10 Poses to Help You Warm Up for Yoga

If you've ever arrived early for a yoga class, you've probably noticed your fellow students running through some simple stretches on their mats. Though most yoga classes start with a warm-up sequence, it's a good idea for you to go through a few basic poses on your own that will help get you ready for the session ahead. In addition to preparing your physical body, you'll get into your yoga mindset, providing an important separation from the rest of your day.

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Watch Now: How to Do a Simple Yoga Warm Up Sequence

Keep in mind that you don't need to do the fullest expression of each of these poses—you are just starting to move your body and shake off the cobwebs. You can also use these stretches for your ​home practice, before doing a yoga video, or just to relieve tension at the end of the day.

Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilts

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

Begin by lying down on your back with your knees bent for a few pelvic tilts.

To do these, press your lower back gently against the floor, tilting your pelvis toward your face, and then release it. It doesn't sound like much, but this very subtle movement has a wonderful effect on the spine, warming it and getting it moving freely. If you have a stiff back, doing about 20 of these will generally loosen things up.

Leg Stretch

Leg Stretch

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Begin to work your legs by lifting them perpendicular to the floor, either one at a time or both together.

From the pelvic tilt position, lift one leg off the floor and aim the sole of your foot at the ceiling. Keep the other foot on the floor or bring it up to join the first one.

If straightening your legs is a challenge, it's fine to keep them bent. They also don't have to come to fully perpendicular; lift them as high as is comfortable for you. Stretching a strap around the sole of your foot may make this position more comfortable.

Once your leg is lifted, begin to strongly flex and then point your foot. Notice how these contrasting positions feel different all the way up your leg. You are beginning to stretch the hamstrings, feet, ankles, calves, and fronts of the shins.

Eye of the Needle Pose

Eye of the needle

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Remaining on your back, cross your right ankle over the opposite knee for ​the eye of the needle pose (Sucirandhrasana). Since you are just getting started, you can keep your left foot on the floor, especially if you have tight hips.

If you want a bigger stretch, draw your left knee toward your body. Go easy since your hips may be stiff at first. Once you finish on one side switch legs to loosen up the other side.

Easy Pose

Easy Pose - Sukhasana

Photo: Ben Goldstein

For easy pose (Sukhasana) come up to sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Place one or two folded blankets under your seat so that your knees are lower than your hips. Do a few neck rolls here.

First, let your chin drop toward your chest. Then roll your chin over to the left shoulder, circle the head back, then bring the chin to the right shoulder. Continue circling slowly, moving through any areas of tightness, for about five rotations. Then do an equal number of rotations in the opposite direction.

If you have trouble with your neck, skip the part where you let the head drop back and just move the chin forward from ear to ear instead.

Eagle Arms

woman doing eagle arms pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

While staying seated in easy pose, take the arm position for eagle pose (arms crossed, bent, and parallel to the floor). This gives you a really nice stretch across the shoulder blades and center of the back, an area that is otherwise hard to stretch.

If you do the position with the right arm on top first, make sure to spend equal time with the left arm on top.

Easy Twist

Easy twist

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Keep your legs in easy pose and twist to the right, bringing your left hand to your right knee and the right hand behind your back. Take your gaze gently over your left shoulder, then twist to the left, bringing the right hand to your left knee and the left hand behind your back. Remember that this is just a warm up, so this shouldn't be your deepest twist.

This is also a good place to take your easy pose into a forward bend. Since you've been sitting cross-legged for a while, switch the position of your legs so that the opposite leg is in front. You can continue to sit here until class starts or continue with a few more stretches if you have the inclination.

Cat-Cow Stretch

woman doing cat-cow stretch

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Emily O'Connell

If you still have some time, do a few rounds of cat-cow stretches (on all fours alternating arching and rounding your spine). These will further loosen the spine.

Since you are doing this on your own, take care to synchronize your body to your breath, letting the breath initiate the movement. Begin each motion in your tailbone, letting it ripple up the ​spine until your head is the last thing to move.

Downward Facing Dog

woman doing downward dog pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

You may want to come into a downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), primarily to stretch out the legs one last time. Pedal the heels up and down here to lengthen the calves and hamstrings.

Child's Pose

Childs Pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Child's pose (Balasana) is always a good addition to a warm-up routine. Though often thought of simply as a resting pose, child's pose also offers a nice stretch for the hips and thighs and gives you a chance to turn your attention inward in preparation for your upcoming class.

Goddess Pose

woman doing goddess pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Many people like to await the start of class in goddess pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)—a standing wide-legged squat—to further open the hips, foregoing the previously mentioned poses. If this is your preference, by all means, do it.

You can also come into the seated version of the pose (cobbler's pose) or just return to easy pose for a few minutes until your class begins.

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