Imagine holding a ball of clay. It’s damp to the touch, cool, heavy for its size. Press your fingers into the surface. They leave a slight indentation. Press again and again. The outer layer begins to soften from the warmth of your palms. The surface glides with the motion of your fingers. Your hands grow tired but you keep working. The middle layer softens but the inner core remains solid. You dig in to reach the center, pulling the ball into new shapes. The clay is pliable, ready to be molded.
It’s the same with warming up our bodies in yoga, where we start with gentle poses before diving into more dynamic ones. With class sequencing the basic rule is to warm up for five minutes in an hour-long class. A personal practice allows for much more flexibility and the freedom to decide how long you want to warm up on any given day. Which is, in my humble opinion, absolutely essential.
A proper warm up is a very personal process.
Most adults have developed some level of compression in their bodies, either from an active or an inactive lifestyle, or simply from the continuous gravitational pull of the planet. Yoga helps to realign our bodies into a state of balanced, expanded strength.
Think about your normal routine: which “postures” do you spend most of your time in? Sitting, standing, sleeping, and any number of repetitive movements all create imprints on your body-memory. Stress patterns (physical and emotional) are another factor, as well the effects of diet and lifestyle. Sam the carpenter would do well to warm up in a way that is very different than Susie the weekend-warrior-waterskiier. While Sam might need to warm up for forty five minutes, Susie’s ready to dive in at the ten minute mark. No matter what our level of experience may be we all have our own unique learning curve.
One other thing about the importance of warming up – consistency is KEY. Even five minutes a day is going to make a huge difference. What doesn’t amount to much is dabbling here and there. It’s like the clay ball analogy; if you stop working the ball loses its malleability. Starting over is okay, but when you decide to gain some traction you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make.
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So I thought I’d share the story of when I first started practicing yoga. I didn’t like it AT ALL and left my first class thinking that yoga just wasn’t for me. This was back before yoga became popular and I was living in my small hometown in Maine. One day I was walking down main street and saw a sign advertising ‘Free Yoga.’
I decided to give it a try…
I was completely at a loss. The teachers were chanting the whole time and didn’t offer any kind of introduction or provide any printed lyrics to read from. I sat there breathing the heavy incense smoke and feeling totally awkward until it was time to leave. Now I know that I’d stumbled upon a Kirtan, but without any idea of why we were doing this practice it was a pretty tough way to start out.
I left that class thinking that yoga was not for me.
It took a few years before I tried taking another class. This time it was with a different teacher at another studio. The format was much closer to something that I could wrap my mind around. It was like a gentle dance class and the final meditation was simply wonderful. The teacher was a sweetheart who would always greet her students with a hug. The gems of wisdom that she taught made a lasting impression on me.
After a few classes I was hooked and it became my mid-week ritual. I wanted to share the experience but couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I remember stopping by the town bar before class and trying to rally a few friends to go with me (yeah, no luck there). People were either too tired or just not interested. So I kept going by myself every week.
I recently met a woman who told me point blank that she doesn’t like yoga. She’d only been to one class and said that was enough for her. She coaches a high school girls basketball team and believes that she’s too competitive for yoga. She also admitted that she didn’t like being singled out by the teacher who was giving corrections during class.
I completely understand where she’s coming from, but I still hope that she can find her way to another class someday. She could probably benefit from one-on-one training, where she wouldn’t have to worry about feeling competitive or embarrassed. Ultimately she is the only person who is going to change her mind.
This is a common issue with group yoga classes, where first timers decide to try a class with no idea of what to expect and get burned out from the experience. If you’re new to yoga I encourage you to try a few different styles. You might find this flow chart handy as it could give you an idea of what kind of yoga class would be right for you.
What was your first yoga class like? Was it enjoyable or was there something about it that didn’t suit you? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below: