A Yoga Warm-Up Sequence for Your Entire Body
When you’re new to a physical practice, like yoga, getting started can be hard. Jumping into a new studio may feel intimidating, but practicing at home can be equally daunting—especially when you want to learn the foundations of the practice and do it safely.
If you find yourself wondering where to start and unsure of where to go for guidance, look no further because we over at Siddhi Yoga are here for you. We’ve put together a warm-up sequence that breaks down the practice and will have you on your way.
1. Heel Lifts – Strengthening the arches
We’ll start by warming up the arches of our feet. Because we’re barefoot in this practice, we use different muscles than we do when we’re walking or exercising with shoes on.
When you first begin practicing yoga, it’s important to pay attention to your feet and take precautions to warm them up properly as well as strengthen them.
Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, spine tall and arms along your sides.
Take a deep breath in, all the way into your diaphragm, and lift up your heels to stand on your toes. Pause at the top. As you breathe out, lower your heels back down to the ground.
Repeat this exercise ten times, moving up and down with your breath.
For the second set of this exercise, you’ll lift your heels on your inhalation and stay at the top. Continue breathing normally and see if you can stay for about 20–30 seconds.
On your third set, you’ll pause at the top like you did in the second, but this time lift your arms straight above your head and hold for another 20–30 seconds.
2. Block Squats – Strengthening the quads
The next warm-up movement will create heat in your hips, thighs and the muscles around your hips.
There are many asanas (postures) in yoga that use mostly our legs for support.
This is why it’s so important to warm up these areas slowly, while strengthening the smaller muscles at the same time. It creates heat and stability throughout the upper legs.
If you have a block, begin by putting the block in between your thighs. The width of the block will depend on your hips so try a couple variations before you settle on the final placement. Squeeze the block with your thighs so you can feel your inner thighs activate.
If you don’t have a block, that’s okay. Simply stand with your feet hip-width apart and as you lower your hips, make sure to activate your inner thighs.
Take a deep breath in, begin to lower your hips and bend your knees into a squat. Exhale on the way back to standing.
You can lift your arms up in front of you on the way down and bring them back to your sides as you stand up.
You don’t need to lower all the way to 90 degrees, try going only about three-quarters of the way. Be sure to shift your weight into your heels so your knees stay behind your toes as you lower down.
Do this ten times, for ten breaths. Take a few breaths to recover before you begin the next set.
For the second time around, you’ll inhale into your squat, bring your arms long in front of your chest and hold. Keep your arms and legs active and stay for at least 20–30 seconds.
Do the same thing (the second set) one more time for a total of three sets.
3. Leg Lifts with Arm Reach – Strengthening the core
One of the most important sections of the body in yoga is the core.
The core covers the area of the body from the hips up to our chest, both on the front and backside of the body. So our abdomen, oblique muscles (side body) and the whole of our backs are included in our core.
For the first core warm-up, we’ll focus more on the front body—the abs.
Start by lying down on your back. Tilt your pelvis up toward your head so you’re lengthening the spine rather than contracting it.
If you have lower back problems, it might be helpful to place your hands, palms facing the mat, underneath your buttocks to support the lumbar spine. If you don’t have any back problems, stretch your arms long over your head.
A good modification to remember at any time during this exercise is to bend your knees. This will give your core a little more support and requires less effort if you find it too difficult.
With your arms and legs out long, take a deep breath in. On your exhale, lift both your legs and arms up to meet one another in the middle.
Inhale as you lengthen, exhale as you lift.
Repeat ten times then hug your knees into your chest and roll from side to side, massaging your spine.
Do three complete sets of ten. Make sure you’re not pushing yourself too much. If this is difficult for you, you can just do three sets of eight. Listen to your body and don’t overwork yourself.
4. Viparita Shalabhasana (Superman Pose) – Strengthening the back
Next we’ll warm up the other side of the core: our backs.
Start by lying down on your stomach and reach your arms long in front of your head.
Inhale and lift your arms and legs up off the ground, exhale as you lower down.
Your arms and legs might only move a few inches up and down—that’s okay. As you get stronger, you’ll gradually be able to lift them higher and higher.
As you lift, your head will also come up off the ground. Keep the chin parallel to the ground, eyes looking straight ahead and thighs rolling in, so the tops of your legs are facing the earth.
Do this ten times, for ten breaths.
For the next round, you’ll lift as you inhale and then pause with your arms and legs lifted, for 10–30 seconds, depending on your strength. Remember, you don’t want to overwork yourself or get injured in the warm-up, so be gentle.
Repeat ten more times.
After the second set, push yourself up onto your hands, curl your toes under and shift your hips back for anahatasana (Melting heart pose). Reach your arms long, hips and knees stacked, and rest your forehead on the mat.
5. Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (Dolphin Pose) – Strengthening the shoulders
Our final exercise is used to strengthen the shoulders. We use our shoulders a lot in yoga and it’s easy to overdo it if we don’t take the time to strengthen them first.
Start by coming onto your hands and knees. Then, bring your elbows to the mat, directly underneath your shoulders.
From here, grab your elbows with the opposite hand—right hand lands on the left elbow, left hand on the right elbow, like you’re folding your arms across your chest. We do this to make sure the shoulder and elbow stay aligned with one another.
Keep your chest lifted and elbows on the mat. Now release your hands from the elbows and interlace your fingers in front of your arms, so your forearms and hands make an, ‘A’ shape.
Curl your toes under and slowly lift up your hips. Your shoulders should still be directly above the elbows.
Take a deep breath in.
As you exhale, start to press your heels closer to the earth, but be gentle here. Your shoulders will move away from the elbows, towards your heels. You don’t want to over-extend your shoulders, so move slowly.
On your next inhale, come back to shoulders over elbows. Exhale back, inhale forward.
Keep your core activated the entire time and be careful not to let your shoulders move in front of your elbows.
Do this ten times, or for ten breaths.
Recover your breath for a few moments. Then lift back up into Dolphin and hold for 10–30 seconds, depending on your strength.
Come back down and rest for a few moments before completing your third set, which will look just like the second set. (Hold for 10–30 seconds.)
Then come up to a seat, sitting on your knees and interlace your fingers, stretching your arms above your head.
Release your hands, and you are ready to go! In just a few minutes, your entire body is warmed up and has gotten a lot stronger, making you ready for your next, or very first, yoga class!
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).