warm ups in yogaBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

What is the importance of warm ups in Yoga Classes? Yoga asana practice, like all other physical activities, requires the practitioner to challenge and stretch the muscles, while creating safe space in the joints. Since an integral part of most physical Yogic practices includes meditation and breathing exercises, many practitioners feel that Yogic exercise provides a “gentle workout” and skip the vital warm up session to tackle more challenging postures as soon as possible. This can be very dangerous, since warming up the body before attempting these more challenging postures can prevent injury.

Including warm ups in Yoga sessions before asana practice is important, because it helps to heat up the body from within, while it gradually increases blood and fluid circulation. A Yoga warm up also helps to gently loosen muscles and joints, which eliminates stiffness. This makes warming up a primary objective before asana practice, since the practitioner will need flexibility, when moving into the different asanas. This is especially important during early morning Yoga workouts. After a night’s rest, the body is stiffer and a warm up session helps to get it ready for the days activities by preventing injuries that can result from stiff joints and muscles.

When a warm session is skipped, it is also harder to maintain correct posture. Proper posture is needed to receive the maximum benefits of Yoga, and practicing while having incorrect posture can result in sore muscles, micro-tears in muscle tissue, pulled muscles, or serious joint injuries.

If one is concerned with going after challenges, warming up before Yoga asana practice helps prepare the practitioner to move into more challenging poses, later on in the practice. For these poses, the practitioner needs to be at his or her most flexible, loose and warm state. If the warm up is skipped, the practitioner can be found straining to get into a particularly difficult pose, which can result in injuring one’s self during the process.

Within Hatha Yoga teacher training courses, interns are taught the science of warming up the body before asana practice.  Many of the movements are circular and could be classified as “whole body warm ups.”  Some of these movements are often seen in Kundalini classes.  One example is the seated pelvic circles, which are often seen in Kundalini classes, but are also practiced in some Hatha Yoga classes.  The sun salutations, (surya namaskar) a sequence of 12 asanas, works as a warm up session that allows the practitioner to warm up the body through repetition of movement.  There is some debate over this, because new students can be injured, if they are unfamiliar with the sequence, and try to keep up with experienced students.

It is always best to teach new students one posture at a time.  Yoga teachers might consider the sun salutation sequence as part of the warm up for experienced students in an exclusive experienced level class – just to be on the safe side.  Each session devoted to internally warming up the body should include a series of exercises to release tension within the entire body.  Yoga instructors should always remember that eye exercises help to warm up the eyes, while strengthening and improving eyesight.  Therefore, no part of the body should be ignored.

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