Should we warm up before our Yoga practice?

This question was posed to me by a very keen yoga student of mine. I’m sure it’s something that we are all familiar with, and is well worth some serious consideration.

With the increasing popularity of ‘heat generating’ yoga styles, there is a remarkable shift towards introducing the heat element through various methods. So why is this? Well anyone who has trained in athletics will know that it is important to warm the body before undertaking the physical demands of a sport, and the consequences of avoiding to do this can be tremendous. The result being, grave injury to those parts of the body put under massive effort if not properly prepared before hand. This all makes total sense.

Now in yoga we have two major approaches. One being static yoga practice and the other being dynamic or flowing yoga practices. Which is better or more beneficial? The way I look at this is from the standpoint of having experience of both approaches. And it very much depends on the mind-set of the person practicing that particular form of yoga. If we practice the static poses or asanas and push for our maximum most expanded posture too soon into our practice session, we can expect to injure ourselves. Cold or cool muscle tissue is not really ready for big work loads and so we need to begin in a more gentle way and work towards our ‘edge’ in a mindful way and gradually increase our effort as we feel the body able to release more as our session progresses.

It’s a bit like, do you need to warm up before you sit down? Do you need to warm up before you climb the stairs to bed? Do you need to warm up before you wash the car? etc. etc….. Well you would most likely answer ‘No’ to these questions. So then if we apply the same reasoning to our yoga practice, do you need to warm up before your yoga practice then I would also answer not necessarily if we view our practice as keeping within our familiar boundaries. So how do we gain more flexibility then if we don’t ‘push’ ourselves? Well by doing the same things on a regular basis we become familiar with the exercise, our body can cope with the expectations put on it and over time yields to our efforts without resistance because of our persistent effort.

Of course we want to avoid doing our yoga practice in cold places particularly if there is wind or drafts, because as the bodily joints open it’s very important to keep cold from entering into them, so being in a warm environment is I would say pretty essential.

Now with the more dynamic forms of yoga, the heat is generated either by movement or by breathing practices. Now in these cases the body responds in a totally different way. Because we require the body to exhibit more flowing kinds of movements as in ‘Vinyasa’, then it’s pretty much essential to be generating heat to do these particular forms. Like you wouldn’t want to rev the engine of your car when you’ve just turned on the ignition would you?? And for those who have had experience of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga then you will know how efficient the body can move when Ujiayi Breathing is undertaken.Granville Cousins 1

But in Yin Yoga because the postures are not performed in a dynamic way then its not so important to have to same degree of heat in the body. In fact if you are too warm when you begin your session you may very well cool down too much and then start to feel a locking up of your body. In Yin Yoga, it’s much better to keep the temperature consistent so you do not go through this cooling effect. Simply keep within your ‘edge’ and remain mindful.

In yogAsana we use both approaches. The stillness at the beginning of a yogAsana session is characterized with still asanas and the releasing of the body into the postures. When we move into the mid-session of the practice then the body will have accumulated sufficient heat through the flow of prana or chi flow through the meridians or energy channels.

So which ever way you approach your practice session remember to be mindful and different approaches will be utilized at different stages of your progression. Be flexible in your approach to practice and remember one size of shoe doesn’t fit every foot…

We’re delighted to welcome Granville back to The elbowroom. Join him for a series of masterclass workshops on the 30th and 31st of January here at the elbowroom.

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