Archives for category: Warm ups

 

The following exercise teaches you to learn how to manage your neck in a safe way. The neck is alternately stretched and released very slowly. This allows the spaces between the vertebrae to lengthen and relieves stiffness in the neck. We also use this exercise before practicing headstands in order to release the neck to its maximum length.

  • Start in Kneeling Pose. (See Post 25/6/12). Check that your toes are in line and that the big toes are touching.
  • Take the knees about hip-width apart or whatever is comfortable for you.
  • Place your hands in front of your knees, arms straight with the inner elbows in line with the ceiling. Spread out your fingers with the thumbs touching.
  • Make sure the buttocks are in contact with the backs of the thighs at all times.
  • Inhaling, slowly extend your neck away from the shoulders. Exhaling, gently drop your head towards the floor, feeling the neck release as you do so.
  • Continue in this way until you can bend the elbows, bringing your head nearer and nearer to the floor.
  • After a few more breaths, stretch out the arms and bring the forehead to the floor, as if you were practicing Child Pose.
  • Hold for 6 breaths. Inhale, and very slowly come back up to kneeling again.
  • N.B. Keep a close eye on the positioning of your neck throughout the day. Check the following: (1) Look straight ahead, then look about 2 inches below the nose; (2) Take the eyes back towards the back of the head; (3) Keep the backs of the ears directed up towards the ceiling.

NEED HELP?

~If you can’t bring your forehead to the floor, just rest your chin in your hands after you have bent the elbows.

~ If you can’t bring your buttocks in close contact with the thighs, place a cushion or folded blanket under the buttocks.

~ If you find it difficult to kneel, place a cushion or folded blanket under the buttocks and if necessary, another one under the knees.

STOP!

~ DO NOT bring the forehead to the floor if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Rest your chin in your hands instead.

~ ALWAYS be careful if you have knee problems. If you have had knee surgery, ask for your doctor’s advice before attempting kneeling poses.

Clock on the floor is a simple stretch that can be used as a warm up for the shoulders and also stretches and tones the arms. The idea is that your arms imitate the hands of a clock.

  • Lie on your mat with the knees bent and hip-width apart.
  • Stretch your right arm out on the floor at shoulder height with the palm facing the ceiling.
  • Inhaling, SLOWLY stretch your arm away from you, extending right into the middle finger. Keep the arm on the floor.
  • Exhaling, move the hand about 1 inch along the floor and then YIELD to that point. The slower you move, the more you will open in the shoulder joint.
  • Continue in this way until the hand reaches the point on the floor just above the crown of the head. Inhale, exhale and then sweep your arm down by your side again.
  • Repeat with the left arm.
CAUTION: Be very careful if you have a shoulder injury. DO NOT move past the point where your your hand begins to lift off the floor.

Supine Big Toe Pose or Supta Padangusthasana ( it’s a mouthful in every language), is a very useful warmer upper for most classes. It releases the spine, the hips and the hamstrings, stretches and tones the legs, eases stiffness in the lower back and boosts circulation to the lower body. It is actually a series of stretches in which the big toe is held by the thumb and fore or middle finger. For the beginner, however, this is usually too much of an ask, so use a yoga belt, scarf or man’s tie to hold the foot instead.

To practice Supine Big Toe Pose:

  • Make a loop in your belt/scarf/tie and slip it over your right foot.
  • Lie on your mat with both legs extended. If your neck shortens when you lie down ( your chin will be jutting up towards the ceiling), place a folded blanket under your head so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin.
  • Bring your right knee in towards your chest, clasping both hands just below the knee. Stretch the left leg out straight in front of you and keep the thigh rolled inwards towards the body. The toes of both feet should point upwards towards the ceiling.
  • As you inhale, visualize breathing into the area between your lower abdomen and upper thigh. Each time you exhale, bring the knee a little closer to your chest. Continue for 6 breaths.
  • Now, inhale, exhale and holding the belt with your two hands, stretch the right leg up towards the ceiling.
  • As you inhale, gently stretch the leg out of the hip joint. Each time you exhale, take the foot a little closer to the face. Keep the left thigh rolled inwards and the toes pointed upwards. Continue for 6 breaths.
  • Inhale, exhale and very slowly use the belt to help you lower the leg to the floor. The idea, now, is to move the leg sideways in the direction of the head ( but not quite that far!) Work as before, extending the leg out of the hip joint on inhalation and moving the foot along the floor on exhalation. Only move the foot in tiny increments – about an inch each time. Keep the left thigh rolled inwards and the toes pointed upwards.
  • Keeping the left hip and shoulder pressed down towards the floor, continue for 6 breaths.  Inhaling, slide the leg along the floor again and match it up with the other foot.
  • Repeat on the left side of the body.
  • Every time you practice the pose, keep moving your hands further down the belt until you can eventually hold the big toe with your fingers!

NEED HELP?

~If you find it difficult to stretch the leg upwards, keep the knee bent until your flexibility improves.

~ If you find it difficult to bring your foot to the floor, rest it on a couple of hard-back books.

~ Don’t worry if your legs muscles wobble. They’re just waking up after a long spell of hibernation!

STOP!

~ DO NOT practice these stretches if you are over 3 months pregnant.

~ Practice with lots of TLC if you suffer from disc problems or sciatica.

P.S. The whole idea of practicing Hatha Yoga is to develop awareness. Usually, awareness of the body comes first, then awareness of the breath and finally awareness of our thoughts. So usually, we start with the positions. No matter which pose you are doing, you need to think of not just the part of the body that is being stretched but also all of the other parts of the body as well. You need to ask yourself which parts of the body need to be firm, active and engaged and which parts can just relax. In this way the parts which are being stretched are supported by the parts that are doing the relaxing. There is such a beautiful symmetry to the whole system. Nothing is left out and every part literally plays its part. But this is hard work in the beginning. It can seem like there is too much to think about. Just be patient with yourself, it is the same for every other student of yoga. Keep coming back to the instructions again and again until they seep in by osmosis and become like second nature to you.

In the above pose, Supta Padangusthasana, the parts of the body being stretched are obviously the legs and the hips. So the toes, the arches of the feet, the legs and hips need to be firm and strong. The wrists and/or fingers will also be active in order to hold the foot. Everything else can relax around that: the sides of the neck, the shoulders, the arms, the elbows and the back. So you need to keep tuning in to these areas to make sure that they remain relaxed and that you don’t tense them up in your efforts to stretch the legs. Every other pose is similar. You won’t have time to think about bills or how to put up with your boss. And to boot, you’ll have this wonderfully toned and relaxed body.

 

Cat Pose is one the most famous yoga positions. It is suitable for almost everyone as it is such a gentle stretch.If you have a pet cat, watch how it eases itself in and out of this pose several times a day. And with good reason too. Cat Pose stretches and loosens the spine, greatly improving its flexibility, allowing your cat to scale the highest walls with no difficulty. This stretch is usually taught in antenatal classes, because as well as keeping the spine flexible in preparation for labor, it tones up the reproductive system.

To practice Cat Pose:

  • Kneel on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  • Spread out your fingers like the cat’s claws and keep your arms straight.
  • Tuck your toes under.
  • Your head, neck and spine should be in line so that your entire back is flat like a table top. Inhale.
  • Exhale, and dropping your head towards your chest, arch up your back creating the shape of a humpback whale.
  • Inhale, lower the back down again and raise the head so that your head, neck and spine are in line again. Keep your arms straight at all times.
  • Continue for several breaths.
  • Rest in Child Pose. ( I will cover this pose next week).

STOP! If you have problems with your knees, place a folded blanket under them. If you have any neck or back problems, move very gently.

Even though warm ups are itsy bitsy things, don’t be tempted to skip them. It is essential to warm up the muscles before practicing the poses in order to avoid strain or injury. Plus, the exercises gently tone the body in their own way. Bingo wings be gone! And most of them can be done anytime, anywhere ……

Warm ups for Shoulders and Arms:

  • Shoulder Shrugs: Stand in Mountain Pose. (See Post 9/2/2012). Inhale and raise both shoulders as high as possible up towards  the ears. Exhale, and drop them down again. (x3)
  • Shoulder Rotations: Breathing in and out normally, roll your shoulders in a circular motion, clockwise direction. Then repeat the motion, going anti-clockwise. (x6)
  • Stretching Arms Overhead: Inhale, and raise both arms to shoulder height. Exhale, and turn the palms to face the ceiling. Inhaling, raise both arms overhead with palms facing each other and finger tips stretching up towards the ceiling. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds. Exhale, and let both arms flop down by your sides again. (x3) CAUTION:DO NOT take the arms overhead if you suffer from High Blood Pressure or heart problems.
  • Shoulder Stretches: Stretch your arms in front of you at chest level. Clasp your hands together and inhaling, stretch the arms away from you. Exhale, and release. (x3)  Now, do it the opposite way. Rotate the shoulders backwards and stretch the arms behind you, again clasping the hands. Inhaling, stretch the arms away from you and bring the shoulder blades towards each other. Exhale, and release the arms. (x 3)
  • Palm Tree Stretch: This stretches the sides of the body as well as the arms. Inhaling, stretch both arms overhead. Clasping the right wrist, stretch the entire left side of the body as if you were a palm tree swaying in the breeze. Exhale, and release the arms back down again. Repeat on other side. (x3)  See CAUTION above.

Warm ups for the legs:

  • Leg Stretches: Lie on the floor with the knees bent. Stretch the right leg up towards the ceiling. Place the toes of the left foot against the right heel to help support the right leg. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat on left leg. (x3)
  • Ankle Rolls: Lie on the floor with the knees bent. Raise both legs up towards the ceiling. Rotating the ankles, make large circles with both feet, 6 in a clockwise direction, and then 6 anticlockwise.
  • Flexing Toes: Lie on the floor. Raise both legs upwards. Point the toes towards the face and then away from the face several times.

Warm ups for the Spine:

  • Supine Twist: Lie on the floor. Bend the knees and drop them both down towards the floor on your right side. Bend the arms and place them on the floor at shoulder height. Look to the left and gaze at the finger tips. Inhale, exhale and then repeat in the opposite direction. (x3)
  • Stretching the Spine: Lie on your front. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Inhaling, stretch the entire right side of the body extending the arm from the shoulder and the leg from the hip. Keep the calf muscles relaxed. Repeat on the left. Repeat x3.
  • Cat Pose (See 23/2/12) and Hangover Pose  (See 1/3/12) are also warm ups for the spine.

Warm up for the Hips:

  • Supine Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana): Lie on the floor with the knees bent. Place the soles of the feet together and very gently bounce the knees up and down, imitating the wings of a butterfly! Keep the tailbone moving down and slightly into the body and keep the navel moving up towards the face. Hold for 6 breaths. CAUTION: DO NOT attempt this pose if you have had hip replacement surgery. ~ If you have knee problems, place cushions under the knees and proceed very carefully.

Warm ups for the Neck:

  • Clasp the hands behind the head. Inhale, exhale and slowly direct your right ear down towards the right shoulder. Inhaling, use your elbows to bring the head back up again. Repeat on left side.
  • Then repeat dropping the head carefully down towards the chest. Again use the elbows to bring the head back up again.
  • ONLY do this movement if your neck is in tip-top condition. Clasp the hands behind the back of the head as before. Lift the spine up into the back of the head and curving your neck into an arc shape, direct it back towards the shoulder blades. Use the elbows to bring the head back up again.
  • Repeat sequence x3. CAUTION:If you have any doubts about your neck, SKIP this sequence!!!