
- The benefits of yoga warm up sequences.
- How to tailor warm up sequences to different yoga practices.
- The 5 best whole body yoga warm up poses.
Let’s warm up!
What are the benefits of warming up before yoga?
The positive effects of including a yoga warm up sequence into your practice are endless. Here are the best:
1. Prepares your body
Yoga warm up poses help to awaken, activate and prepare our bodies for the wide range of movements we encounter in yoga practices.
By gently introducing stretches and movement to the different areas of our body, yoga warm up sequences encourage circulation, improving blood flow to all our body parts. This helps loosen joints and relieve tension/tightness in our muscles to increase their mobility.
2. Reduces chance of Injury
If you jump straight into deep stretches or strength demanding poses without any warm up, your muscles can be cold and tense, putting you at increased risk of injury.
This is particularly true for older yogis and beginners:
- As we age, our joints and muscles lose flexibility leaving them more prone to strain, tears and other injuries.
- As beginners, our bodies have often not yet acclimatised to the physical demands of many asanas (poses).
But even for younger, regular yogis, yoga warm up is still important to reduce injury:Through stretching and engaging different muscles slowly and gently, yoga warm up poses also allow a mindful way to survey each area of your body and to notice which particular areas require extra focus and which you need to go easy on.
3. Prepares your mind
Yoga warm up poses provide the perfect starting point to get into a yogic state of mind and centre your being – reconnecting your mind to your breath and your body.
Centring describes the meditative process whereby you focus on the present, preventing any stress, worries or thoughts from distracting you from the experience of what is happening in the here and now.
Indeed, yoga warm up is not just about preparing your physical body, but also about preparing your mind. After all, yoga is as much of an exercise of the mind as it is of the body.
4. Optimises performance
Not only does yoga warm up sequences help you avoid injury, but they also help you to optimise your performance.
Many of the benefits of yoga come from the intelligent coordination of breath with movement. Thus by preparing your mind to centre on your body and breathing, warming up helps you to focus on achieving this coordination.
Yep, you will likely find that you are more flexible, able to go deeper into your stretches and hold them with greater balance after having activated and heated your muscle groups.
Tailoring your warm up sequences to different yoga practices.
The type and length of your yoga warm up sequence will depend a little on the intensity of the practice you’re warming up for and which areas of the body it will use the most.
For a moderately demanding yoga practice, a 10-minute whole-body yoga warm up sequence is sweet, and acts as a great template to then tailor the duration and poses depending on your particular routines needs.
To work out how to tailor your yoga warm up sequence, ask yourself the questions below. They might seem obvious, but they’re often overlooked.
1. How active have I been today?
The less active you’ve been during the hours before your yoga practice, the more important the yoga warm up and the longer it should be.
2. How intense is the yoga routine I’m warming up for?
Again, the more physically demanding the yoga routine you’re preparing for, the more comprehensive and extensive the yoga warm up should be.
3. Which parts of my body does the yoga routine use?
If your yoga routine demands significantly more from one body part compared to others, adding in some extra yoga warm up poses focused on activating and preparing this particular area will help avoid injury and improve performance.
4. Do I have any problem areas that need extra attention?
If you have tricky knees, sore shoulders, a tight back or other problem areas, it’s very important to warm them up, but with much more gentle poses that will activate them without causing injury.
5 best all round yoga warm up poses.
The following poses make a great simple and quick warm-up sequence that will not only stretch and activate the whole body but also awaken the mind.
1. The Mind – Child’s Pose
So, the goal to start your yoga warm up sequence should always be to centre the mind.
As well as a very gentle inversion that stretches to the hips, thighs, and ankles, Child’s Pose (Balasana) is a great centerer.
- Beginning by kneeling in the centre of your mat, shift your big toes so they are just touching and lower your bottom down to sit on your heels.
- From here, spread your knees apart so they are just wider than your hips, then exhale and slowly fold forward. Rest your torso in the space between your thighs, pulling your belly and chest as close to the mat as comfortable.
- Allow your arms to rest alongside your body with palms up or lay them on the mat in front of you, palms down reaching hands towards the top of the mat for Extended Child’s Pose.
- Stay here for 1-3 minutes focusing on your breath and your body. If your mind wanders, that’s fine and completely normal! Just notice the thoughts, let them go and return your focus to your breath and body.
Contrary to popular belief, meditative centring isn’t about having a blank mind, or no thoughts at all. Rather, it’s about cultivating your thoughts to centre you in to your experience of what is happening here and now during your yoga practice.
Here are some useful points of focus to help you get there:
- How does my body feel?
- How does my left elbow… my right earlobe… my pinky toe etc feel in this position?
- Am I engaging X muscle or is it relaxed in this pose?
- Is my breathing shallow or deep, fast or slow?
- Can I trace the air in from my nose or mouth, to the back of my esophagus, down to my lungs, and out again?
2. Neck and Ankles – Hero Pose + Head Tilts (Virasana)
- From Child’s Pose, slowly roll back up to a kneeling position, one vertebrae at a time.
- Shift your knees as close together as is comfortable and move your feet apart so that the heels are either side each buttock, and your sit bones are resting in the space between the feet. This is is Hero Pose – feel the stretch in your thighs, knees, and ankles.
- Draw your shoulder blades together and down to lengthen your spine.
- From here, gently bring your chin to your chest. Stay here for 2-3 deep breaths, then return to centre. If you wish, rest your hands on the back of your head allowing their weight to naturally deepen the stretch (be careful no to actively push your neck down!).
- Then gently tilt your head back as far as is comfortable, letting it hang relaxed with neck relaxed too. Stay here for 2-3 deep breaths. Return head to centre.
- Lift your right arm out to the side, then place the area where your right palm meets your wrist in the centre of the top of your head. Let your fingers curl down so they cup the left side of your head.
- In this position, tilt your head to the right, gently(!) using your right hand to deepen the stretch. Experiment with moving this right tilt forward, to centre, and backward, noticing how the tightness in your neck changes.
- Repeat on other side. Throughout try to maintain a centred mind.
3. Shoulders and Spine – Cat-Cow (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
Feel the activation not just in your shoulders and spine, but also in your abdominals and chest!
- From Hero Pose, move forward on to all fours – ankles directly beneath shoulders and hips directly above knees, toes untucked. This is Table Top Pose.
- With a deep in breath arch your spine lifting your sit bones up to the ceiling and eyes up to the sky, bringing your shoulder blades together as you roll your shoulders back and down.
- This is Cow Pose – stay here for 2-3 breaths.
- As you exhale, round your spine tucking your sit bones under. Here, roll shoulders in towards your heart, chin falling to your chest and your gaze moving to your navel.
- This is Cat Pose – stay here for another 2-3 breaths.
- Repeat alternating between Cat / Cow 6 times.
4. Wrists – Dynamic Table Top Pose (Bharmanasana)
During yoga practice, we demand a lot from our wrists, yet this sensitive and important area is often neglected during warm-ups.
- From Cat-Cow, return to Table Top position. Then turn your hands inwards so that palms are flat on the floor and finger tips are facing your knees.
- Keeping palms flat on the floor, gently shift your body weight backwards moving your sit bones towards your heels. Stay here for 2-3 deep breaths, feeling the stretch in your wrists.
- Return your body weight to centre, stay for 2-3 breaths.
- Repeat alternating between these poses 2-4 times. Following this, move to a kneeling positions and shake your hands loosely to release any remaining tension.
5. Back and Side Torso – Wide Leg Side Stretch (Prasarita Padottanasana I)
- Begin seated in the centre of your mat, legs outstretched in front of you.
- From here, slowly bring your legs as wide apart as is comfortable and allows you to keep a straight spine. Flex your ankles for 2 breaths.
- As you exhale, lean your torso forward moving your chest as close to your right knee as comfortable. Rest both palms on your right shin or ankle, or if you can, grasp your right foot.
- Stay here for 4-5 breaths, trying to go deeper into the stretch on each exhale.
- Return to centre, then repeat on other side.
All warmed up but no Yoga place to go?
Why not try these inversion yoga poses to spice up your yoga sequence? Read this: Yoga Inversions: How To, Benefits + 9 Best Inversion Yoga Poses.