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Edition/Copyright: REV 02
Christensen, Alice :
Alice Christensen founded the American Yoga Association -- the first nonreligious, nonprofit, educational Yoga organization in the United States -- in 1968. She is the author of 20-Minute Yoga Workouts, The American Yoga Association's New Yoga Challenge, The American Yoga Association's Easy Does It Yoga, and Yoga of the Heart. She lives in Sarasota, Florida.
Chapter 2: Getting Ready to Exercise: The Yoga Warm-up
Now you are ready to begin practicing Yoga. First comes a proper warm-up. Before you start, make sure you have read Chapter 1 thoroughly and understand all the cautions and suggestions. A complete curriculum for three ten-week courses is outlined in Chapter 3.
In the weekly curriculum lists, the warm-up exercises are listed not separately but as a group: the Warm-up Sequence. After a few weeks of practice you'll know the warm-ups so well that you will not have to refer back to the instructions in this chapter.
Whether you are a rank beginner or have practiced for several years, it is best to warm up before every session, using the sequence in this chapter. Warming up has nothing to do with the temperature of the room or how limber your body may already feel. Yoga exercises work not only the large muscle groups but also delicate nerves, connective tissue, blood vessels, and internal organs. Warming up prepares your whole body for exercise, so that it begins easily and without a lot of fear or tension. The body is often afraid to start a new discipline. If you are rushed or especially tense, you may want to spend extra time warming up or even use the Warm-up Sequence as your entire exercise commitment for the day.
Warming up is also an opportunity to warm up -- or rather, relax -- your mind, quieting extraneous thoughts and centering yourself.
As you warm up, pay attention to what your body is saying to you. Is it expressing tension or pain anywhere? Is it fatigued, strained, ill, or angry? Learn to listen for your body's signals; you'll discover more about how your body works, how it reacts, and what it needs. Do this in silence. Remember what you observed as you begin to do more vigorous exercises. Your body will resist growth with pain if it is forced or bullied; a gentle approach yields positive changes much more quickly. There is no need for self-violence.
Stand with arms at your sides. Let them hang loose like wet spaghetti. Lift both shoulders up toward your ears, then roll them in a circle forward, down, back, and up toward your ears again. Repeat in the opposite direction. Repetitions: 3 to 5 each direction. Breathe normally; don't hold your breath. To help loosen and relax especially stiff shoulders, massage your shoulders and neck before and after this exercise. Shake out your arms afterwards to relax them.
Keep your arms and hands limp.
Bring your fingertips to your shoulders, with your elbows raised shoulder-high. Slowly bring your elbows together in front, then apart to the sides and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Breathe normally. Don't hold your breath. Repetitions: 3 to 5.
Keep your upper arms and elbows horizontal to the floor.
Raise arms straight out to the sides, holding them parallel to the floor. Flex your hands back, as if stopping traffic to your left and right. Now rotate your arms forward in large circles, first bringing your hands almost together in front, then rotating as far back as your shoulder joints will allow. Move slowly. Breathe normally. Repetitions: 3 to 5 circles in each direction. Keep your fingers flexed during the entire movement, and your elbows straight.
Relax your arms to the sides and shake out shoulders, arms, and lower back, relaxing the muscles and nerves.
Continue with smaller, faster circles, about the size of a dinner plate. Remember to do the same number of circles in both directions.
Note: If you have high blood pressure or heart disease (and your doctor's permission to practice Yoga), do not attempt the smaller rotations -- which put extra strain on the heart muscles -- until you have practiced the large ones for several months. The extra circulation brought about by this exercise will make your upper body feel warm and flushed. Check with your doctor if you have any doubts about whether to practice this variation.
Keep your fingers flexed and elbows straight.
Make large circles as big as possible, small ones the size of dinner plates.
There are several options for arm positions in this exercise. We recommend that you start with straight arms extended to the sides, palms up. If this causes fatigue, you can rest your hands on your hips or let them hang at your sides. Choose the position that best helps you keep your shoulders from tensing or lifting as you move your head. This stretch is intended to exercise the neck muscles only; the rest of your body should remain relaxed.
Start by lowering your chin to your chest; then lift your chin so you are looking up at the ceiling. (Avoid dropping your head all the way back because of the extra strain this causes on the neck.) Repetitions: 3, breathing normally.
Next, start with your head straight, tilt your head to the right, ear over your shoulder, then lift your head and gently tilt to the left. Try not to lift your shoulder up toward your ear; move only the head. Breathe normally. Repetitions: 3.
Now, from the start position, turn your head to the right and look over your right shoulder, then turn to the left. Repetitions: 3.
Note: If you have a neck injury or pain or stiffness in your neck, stop here. If not, go on to the final two variations.
Variation: This variation moves your neck in a gentle semicircle back and forth. Start by lowering your chin to your chest. Slowly roll your head to the right until you reach the right "tilt" position: ear over your right shoulder. Roll your head back down to your chest and over to your left. Continue the back-and-forth movement for a total of 3 right-to-left-to-right repetitions.
Variation: If the previous variation gives your neck no problem, go on to this Variation: Starting with your chin lowered to your chest, slowly rotate your head to the right, ear over your shoulder, remembering to keep shoulders relaxed throughout; then roll your head up and over to your left shoulder, and finally roll your head forward to the start position. Relax your arms and shake them out. Repetitions: 3 in each direction.
Keep your mouth closed, lips together.
Do not lift your shoulders.
Do not drop the head back too far.
Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides, and breathe out completely. Fix your gaze on a spot on the floor or wall; this will help you keep your balance. Breathe in and count to three as you raise your arms in a wide circle to the sides, then overhead as you come up on your toes. Hold your breath for a count of three as you press your palms together and stretch a little farther up, toward the ceiling. Breathe out for a count of three as you lower your arms to the sides and down, and your heels to the floor. Repetitions: 3.
On days when your balance is less steady, divide this exercise in two, using the same three-count breath: first, breathe in and lift your arms out to the sides and up overhead. Press your palms together and stretch, then breathe out as you lower your arms out and down. Next, holding on to a chair or bar for balance, breathe in to a count of three as you come up on your toes, then breathe out and lower your heels to the floor. Repetitions: 3 for each part.
Stare at one spot for balance.
Breathe deeply through your nose.
Stand straight with feet parallel, arms relaxed at your sides. Breathe out. Now breathe in and count to three as you raise your arms to the sides until they are parallel to the floor, palms facing front. Hold for a count of three. Now breathe out and count to three as you bend forward, head first, pulling out of your hips. Picture yourself diving for the correct stretch. Let your head and arms relax completely. Bend only halfway (even if you can easily bend much farther), so that your hands hang at about the level of your knees. Breathe in as you straighten up, raising your arms again to the sides.
Repeat, breathing out to a count of three as you bend forward and breathing in as you straighten up. Try to match your breath to your movement so that your exhalation lasts for the whole movement down and forward and your inhalation lasts for the whole movement back up. Repetitions: 3. After the last inhalation, breathe out to a count of three and relax, slowly lowering your arms to the sides to the start position.
Breathe through your nose.
Try to match your breath to your movement.
Relax your head, neck, arms, and hands completely in the forward position.
Move slowly and deliberately -- but not so slowly that you start gasping for breath.
With your feet parallel and a few inches apart, bend your knees slightly. Rest your forearms on your knees and clasp your hands together. Lift your head slightly and breathe in to a count of three. Hold for a count of three. Now breathe out to a count of three as you tuck your head and straighten your legs as much as possible, keeping your elbows in place. Repetitions: 3 to 5.
Coordinate breath and movement.
Don't stretch to the point of discomfort.
Remember to lift the head on inhalation and tuck the head on exhalation.
Start with your feet parallel, arms at your sides. Breathe in and count to three as you bring your arms up and out to the sides, expanding your chest. Hold your breath for a count of three, then breathe out (through your nose, remember) as you count to three, bending forward from the hips. As you bend, reach your arms down, toward the floor. Rest them in front of your feet, if possible. When you have bent forward as far as you can, your exhalation should be complete. Make sure your neck, head, arms, and hands are limp at this point. Now start to breathe in and slowly straighten, bringing your arms up and out to the sides as before. Your head comes up last. As you become more limber, try stretching a little farther, until your hands reach the floor.
Repeat this rhythmic up-and-down motion, counting to three with each movement: arms up, hold, down, lift. Try to match your breath to your movement. Move slowly, but not so slowly that you start gasping for breath. Usually, beginners can comfortably complete each movement in 3 to 5 seconds. Repetitions: 3 to 5.
Coordinate breath with movement.
Move slowly and deliberately.
Don't strain to reach the floor.
Breathe through your nose.
Stand with your feet parallel, a few inches apart. Lift your arms in front of you, elbows bent, placing one hand on top of the other. Twist slowly to the right, then to the left, leading with your elbows. After a couple of cycles, add the following breath pattern: Breathe out as you twist to the side, breathe in as you return to the front, breathe out to the other side, breathe in to the front, and so on. Count to three with each movement. Keep your arms parallel to the floor, back straight. Concentrate on the gentle twisting motion of your spine. Repetitions: 3 to 5 in each direction.
Your head should turn with your body so that there is no extra twist to the neck. For a variation, however, you can turn your head and arms in opposite directions. (Do not do this variation if you have chronic pain or stiffness in your neck.) Another variation is to begin with arms overhead, lowering them to your waist as you twist.
Breathe out as you twist to the side, and breathe in going back to the front.
Keep the rest of your body (especially your stomach!) relaxed.
Try to twist from the hips rather than from the knees.
Raise arms straight out in front of you, palms down. Breathe in for a count of three as you lift your straight right leg toward your hands, toes flexed. This is a controlled lift, not a kick. Breathe out for a count of three as you lower the leg. Keeping your knees straight is much more important than touching your toes to your hands. Repeat with the left leg. Repetitions: 3 to 5 each leg.
On days when your balance is shaky, hold on to the back of a chair with one hand and extend the other.
Now extend both arms out to the sides and breathe in for a count of three as you lift your right leg to the side. Instead of "turning out" your leg, as you would in a ballet class (so that your knee and toes point to the ceiling), keep your knee and flexed foot pointed forward so that you will lift and strengthen the muscles and nerves along the sides of your hip and leg. Breathe out for a count of three as you lower the leg. Repeat with the left leg. Repetitions: 3 to 5 each leg.
Then, with both arms extended to the back, palms facing each other, breathe in for a count of three as you slowly lift your left leg backward, keeping it straight. Breathe out to a count of three as you lower the leg. Do not lean forward; instead, use the muscles in your back and buttock to lift the leg. Try not to bend your knee as you lift. Repetitions: 3 to 5 each leg.
Keep your legs straight and toes flexed at all times.
Keep your torso straight.
Complete Leg Lifts: Variation
Standing with both hands on your hips, stare at one spot for balance. Breathe in to a count of three as you slowly raise your right leg to the front, keeping your toes flexed and knees straight. Keeping your foot raised and your breath held in, slowly move your leg out to the side, toes pointed forward, then to the back, trying not to lean forward to compensate. Breathe out to a count of three as you return your foot to the floor. Still using the right leg and continuing the three-count, reverse direction, lifting your leg first to the back, then to the side, then to the front. Repeat with the left leg.
Keep your foot flexed.
Keep your legs straight.
Keep your torso erect.
Standing Knee Squeeze
Stand with feet parallel. Breathe out. Now breathe in and count to three as you raise your left knee and grasp it with both hands. Hold your breath in for a count of three as you squeeze the knee toward your body. Remember to stare at one spot for balance. Relax your foot rather than flexing it. Breathe out as you count to three and lower your foot to the floor. Repeat with your right knee.
After a few days, add this Variation: After releasing your knee, reach behind you to grasp the ankle of the same leg and squeeze the leg to the back while exhaling with your three-count.
Variation: If you have arthritis in your knees or an injury that makes squeezing your knee painful, grasp your thigh instead. You will feel the same compression on your stomach without straining your knee. Repetitions: 3 each leg, alternating.
On days when your balance is less steady, hold on to a chair back with one hand and squeeze the lifted knee with the other, or lean your back or side against a wall.
Stare at one spot.
Hold your breath in while squeezing the knee.
Relax your foot.
Massage Knees and Ankles
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Massage each knee and ankle for several seconds with both hands. Rub lightly, using your whole hands, until the joint feels warm.
Note: Rubbing your joints regularly with oil or lotion will help them limber up more quickly.
Rotate each ankle several times clockwise, then counterclockwise.
Use your whole hands when massaging -- not just your fingers.
Hands and Knees Stretch
Sitting on your feet on the floor, breathe out. Then breathe in and count to three as you come forward so that you are on all fours. Then gently drop your hips forward and down as you look up. Keep your arms stiff. Breathe out and count to three as you sit back on your feet. Your arms stay out in front, and your head falls forward between them. Repetitions: 3 to 5.
Keep your arms straight.
Look up on inhalation.
Note: If you have trouble sitting on your feet because of knee or ankle problems, begin on all fours and rock back on the exhalation as far as you can without strain.
If you have neck or upper back problems, do not tilt your head back as shown; instead, keep looking straight ahead.
Hands and Knees Stretch with Double Breath
(Course 3 only)
In the first two versions of the Emotional Stability Routine introduced in Course 3, this exercise is performed a bit faster, and the breath pattern changes as follows: Breathe out in the extreme forward and back positions and breathe in between, so that each complete repetition includes two inhalations and two exhalations.
Copyright © 1987, 2002 by American Yoga Association
1. INTRODUCTION TO YOGA
The Techniques of Yoga
Before You Start
Finding a Yoga Teacher
How to Practice Yoga Asans
2. GETTING READY TO EXERCISE: THE YOGA WARM-UP
3. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: CURRICULUM AND ROUTINES
After Course Three...
4. EXERCISE (ASANA)
5. BREATHING (PRANAYAMA)
Facts About Yoga and Your Breath
How to Start Breathing Better
Breathing Exercises (Pranayamas)
Breathing and Mood Changes
Breathing Exercises New to Course Two
Breathing Exercises New to Course Three
6. RELAXATION AND MEDITATION
How to Begin
Benefits of Meditation in Everyday Life
Common Experiences in Meditation
7. DIET AND NUTRITION
The Vegetarian Diet and Health
Why Is Diet Important in Yoga?
The Yoga Vegetarian Diet
The American Yoga Association Food Pyramid
Yoga Routine During Pregnancy
Nutrition for Pregnancy
9. YOGA AND SPORTS
How Yoga Helps Improve Sports Performance
Yoga Techniques for Warming Up and Cooling Down
Daily Yoga Routine for Improved Sports Performance
10. STRESS MANAGEMENT
Three Steps to Greater Stress Resistance
Stress and Diet
Breath: Your Most Portable Stress Management Tool
Relaxation and Meditation
11. YOGA PHILOSOPHY
Your Two Bodies
Ethics in Yoga
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