Have you ever walked into a yoga class early and noticed that people are “warming up,” wanted to warm up too, but weren’t really sure what you could (or should) do? Here are five great stretches and exercises you can do on your own to set up your body and mind for the practice ahead. Before the teacher starts leading class:
Cow and Cat Poses (with optional wrist stretch variations).
These two poses warm up the spine and optionally the wrists as well.
- Start on all fours, knees under hips, shoulders over wrists, index fingers straight ahead, triceps wrapping back and arms straight.
- Inhale cow pose (bitilasana)—belly descends, heart/chest draws forward, arms stay straight; gentle back bend.
- Exhale cat pose (m arjaiasana)—push the floor away, press belly into spine, round your spine like a cat on Halloween!
- Option to add a wrist stretch by turning right fingers clockwise and left fingers counterclockwise and repeating cow-cat.
- Option to go deeper into the wrist stretch by turning fingers all the way towards the knees and repeating cow-cat.
Shoulder and Tricep Stretches
- Find yourself a comfortable seat.
- Reach your right arm right and then bring it across your chest.
- Hold your right wrist with your left hand, bend left elbow down and pull right arm towards your chest.
- For a more intense shoulder stretch, make sure you grab towards your wrist (not elbow), right arm should be straight and at shoulder level, and keep your right shoulder down.
- Then reach your right arm up to the sky, and bend your right elbow to drop your right arm behind your back.
- Bring your left hand to your right elbow and press down as is comfortable.
- For a deeper Tricep stretch, keep your head up and ribs closed.
- Repeat both stretches with your other arm.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Cobbler or Butterfly pose)
Using various block levels (requires 2 blocks). This posture is great to warm up your hips and spine.
- Start with the heart opener by placing one block at the lowest height (or middle height) underneath/between your shoulder blades and the other block at the highest height underneath the back of your head.
- To add the hip opener, as you lower yourself onto the blocks, bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall open to the sides in a butterfly shape (option to place additional blocks under your knees for support or to keep the feet planted and the knees to the sky, or knocking in if the hip opener is too much)
- If you want a deeper heart opener/backbend, you can raise the block under your shoulder blades to middle height, and/or lower the block under your head to a lower height (or even remove it altogether).
Sukasana (easy pose)
Forward fold and twist. These are good for the hips, spine and internal organs.
- Find an “easy” seat (or criss-cross) with your right leg in front.
- See if you can cross your legs mid-shin and stack your knees over ankles, and flex your heels (option to sit on a yoga block or bolster if your hips are tight to raise your seat)
- Either stay seated, or (if possible) walk your hands forward, keeping both sit bones on the ground (option to rest your head on the floor, block or bolster).
- Walk your hands back in, and bring your left hand behind your back—nice and straight, high on the fingertips and close to your body—and your right hand to your left leg
- Twist your spine gently left, looking over your left shoulder if your neck allows (option to place your right hand in front of shins if the twist is too intense, or if you cannot reach your left leg).
- Unwind and repeat the sequence with your left leg in front and twisting right.
This is good to calm down, reconnect body and mind, or even meditate before class starts.
- Find a comfortable seat (maybe Sukasana).
- Sit up tall, shoulders down, eyes closed.
- Inhale through your nose for four counts, pause.
- Exhale out of your mouth for four counts, pause.
- Inhale. Feel your belly, then ribs, then chest expand/inflate and hold at the top.
- Exhale. Feel your chest, then ribs, then belly deflate, hold at the bottom.
- Repeat for at least 5 rounds of breath.
- For greater relaxation/calming heart rate down, start to increase the number you count to with each exhale and following inhale.