Yoga Warm UPs : “TO KEEP THE BODY IN GOOD HEALTH IS A DUTY . . . OTHERWISE WE SHALL NOT BE ABLE TO KEEP OUR MINDS STRONG AND CLEAR.”  Buddha

Admit it: Do you Yoga Warm UPs before every yoga workout at home? Or do you usually skip it because you don’t have much time . . . or much patience? Your intentions may be good, but next thing you know, you’re doing Downward Dog without having stretched your legs first. Bad dog!

I hope this chapter will convince all of us who invariably skip the warm-up that not only is it healthy to Yoga Warm UPs before any kind of exercise—including yoga—but it feels good, too. You don’t need to make it a long Yoga Warm UPs. Three or four different stretches is all it takes to get the muscles in your neck, shoulders, torso, and legs warmed up and moving. Warming up increases circulation to the parts of your body that you will be using and also helps your mind focus on these areas, resulting in a more effective yoga session.

Warming up for a yoga session is done slowly and with concentration. In general, the Yoga Warm UPs are simple, dynamic movements that bend, flex, twist, and stretch different parts of the body and prepare you for the more strenuous poses to come. This chapter features 27 warm-ups that can be done standing, kneeling, sitting, lying on your back, and lying on your stomach. Your body may instinctively let you know which warm-up feels just right, or you may wish to refer to the sessions in chapters 6 and 7 for recommendations on what works best before a particular pose.

One bonus a good Yoga Warm UPs session provides is that you will enjoy similar physical and emotional benefits to those gained from a yoga workout. For example, doing a warm-up such as Knee Hug (page 46) will give your lower back muscles an excellent stretch, massage your entire back and lower abdominal organs, and increase energy throughout your body. A few rounds of

 Chopping Wood (page 35) will activate and energize the nervous system, work your arms and backs of your legs, and bring a healthy glow to your complexion. And you’ve reaped these benefits before you’ve actually started your yoga session.

I hope you’re convinced that the Yoga Warm UPs is an integral part of a yoga practice. But don’t take my word for it. Try a few of the following warm-ups and experience the benefits for yourself.

Standing Yoga Warm UPs

STANDING PELVIC TILT

You can do Standing Pelvic Tilt almost anywhere or anytime—at work or while waiting in line (you don’t really need a wall to lean against; simply tilt your pelvis as you stand). This warm-up helps prevent and relieve lower back fatigue, strengthens the abdominal muscles, and promotes an overall feeling of relaxation.

  • Stand with your back against a wall. Your heels should be about 6 inches from the wall.
  • Keep your feet separated and parallel and your knees slightly bent. You can rest your hands on your thighs, by your sides, or along the wall.
  • On an exhalation, tilt your pubic bone up and tailbone down by contracting your abdominal muscles. Inhale as your lower back presses against the wall.
  • Repeat this subtle pelvic movement several times.

 BARREL MOVEMENT

Loosen your back and hips as you move your lower body in a circular motion, as if you were using a hoola hoop. This slow, hypnotic movement increases flexibility in the lower back, loosens the hips, relaxes the body, and calms the mind.

  • Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart. Arms hang loosely by your sides. Make sure your spine is comfortably extended, your shoulders are down away from your ears, and your abdominal muscles are slightly engaged.
  • Close or lower your eyes.
  • Inhale and slowly begin making small circles with your hips in a clockwise direction.
  • Gradually allow the circles to expand so that your hips are moving in large circles. Try to keep your upper body stationary; the movement should be in your hips only. Imagine that you’ve wrapped a towel around your hips and that you are trying to clean the inside of a barrel.
  • Continue for 12 clockwise circles.
  • Stop. Breathe and feel the energy swirling in your hips, lower back, and abdomen.
  • Resume by making small circles in the opposite (counterclockwise) direction.
  • Gradually increase the size of your circles. Make the inside of that barrel shine!
  • Make 12 circles. Stop. Relax as you enjoy feeling the energy whirl.

TORSO TWIST

We used to do this when we were kids, just for the fun of it. As a Yoga Warm UPs, it loosens up your arms, torso, spine, and waist. Try it anytime you realize you’ve been sitting too long and haven’t moved around much. It will energize your upper body and make you feel like a little kid again.

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your spine is comfortably extended, and your shoulders are away from the ears. Your arms hang loosely by your sides.
  • Engage your abdominal muscles slightly.
  • Begin turning your upper body, shoulder first, from one side to the other. As you alternate, allow your arms to swing slowly as though they were empty coat sleeves.
  • Let your head follow the movement of your upper body.
  • As you pick up the pace, allow the heel of your right foot to come off the floor when your body turns to the left. Your left heel rises when your body turns to the right.
  • Repeat this side-to-side motion for as long as you like.
  • When you feel ready, slow the motion and gradually return to center. Feel the energy stream through your body.

  CHOPPING WOOD

This Yoga Warm UPs is guaranteed to awaken your whole system and get things moving by increasing your heart rate and respiration. The circulation throughout your body will increase, and your complexion will improve. The easy forward- bending motion limbers up your back and lessens neck strain. Don’t perform this warm-up if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma.

•             Stand with legs about shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees slightly bent to avoid strain in the lower back.

•             Inhale through your mouth and raise your arms over your head as if you were holding a hatchet.

•             Bend your knees. Exhale through your mouth, slightly tuck your chin, and bend from the waist while allowing your arms to fall forward and down in a chopping motion. Bend as far as you can with comfort.

•             Inhale and raise your upper body.

•             Continue this “chopping” movement 12 times. Increase the flow of energy by making each exhalation audible. As you repeat the movement, your body may naturally bend further as your arms get closer to the floor. If it feels comfortable, allow the natural swing of your arms to go through your legs.

•             Return to a standing position and lower your arms. Feel the energy course through your body.

 WATER WHEEL

This dynamic Yoga Warm UPs releases tension in the pelvic area, limbers the spinal column, and increases respiration and circulation while energizing the entire system. Imagine the energy moving up and down your spine in a smooth, fluid motion, like water cascading over a dam. Don’t perform this warm-up if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma.

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, with knees slightly bent.
  • Place your palms against your lower back, fingers pointing down.
  • Relax your lower jaw as you open your mouth slightly. Inhale through the mouth and arch backward, gently pressing your hands into your lower back for support. Gaze upward, keeping your neck in line with the spine to avoid putting any pressure on your neck.
  • Exhale through the mouth and “spill” forward like a water wheel, bringing your chin toward your chest and letting your upper body hang and arms dangle. Keep your knees bent.
  • Repeat the movement 8 to 12 times. Feel free to add sound when you exhale to really get your energy flowing.

 HANDS-TO-WALL STRETCH

This movement tones and strengthens the muscles of the upper chest and strengthens the arms and wrists. The farther you stand from the wall, the more energetic the exercise will be and the more you will work your chest and arm muscles.

  • Stand with your spine comfortably extended, arms shoulder-distance apart in front of you with your palms against the wall.
  • Position your body so you are an arm’s length from the wall. Your body is straight, leaning in at a slight angle.
  • The fingers of both hands point toward each other slightly, touching but not overlapping. (If this is uncomfortable, adjust the hand position.) Your shoulders are relaxed, and your feet are flat on the floor. Engage the abdominals to prevent arching in the lower back.
  • Inhale. Exhale and slowly bend the elbows so that, gradually and with control, your upper body moves toward the wall.
  • Bring your face as close to the wall as you can with comfort. Your body remains straight. Do not bend at the waist or knees.
  • Hold for a few moments, breathing normally.
  • Inhale and slowly push away from the wall until your arms are straight and your body is erect. Lower your arms. Relax and breathe normally.
  • Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Kneeling Warm-Ups

CAT AND DOG STRETCH

As you alternate between an angry hunchback cat and a happy swayback dog, you increase the suppleness of your spine; stretch the muscles along your back, neck, and arms; and improve circulation. Doing Cat and Dog Stretch will keep your spine flexible and strong, so important to maintaining good posture and overall well-being.

•             Kneel in “table position,” with knees under hips and arms beneath the shoulders.

•             Your back is flat, and your head faces downward to create an extension in the back of the neck.

•             Exhale and slowly drop your head and tailbone. Arch your back and exhale further as you pull your navel up toward your spine. Imagine you are a hissing cat.

•             Inhale and slowly raise your head and tailbone, letting your abdomen move toward the floor. Your back is now curved in a subtle swayback position. Look up slightly without overextending the neck. Imagine you are a friendly dog.

•             Continue alternating, moving slowly between cat and dog 10 times.

•             As your spine warms up, deepen your inhalations and exhalations.

SIDE-TO-SIDE STRETCH

Here’s a wonderful Yoga Warm UPs that perhaps you’ve never done—moving your spine from one side to the other as though you were a dog trying to see its own tail by looking to one side, then the other. This side-to-side movement also keeps the spine flexible and stretches the muscles along the sides of the upper torso. Do this after Cat and Dog Stretch (facing page), which moves the spine in a different direction; done together, these two stretches will greatly reduce any stiffness caused by too much sitting and inactivity.

•             Kneel in “table position,” with knees under hips and arms beneath the shoulders.

•             Your back is straight, and your head faces downward.

•             Turn your head to the left so that you are looking behind you. At the same time, move your lower body to the left so that your body is in the shape of a comma. Don’t strain. Feel a gentle stretch on the right side of the body.

•             Now reverse the stretch so you are making a comma of your body on the right side. Feel a gentle stretch on the left side of your body.

•             Alternate 5 times on each side.

THREADING THE NEEDLE

Feel tension dissipate after a few rounds of Threading the Needle. This warm-up loosens the muscles in the back, shoulders, and neck while releasing tension in the neck and shoulders. At the same time, it massages the abdominal organs and relaxes and refreshes the entire system.

•             Begin in “table position,” with arms under shoulders and knees under hips.

•             Imagine that your right hand holds a needle and long thread. Inhale and lift your right arm out to the side and then up toward the ceiling; if your neck permits, allow your gaze to follow your hand.

•             Exhale and thread the imaginary needle through the space under your left arm. Allow your right shoulder, upper arm, and side of the face to “melt” into the floor.

•             Remain in this position for several seconds. Let your breath help you soften further into the pose.

•             For an added stretch, raise your left arm toward the ceiling. If your neck feels okay, look up at your raised hand.

•             Make small, slow clockwise circles, gradually increasing in size; then reverse direction.

•             Slowly return to “table position” and repeat on other side.

 Seated Warm-Ups

Most of us find that our necks bear the brunt of the stress and tension in our lives. These simple neck movements can be done while you’re sitting at your desk, watching television, or waiting for the train. One side of your neck may be tighter than the other, so be gentle and don’t overstretch. The popping or gritting noises you may hear will usually subside over time. The movements lubricate and stretch the neck joints and relieve residual tension in the neck and shoulders.

  • Sit with your spine comfortably extended and your head upright.
  • Exhale and drop your head forward, with your chin toward your chest.
  • Inhale and raise your head up so that chin is level with the floor.
  • Repeat 5 to 7 times.
  • With your head upright, slowly drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Hold for a few breaths, allowing the right side of your neck to release.
  • Let your right hand fall toward the floor and allow it to pull your right shoulder down slightly to gently increase the stretch.
  • Take your left hand and place it just above your right ear. Increase the stretch by adding some gentle pressure with your hand, increasing the stretch ever so slightly. Be careful not to tug or pull your head to the left. Hold for 8 to 10 seconds.
  • Relax the left hand to the floor, returning your head to an upright position.
  • Perform the stretch on the opposite side.

SHOULDER SHRUGS, CIRCLES, AND TWISTS

If there’s one place where we hold tension, it is usually the neck and shoulders. The next time you feel tense (during a difficult meeting, while waiting for an important phone call, after a trying day), notice if your neck aches and your shoulders are hunched up and tight. These three movements will cure what ails you while improving flexibility in the upper back, shoulders, and arms; stretching the muscles along the upper torso; and increasing upper arm strength.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Bring both shoulders up toward the ears as high as you can. Exaggerate the shrug and accentuate the holding.
  • Release, letting shoulders drop back and down.
  • Repeat a few times.
  • Bend both elbows and lightly place your fingertips on top of your shoulders.
  • Rotate your elbows as though you were drawing small circles on the walls.
  • Circle 5 times in one direction; reverse direction and circle 5 more times.
  • Drop your arms. As you breathe deeply, focus on how relaxed your neck and shoulders feel.
  • Once again, bend both elbows and lightly place your hands on your shoulders.
  • Inhale and exhale while, slowly and with control, turn your upper torso and head to the right. Hold for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and return to center. Exhale and slowly turn your upper torso and head to the left. Hold for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and return to center. Repeat 8 to 10 times on each side. Without straining or forcing, engage the abdominal muscles slightly (to support the back) and try to turn a bit further each time.

BLADE

 This warm-up not only feels good, but it can be done at your desk whenever you need a quick refresher. It helps tone and strengthen the pectoral muscles and opens the chest. The Blade also releases tension held between the shoulder blades, helping to relax the entire body.

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your spine extended.
  • Inhale, raising your arms out to the sides at shoulder level in a T position. Bend your elbows so your arms are in front of your chest, palms down. Your hands come toward each other with the tips of the middle fingers touching lightly.
  • Exhale. Inhale slowly as you gradually push backward with your elbows so that your hands move away from one another. Feel your shoulder blades come together with a steady, squeezing motion.
  • Hold the position, with your arms as far back as is comfortable, for a few seconds, breathing normally.
  • Exhale and, with focus, bring your arms back to start position.
  • Repeat the movement slowly 3 to 5 times.
  • Exhale and gradually release the position, letting your arms fall to your sides. Relax by shrugging your shoulders and gently shaking out your hands a few times.

Supine Warm-Ups

FULL BODY STRETCH

Do this Yoga Warm UPs before your yoga session to make sure your body is completely stretched out and ready for the upcoming poses. It loosens up the muscles of your arms, legs, and torso while stretching your spinal column to its fullest length. Coordinating your breath with the movement removes toxins and increases circulation throughout the body. This is also a great stretch to do in bed when you wake up in the morning.

  • Lie on your back. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • On an inhalation, bring your arms up over your head and onto the floor so that the backs of your hands rest on the mat or towel. Be careful not to overstretch your shoulder joints.
  • Exhale and stretch your arms and legs in opposite directions. Open your hands so the fingers are splayed; point your toes. Open your mouth and your eyes wide.
  • Really stretch.
  • Imagine that a friend has taken hold of your wrists while another friend holds your ankles. Together they gently and lovingly pull on your wrists and ankles, giving you the best stretch you’ve ever had.
  • Continue to breathe, stretching further with each exhalation.
  • Exhale deeply, return your arms to your sides, and relax your entire body. Feel a sense of letting go as you release further into the floor.

KNEE DOWN TWIST

This exercise will Yoga Warm UPs your back and hips. It’s a great stretch to do before Pigeon (page 117).

  • Lie on your back with legs extended and about hip-distance apart. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Extend your arms out to each side in a T position, palms turned up.
  • Bend your left knee. Place the left foot lightly on the right thigh wherever it is comfortable.
  • Try to keep your left shoulder on the floor. Inhale.
  • On an exhalation, begin to lower your left knee to the right so that it crosses over your body.
  • To assist in lowering your knee to the floor, place your right hand on your left knee and use it to gently and gradually guide your knee to the right.
  • Do not let your left hip go beyond the imaginary vertical line formed by both hips. Your left hip may be stacked above the right, but don’t allow it to go any further.
  • If your neck permits, slowly turn your head to the left without straining.
  • Breathe deeply as you hold the twist for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Inhale and return your left leg to the center. Feel the results.
  • Straighten the leg and complete the posture on the other side. Compare your right and left hips and notice the differences.
  • Repeat a few times on each side.

KNEE HUG

Can’t get thee to a massage therapist? Treat yourself to a simple and effective lower back massage with Knee Hug. This warm-up stretches the lower back muscles while massaging the entire back and the lower abdominal organs. Feel energy being restored to your entire body.

  • Lie on your back with your head resting comfortably on the floor. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bend both knees and bring them to your chest.
  • Wrap your arms around both shins, grasping your forearms or wrists. Lightly squeeze your legs.
  • Gently roll from side to side, massaging the lower back. Your head rests comfortably on the floor and moves in the same direction as the body.
  • For a variation, unfold your arms and place your hands on your knees. Part your knees slightly and make slow circles with them, massaging your hips and sacrum into the floor.
  • Allow your movements to be slow and gentle. Your head stays on the floor at all times.

ALTERNATING KNEE HUG

This warm-up provides the same benefits as Knee Hug but is more energetic, since it tones the abdominal muscles. In addition, it strengthens the neck muscles, which can gradually weaken as we grow older. It also helps restore energy throughout the body. Alternating Knee Hug is a great stretch to do after a long day at the office.

  • Lie on your back. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bring both knees into your chest. If your neck permits, raise your forehead to your knees, keeping space between your chin and chest. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears throughout the repetitions. If you experience discomfort in your neck, lower your head back down to the floor.
  • Interlace your fingers below your right knee. Exhale and extend your left leg forward and press your lower back into the floor, keeping the entire leg about 8 inches off the floor.
  • Inhale and bring your left knee back into the chest.
  • Interlace your fingers below your left knee. Exhale and extend your right leg forward and press your lower back into the floor, keeping the entire right leg about 8 inches off the floor.
  • Make sure your lower back stays flat on the floor. Do not allow it to arch or lift.
  • Alternate slowly for 10 to 12 repetitions.

TRUNK ROTATIONS

This warm-up will help keep your spine flexible while stretching your neck and shoulders. It tones the waistline and strengthens the abdominals and the muscles along the torso. Do this whenever your upper body and neck could use a good stretch.

  • Lie on your back with legs extended about hip-distance apart. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bend your legs and bring both knees to your chest.
  • Extend your arms to each side in a T position, palms turned up.
  • Inhale. On an exhalation, bring your legs 3 to 5 inches to the right, while turning your head slowly to the left. Keep your legs close together. Don’t allow the sides of your legs to touch the floor. Keep your abdominal muscles and the muscles along the sides of your body engaged.
  • Inhale and use your inhalation to help raise your knees and head back to center. Exhale in a controlled manner, and let your knees go to the right, while your head turns to the left. Again, don’t let your legs touch the floor.
  • Alternate sides 8 to 10 times.

 TRUNK ROTATIONS WITH RAISED ARMS

This twist is a bit more challenging than Trunk Rotations. Although your legs won’t be able to drop as close to the floor, this is a great workout for the abdominal muscles. It also massages the internal organs.

  • Follow the first two bullets in the instructions for Trunk Rotations.
  • Lift your arms off the floor and raise them parallel to each other with fingertips pointing to the ceiling. Now try moving your bent legs to one side as you turn your head in the opposite direction.

SPINAL ROCKING

This is a good preparation for the Half Shoulderstand (page 130), Full Shoulderstand (page 131), and Plough (page 132). This warm-up strengthens the abdominal muscles and stretches the back muscles. Do not do this pose if you have a herniated disc.

  • Lying on your back, bring your knees into your chest and place your hands beneath the knees. Slowly bring your forehead toward your knees.
  • From this position, begin to rock 2 to 3 inches forward and back, massaging your spine.
  • If your spine is flexible enough, inhale and rock up onto your sitting bones. Exhale, keep your chin toward the chest, leaving space between the chin and chest, and rock back only onto your upper back and shoulders, not onto your neck or head.
  • Continue rocking for 4 to 6 breaths.

LEG LIFTS

This warm-up engages and strengthens the muscles of the leg. Make sure your upper body is relaxed and that there is no strain on your neck or back.

  • Lie on your back with both legs extended on the floor. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bend your left leg, ensuring that your lower back does not arch.
  • Inhale and lift your straight right leg, with the bottom of the foot parallel to the ceiling, as far as you comfortably can.
  • Using both hands, vigorously massage the hamstring muscle at the back of your thigh for about 10 seconds.
  • Lower your hands to the calf muscle and gently pull back on the leg. Use a strap or tie if you are unable to reach comfortably. Do not allow your hip or buttock to lift off the floor.
  • Release the leg. Exhale and slowly begin to lower your straight leg. Point your toes as you lower the leg to within a few inches from the floor.
  • Just before your heel touches the floor, inhale and flex the toes toward the ceiling as you slowly raise the leg back up. Continue 8 to 10 times with the same leg, pointing the toes as you lower your leg and flexing the toes as you raise it back up.
  • On the last repetition, lower your leg to a few inches from the floor, flex your toes back toward the shin, press out through the heel, and lightly touch the top of your thigh with your fingers.
  • Lower your leg. Now straighten both legs on the floor and compare how they feel. Notice the difference between them.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

ALTERNATING LEG LIFTS

Remember that in this warm-up, it doesn’t matter how far you lower your legs. What is important is that your lower back remains flat on the floor. If your back starts to arch as you lower your leg, stop at that angle and raise your leg back to vertical. This warm-up works the abdominal muscles and strengthens the neck muscles. It also strengthens and increases flexibility of the thigh muscles. This is an energizing warm-up that is good to do before any exercises that use the lower extremities.

  • Lie on your back with both legs extended on the floor. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bring both knees to your chest.
  • Engage your abdominal muscles 20 percent by pulling your navel toward your spine. Keep the lower back in contact with the floor. Do not arch it.
  • Exhale and lower your toes to the floor approximately 12 inches from your buttocks. Inhale and bring your knees back up to your chest.
  • Do 8 to 10 repetitions.
  • For a more challenging warm-up, extend both legs up vertically. Your legs may be at an angle less than 90° if your hamstrings are tight.
  • If your neck permits, raise your forehead toward your knees. Keep your Shoulders down and away from your ears. Allow space between your chin and chest.
  • Place both hands behind your right leg. Exhale and lower the left leg toward the floor without arching your lower back.
  • Inhale and raise your left leg back up. Place both hands behind it. Exhale and lower the right leg toward the floor without arching your lower back.
  • Alternate on each side 6 to 10 times, creating a scissor-like movement.

LEG STRETCH

It is important to maintain suppleness as we age. Do this stretch regularly and watch your flexibility improve. This warm-up stretches the muscles and tendons along the back of the legs and prepares the lower body for more strenuous stretches. Runners, bicyclists, dancers, and people who walk a lot should be sure to incorporate this stretch into their regular routine.

•             Lie on your back with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.

FIG. 1:

•             Raise your left leg to a vertical position. With both hands, grasp behind your leg wherever you can reach comfortably, either ankle or calf.

•             Gently pull your leg toward your chest. Don’t strain.

•             To help increase the stretch, bend your leg and loop a tie or scarf over the sole of your foot. Grab the tie so that both your elbows are straight. Straighten your leg and gently pull on the ends of the tie, bringing the leg toward the chest.

•             With each exhalation, allow your leg to come closer to your chest. Don’t force the stretch . . . you’ll only end up with sore muscles.

•             If your lower back feels comfortable and remains flat on the floor, straighten the other leg.

•             Hold for several relaxed breaths.

•             Repeat with the opposite leg.

PELVIC TILT

This is a great way to prepare your back for Bridge pose (page 120). It loosens up the lower back, relieves any back strain or tension, and strengthens the abdominal muscles. It’s also a great Yoga Warm UPs to do simply because it feels great.

  • Lie on your back with hands on abdomen or with arms a comfortable distance from the body, with palms up.
  • Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Legs are separated about hip-distance apart, with insteps parallel. Knees are bent to help lengthen the lower back.
  • On an exhalation, pull the navel toward the spine. Abdominal muscles are contracted.
  • Inhale and relax the abdominal muscles; on the exhalation, continue to pull your navel toward the spine.
  • Feel increased circulation in the lower back and a lengthening of the lumbar (lower) spine as though your tailbone were lengthening toward the front of the room. The buttocks stay on the floor at all times.
  • Repeat 8 to 10 times.

PELVIC LIFT

This Yoga Warm UPs starts out like Pelvic Tilt (page 53), but eventually you lift your pelvis off the floor. It is also an excellent preparation for Bridge pose (page 120), a strenuous posture that shouldn’t be done before warming up the back first. Pelvic Lift also works the legs and buttock muscles.

  • Lie on your back with your arms a comfortable distance from the body, with palms down.
  • Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Your legs should be separated about hip-distance apart, with insteps parallel. Your knees are bent to help lengthen the lower back.
  • Maintain a slight pelvic tilt.
  • On an inhalation, press evenly into the soles of the feet and raise your pelvis an inch from the floor. Exhale the pelvis down to the floor.
  • Inhale, press into the soles of your feet, and raise your pelvis 2 inches from the floor. We often have a tendency to externally rotate our legs and feet. Don’t put all your weight on the outside of your feet—make sure there is an even distribution of weight at the soles of your feet. Feel your big toes and inner heel mounds pressing down.
  • With each inhalation, gradually begin to lift the pelvis a little higher. Use your inhalations and exhalations to smoothly lift and lower the tailbone, sacrum, lower back, and possibly part of your thoracic spine (between the neck and abdomen) off the floor. Listen to your body to determine a comfortable elevation.
  • For a variation, inhale and press into the soles of the feet. If it feels okay, simultaneously raise your pelvis and both arms over your head and onto the floor—if the shoulders permit. The backs of your hands are on the floor. Honor any limitations in your shoulders.
  • Return your arms to your sides as you exhale and lower the pelvis.
  • Repeat this movement a few more times, raising the pelvis as high as you comfortably can.
  • When you’re ready, bring your knees to the chest, wrapping your arms below the knees in Knee Hug (page 46), a great counterpose.

SUPINE BUTTERFLY

(Urdhva Shayana Patamgama)

Those who are already flexible in the hips and upper thighs will relish the openings that Supine Butterfly creates; those who are tighter in this area will find that this warm-up eventually improves flexibility. Don’t force this exercise. Breathe into any areas of tightness and allow your legs to fall open a bit more with each exhalation. By creating resistance with your hands as your legs return to center, you’ll also strengthen your inner thigh and arm muscles. It also brings extra blood to the pelvic floor and is beneficial to the reproductive glands.

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your chin is not higher than your forehead. If you feel any strain in your neck, place a folded blanket or towel under your head.
  • Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to splay out to each side.
  • Inhale and slowly begin to bring your knees back up toward each other. As they return to center, press your hands into your inner thighs to create resistance.
  • Make it a leisurely journey of up to 45 seconds before your knees meet again. Repeat twice more.
  • While on your back extend both legs up vertically, placing your hands on the inner thighs.
  • Inhale and separate your legs as far as is comfortable.
  • Exhale and bring your legs back to vertical, pressing your hands into the inner thighs, creating resistance. Continue this movement for 5 to 7 repetitions. Listen to your breath as you perform the repetitions.
  • Give yourself permission to make any sounds as you do this movement.
  • Prone Yoga Warm UPs

SPHINX

It is important to do whatever we can to keep our backs flexible and strong. This warm-up contracts and strengthens the lower back muscles and stretches the abdominal muscles.

  • Lie on your stomach, with legs hip-distance apart.
  • Raise your head and chest as you prop yourself up onto your bent elbows. Your forearms are flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, with palms facing down.
  • Let your pelvis lean toward the floor by engaging your abdominal muscles 15 to 20 percent. Your head and neck remain neutral.
  • Breathe and hold for a count of 10.
  • Lower and repeat 3 to 5 times.

WINDSHIELD WIPER LEGS

You might remember doing something like this Yoga Warm UPs when you were a kid watching television. It gets your legs moving and keeps the lower body flexible. It is also an effective counter pose to Cobra and Bow

  • Lie on your stomach. Your head may be turned to one side, or your chin can rest on top of your hands.
  • Legs are about hip-distance apart.
  • Bend the legs at the knees.
  • Slowly move both legs from one side to the other in a “windshield wiper” movement.
  • Continue this movement several times and feel your lower back relax.

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