3 Benefits of a Warm-up in Yoga

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“If you spend too much time warming up, you’ll miss the race. If you don’t warm up at all, you may not finish the race.” – Grand Heidrich

Balance is the key. For a long time I did yoga first thing in the morning. It was my morning ritual, my ‘wake up tool’; the incentive I needed to get out of bed and face the bleak London morning. I would literally roll out of bed, spread my yoga mat, and start my routine. Now though, this has all changed.

The influence and place of yoga in my life has shifted. I have stopped using yoga as a ‘wake up tool’ and started using it as a time to reconnect with my centre, to breathe deeply, and to enjoy the connection between my heart, mind, and body. As my yoga practice has developed and deepened, I have started to look at the other components that come under the umbrella of yoga, for example, pranayama, meditation, and a warm-up routine. All these components have had a positive influence on my life. It is the warm-up however, that I have had the most fun learning about.

We mostly associate a warm-up with strenuous exercise, such as running or weight lifting. A warm-up is necessary to limber up the body to avoid injury. The impact of exercise on the body’s joints and muscles is significant, and if you don’t ease yourself into physical activity you can seriously injure yourself and hinder any progress that you may have made. Although not as strenuous as running or weight lifting, yoga still is a physical activity, an exercise which uses a wide range of joints and muscles; a warm-up before any exercise, no matter how strenuous, is beneficial. So why do so many of us not warm-up before a yoga practice?

When you warm-up, you safely ease yourself, both physically and mentally, into the exercise. Warm-up postures, such as light twisting and bending, shoulder rotations and spinal rocking, help you prepare for the activity ahead. You are improving your muscle flexibility, loosening areas of your body, increasing blood flow to your extremities, and focusing your mind on the task ahead. A warm-up routine is just as important as the yoga practice itself. I have seen numerous benefits since incorporating a warm-up routine into my yoga practice. The mental and physical benefits of a warm-up are numerous. Here are my top three:

  1. Intention: I take the time during a warm-up to focus on my intention. Most days my intention includes the same principles: happiness, patience, and perseverance. Repeating my daily purpose of seeking happiness, of approaching all things with an open and patient heart, and persevering in whatever activity I will be engaging in, helps me reground myself. It helps me focus. I stand tall and strong in samasthiti (Standing Upright Posture) and centre myself in my intention. It always makes me smile. How can you think of happiness without smiling? How can you imagine achieving your goals through perseverance without being filled with joy?
  2. Breath: As soon as I step onto my mat I become conscious of my breath. I stand tall, slow down, and pay attention to my breathing. I focus on the rise and fall of my chest and the quality of breath that I take in. This exercise calms my mind and prepares me for the practice which will follow. It also helps me concentrate on being present. I focus on the now and let everything else fall away.
  3. Strength: I love the feeling of strength following my yoga warm-up. To ground myself on my mat and to take some time out for me, leaves me with a great sense of accomplishment, and this is before I’ve even started my yoga routine. I stand tall and do the palmyrasana series (Palm Tree Postures). I am fully aware of each movement; of how each movement affects a different part of my body. How many of us travel through our day not fully paying attention to the way that our bodies move? I spread my arms and gather strength, becoming more grateful for my body’s movements and gaining an increasing appreciation for my health. It is true that most of us only appreciate our health when it is failing. Why wait until then? Use your yoga practice to focus on your health and strength.

These three areas have improved my yoga practice. They’ve also improved my overall outlook on life and my attitude to the day ahead. The postures that I use to warm-up mostly stay the same. These three groups of postures focus on an immense area of the body. I feel like my trunk and limbs really are warmed up before my practice. Why not have a look and see if you can do these postures as a warm-up routine?

Palmyrasana series (Palm Tree Postures)

There are six poses in this series. Collectively they tone the waistline, arms, shoulders, back, and thorax and release muscular tension in these areas. They also exercise the lungs and improve your posture. I personally do each pose three or four times.

Pose 1: Stand upright in mountain pose with your arms extended up next to your ears and the backs of your hands facing each other. As you inhale, raise yourself onto your tiptoes as high as you can and pause for about five seconds. Exhale as you come down.

Pose 2: Stand as in pose one. Lower your arms to your sides, keeping your arms straight, as you exhale. As you inhale slowly raise your arms back up next to your ears.

Pose 3: Similar to the second, but your arms are lowered in front of your body as you exhale. As you inhale, slowly raise your arms back up.

Pose 4: Similar to pose two, but only one hand is lowered at a time. When your left arm is resting alongside your body, extend your right arm over your head. Your left hand will slide down your side to your knee and you should feel a stretch in your right side. As you inhale, straighten your torso and raise your left hand. Repeat on the other side.

Pose 5: Also a stretching posture, except now you stand as in pose one and, with both hands extended up, stretch to one side slowly as you exhale. As you inhale, straighten your torso. Repeat on the other side.

Pose 6: Stand tall with one arm extended upwards. As you exhale, slowly bring the arm down in front of your body in a clockwise motion, bringing the arm back up as you inhale. Repeat in a counter-clockwise motion. Repeat with the other arm.

Standing Twist Pose: Stand tall with the arms extended in front of the chest, palms down and thumbs touching. With your gaze on the backs of your hands, slowly exhale and gently twist your torso to the left. Hold the twist for two seconds. Slowly inhale as you return to the forward position. Repeat on the right side.

This posture improves spinal mobility, as well as toning and trimming the abdominal muscles.

Spinal Rock (Rocking-chair Posture, Rock ‘n’ Roll Posture): Lie with your back flat on the floor. Bring your knees to your chest and hold the backs of your knees with your hands. Keeping your forehead close to your knees, gently rock backwards and forwards, making sure that the back becomes slightly rounded as you do so. You should gently roll back onto your upper back, and roll forward so that the toes almost touch the floor. It should be fluid, and you should only roll as far as you are comfortable with – don’t overextend. As you rock backwards you should exhale, and inhale as you rock forward.

There are three variations to this posture. The difficulty of the postures slowly increases as you become familiar with each, I have only described the most basic form. Spinal rocking massages the abdomen and spine and releases any stiffness from the spinal column. It also aids digestion, has beneficial effects on the spleen and liver, and helps to quiet the nervous system.

Once you have performed these exercises, you can gently move into the posture that you usually start your routine in. Personally, I move from the spinal rock onto all-fours, and then into downward facing dog.

Next time you step onto your mat, why don’t you include a series of warm-up postures before your yoga practice? I guarantee that you’ll start the practice more focused and grounded. You will have an increased feeling of achievement and self-confidence. It really is a great way to begin your routine.

What is Hatha Yoga?

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If you’ve been practicing yoga for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The text, which was written around the second century CE, consists of a compilation of yoga practices derived from older Hindu and Buddhist yogic traditions. Consisting of four chapters of 196 aphorisms, the text enumerates the eight-limbed ashtanga approach to yoga.

Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga system, (not to be confused with the contemporary ashtanga system of Pattabhi Jois) details a full overview of yogic practices. It includes social and ethical precepts, (yama and niyama) guidelines for physical practices, (asana and pranayama) and a full overview of mental states that arise during meditative concentration (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and Samadhi).

Yoga as a Cohesive System

The Yoga Sutras are important because it was the first time that the central elements of Yogic theory and practice had been collected and documented in one place. Before Patanjali, most textual mentions of yoga were scattered among a large number of manuscripts from different traditions. During that time, anyone wishing to engage in a full comprehensive overview of yogic practices would be required to learn a number of different languages in order to study a diverse number of traditional texts drawn from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sources.

Once Patanjali had codified this systematic approach to yoga practices, the practice itself became more accessible. As a result yoga continued to mature as a discipline over the coming centuries. With time, other full-fledged yogic systems came into being as well. One of the most well-known systems – Hatha Yoga (the forceful yoga) began to develop sometime between the 9th and 12th century CE.

The Godfather of Hatha Yoga: Gorakshanath

Hindu traditions accredit the creation of Hatha Yoga to Gorakshanath and his teacher Matsyendranath. Both of these men were Bengali in origin. Goraksha Nath in particular was recognized as a highly accomplished practitioner, and was considered by many to be a miracle worker, saint, and revered teacher during his time. During his time, he founded the Nath movement in Northern India.

Known to have drawn inspiration from both Buddhist and Hindu sources, Gorakshanath is accredited with the creation of a number of important oral teachings and Sanskrit texts. These texts include The Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, and a separate important treaty on Hatha Yoga, titled the Goraksa Sataka.

With time, other well-known Hatha Yoga practitioners continued to contribute to the Hatha Yoga canon and additional texts were written to support the practice as well. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century) and Gheranda Samhita (17th century) – both anthologies of various texts – are important treatises on the practice of Hatha Yoga.

Divine Purification through Physical Means

Though many of the tenants and practices of Hatha Yoga parallel the eight limbed system found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are substantial differences as well. The Hatha yoga of Goraksha Nath established a close connection between Indian medicine, and the principles of yoga and alchemy. As such, traditional Hatha Yoga teachings tended to emphasize physical practices more extensively than did the Yoga Sutras.

Like the Yoga Sutras, the ultimate aim of the Hatha Yogi was enlightenment. However, the practices differed substantially in their respective methodologies. Followers of the Yoga Sutras believed that the restraint of consciousness was the way to achieve liberation. In contrast, Hatha Yogis believed that liberation could be more quickly achieved through a sophisticated set of transformational practices designed to purify the physical body and mind through energy practices.

To begin these practices, Hatha Yogis were required to perform extensive purification rituals before beginning asana and pranayama practices under the careful guidance of a guru.

As part of their training, students of Hatha Yoga were also required to learn a comprehensive energy map of the body. This map contained among other things an overview of channels (nadis), chakras (energy wheels), winds (vayus) and “drops” (bindu) consisting of male (lunar) and female (solar) energies.

Once the Hatha Yogi had completed this preliminary work, they engaged in a persistent, daily effort to force the body’s energy winds (vayus) to enter the central energy channel (Susumna). The energy from these winds was then used to unite contrasting polarities of masculine and feminine energy.

The term Hatha makes reference to this practice and is often explained as the conjunction of the feminine solar force – represented by the syllable HA – and the masculine lunar force symbolized by the syllable THA.

Typically, this process of conjoining energies was accomplished through a combination of physical asanas, breathing exercises and meditative contemplations based on deities.

The overall aim of this practice of conjoining energies was to activate the vital life force (Kundulini) that is said to lie dormant in the central channel. In the Buddhist tradition of Hatha Yoga (Naljor), practitioners activate a great heat at the navel chakra. This heat was then used to induce four states of bliss that could provide deeper insights into the ultimate nature of reality.

Through this process the Hatha Yoga gradually strove to transform the physical body into a subtle, divine body. This body, (sometimes referred to as the adamantine body or vajra body) was said to be purer than the sky impervious to disease, void of any defects, eternally youthful, and the bearer of paranormal, magical powers.

Techniques and Benefits of Hatha Yoga

While asana and pranayama played an important role in Hatha Yoga practices, other disciplines were used for physical purification as well. The Gheranda Samhita, a seventeenth century manual of Hatha Yoga, lists six separate purification practices that were used to achieve the adamantine body by tempering the physical body through the fire of yoga.”

These practices include:


Neti practices primarily consist of nasal cleansing exercises with oil, water or a thin string. Benefits of this practice include lubrication of the mucous membrane, less susceptibility to colds, an improvement in allergy related symptoms and a clearing of the nasal passages.


These cleansing techniques include a diverse set of practices to cleanse the stomach with a combination of saline solutions, air, or a long swath of cotton cloth. Benefits of these practices are said to include an alleviation of constipation, indigestion, hypo and hyper acidity.


This forceful exercise consists of a strong rotation of the abdominal muscles and is said to stimulate digestion, tone the abdominal organs and massage the internal organs.


Vasti practices utilize various types of enema to encourage the expulsion of accumulated toxins in the colon. Benefits of this Hatha Yoga practice can include regular bowel movements and increased digestive health.


Also called the skull shining breath, Kapalabhati is an active breathing practice that can be used to purify energy channels, calm the mind and tone the abdominal muscles.


In Hatha Yoga, trataka exercises are used to purify the eyes. To do this exercise, the practitioner fixes his or her eyes on a single point for extended periods of time. Regular practice of trataka can improve the ability to concentrate and deepen meditative practices.

Adaptation to the Modern World

Traditional Hindu and Buddhist Hatha Yoga is still practiced to this day in unaltered form in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Hindu ashrams around the world. However, Hatha Yoga as a whole has continued to evolve and adapt to fit the needs of the modern world.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the Hatha Yoga postural corpus has continued to grow. During the Hatha Yoga Renaissance, there were less than 100 recognized yoga postures. Today, this number has grown to thousands of potential variations which are regularly practiced in yoga studios throughout the world.

Three Indian teachers in the early part of the twentieth century contributed to the ever-changing landscape of Hatha Yoga practice through independent study and practice.

By expanding the Hatha Yoga repertoire and presenting it not only to the uninitiated layman, but to women as well, these teachers popularized the practice and made it available to millions around the world.

Swami Kuvalayananda focused primarily on the health benefits of practicing yoga; Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh fused together three different types of practice (Karma, Jnana and Bhakti) to create a modern approach to yoga, and T. Krishnamacharya (the teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois) of Mysore concentrated on developing a larger and more varied postural repository by integrating an eclectic array of exercises from other movement disciplines into the practice.

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