Warm-Up For Yoga: A Tough Choice Between Saving Energy And Getting The Muscles Ready

Along with fatigue and sickness, an improper start of the workout robs the body of every chance to react to the physical exercise adequately and provokes an outright sabotage of the training process. The quality of warm-up affects your disposition and, hence, the productivity and joy from the practice.

Certain schools and yoga-teachers consider it possible to start working in asana without any preliminary warm-up. Several years ago, on the first day of a yoga workshop I ran across the following practice: the class began straight with Surya Namaskar. The days following this discovery,  I had to come 15 minutes earlier and do my warm-up exercises.

My Guru’s instruction sounded way too distinctly in my head: “Yoga without warm-up is rhoga,” meaning poison.

The lack of preliminary warm-up is one of the three main injury-risk factors

Each type of physical excerise requires specific warm-up, and yoga is no exception. In addition to the advanced physiological and anatomical requirements imposed on the body during the performance of asanas, it is essential to take into account the differences in the practitioner’s health and experience. These criteria define the set of warm-up exercises, as well as the technique and time of their performance.

Considerations of safety made me an absolute fan of Sukshma Vyayama (known to the general public as a “top-to-toe joint exercise”) popularized by Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari and a similar joint-by-joint physiotherapeutic approach formalized by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle.

On the question of perfect intensity and duration of pre-yoga warm-up…

Some 20 years ago, research in the field of physical therapy, in particular the work of Ian Stewart and Gordon Sleivert, proved that a 15-minute warm-up with 60–70% intensity granted the maximum range of motion and performance during the core training program. Exactly this type of warm-up is regarded as a perfect preparation before building and holding yoga asanas.

However, the question remains: Why are dynamic stretching exercise recommended as a classical yogi warm-up leaving other popular warm-up techniques (jog, ladder sprint, static stretching, etc.) pointedly underrated?

The subtle effect of Sukshma Vyayama

Imagine a healthy human body as an efficiently tuned complex mechanism. The name “locomotor system” fits it perfectly. Muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons interact with each other as numerous multi-sized pistons, cylinders, levers, and valves.

A smooth and continuous flow of signals across the nervous system provides the synchronization and coordination of the interaction among various parts of the physical body. You can picture a sports-related injury as a seizure of cylinders and gears due to the “program failure” in the nervous system, which “breaks” or sends the wrong directives.

– That’s not my fault. Something just went wrong by itself.

A somatic reflex arc is a creative neural dialogue between the subtle and the physical body in the process of movement. An electromagnetic impulse from the brain gets to the ganglias commissioning a specific movement. In this way, the contraction of active muscles and loosening of the antagonist muscles occur to furnish the move. Alternatively, static postures engage synergistic muscles into collaboration.

During the passive stretching of the muscles, the reflex switches on and blocks whatever the somatic receptors “perceive” as over-stretching. This signal reaches the spinal cord and the response returns as a spasm of the effector muscle. A cramp is nothing but a “moral refusal” of the body to perform a conceived motion. A reflex arc strives to maintain the “known” range of safe movement.

Our body gets accustomed to the rhythm and speed of everyday physical activity: pace, arm span, neck rotation range, body bent lunge, etc. Our body gets “ideas” about the standards of routine physical work.

During any warm up, we can see the general physical mobilization right on the surface: the speeding up of the heartbeat and breathing intensity, the increase of muscle temperature, elasticity of joints and ligaments, the optimization of the quantity and quality of the synovial fluid, etc. This transformation can turn you into thinking that any dynamic exercise provides sufficient preparation of muscles and oxygen supply.

However, Sukshma Vyayama has one exceptional feature. The exercises for joints activate the joint receptors and communicate the change in the context of physical activity to the whole body. They announce the need for a comprehensive transition from the routine muscular tone to the state suitable for an increasingly more diverse and in-depth work in asanas.

In the course of a 10-15-minute warm-up, the central nervous system activates sufficiently to transmit the new scope of signals at a new speed. Indeed, the term Sukshma Vyayama is directly translated as “subtle exercise,” emphasising their effect as something more profound than a mere warm-up of the physical body.

While in running and similar sports, body-conditioning and muscular warm-up are the key, in yoga, the emphasis is made at strengthening a unhampered constructive dialogue between the locomotive and central nervous system.

You can notice that even after a good warm-up your body “acts” differently from class to class. This fact can be most clearly observed by the beginner-yogis and mid-level practitioners. This tendency is conditioned by variations in the psychological and emotional conditions. The emotional tension, the distracted attention, and stress prevent a person from relaxing completely and diving into the flow of yoga.

As your yoga practice becomes more regular and comprehensive, you notice as the internal flow of energy stabilizes, the internal knowledge of self becomes more profound while the physical post-warm-up indicators grow more consistent.

Warm-up delivers heat to the body, which should linger throughout the core training

The ability of your training ammunition to keep heat and remove sweat is of tremendous importance. Your fingers, toes and feet should be warm. Not every yogi is lucky enough to practice in the year-round summer or a “hot yoga” class. However, modern yogis have a sufficient variety of quality wear, comfortable socks and gloves to solve this problem. It is highly unlikely that you are willing to waste physical energy bouncing back and forth from muscles to organs. In the course of the core exercise you can shed off excessive layers and then wrap up again before the cool down exercises or a final relaxation in savasana.

You can benefit from performing the half-way dynamic combinations (vynyasas) as soon as you sense that your body starts losing heat.

Things to remember when performing a warm-up before practicing yoga-asanas:

  • warm-up gradually to achieve a smooth increase in the range and speed of motion
  • general dynamic exercises provide the working out of all major joints
  • specific dynamic exercises provide an additional working out of joints that will be particularly stressed during the core training. At this point, it is common to use the simplified versions of the major training exercises
  • don’t forget the breathing exercises
  • perceived heat spreading across the body and sweating mean the warm-up was sufficient
  • do not allow bouncing movements during the warm-up. Every exercise should be performed in an elaborate and coordinated way with sufficient “tension”
  • an optimum warm-up lasts about 10 – 15 minutes prior to the core training
  • make sure to maintain the sufficient level of heat in your body during the practice with the help of vinyasas (dynamic combinations)
  • personalize your general exercise by respecting the desire to pay more attention to your soft spots. Indeed, no one knows your body better than yourself

Practice with complete awareness and enjoy!