yoga floor sequence

Kick Start Your Practice: A Dynamic Yoga Warm-Up Sequence on the Floor

By: 
Baxter Bell, MD

Truth be told, starting a yoga practice on the floor is my favorite way to begin, regardless of what might come later in the sequence. It is a great way to warm up for both gentle and active practices. It’s also a nice way to start the day for a morning practice or end the day for an early evening practice. If you tend to have a bony backside, your practice space is cold, or are just sensitive to a hard surface, you can place a blanket under your hips, shoulders, and head to provide a bit of support and comfort.

The dynamic floor warm-up sequence that follows is only one of many ways I start a practice on the floor. This one is particularly suited as a warm-up for a more active practice due to the inclusion of dynamic poses with lots of movement. 

For this warm-up sequence, you will need a strap and a block. If you find this practice a bit too long for you on any given day, try doing fewer rounds of the dynamic sequences (for example, only two rounds of Reclined Hip Stretch vinyasa), shortening the holds on the static poses to 30 seconds, or only doing one or two of the variations of Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Leg Stretch Pose). You can also remove poses entirely, such as the Yoga Situps, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), or any pose that you might choose. 

Even though this series of poses is a way to warm up for a longer practice, it could also be a fine mini-practice all on its own! 

Constructive Rest Pose

This is a great position to start any floor practice where you are going to be on your back.  

  1. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet about a foot from your hips, with arms relaxed at your sides.

  2. Take a moment to tune into your body and your breath before you begin the active poses.

Pelvic Rock and Roll

This is a great way to bring some mobility to the lower back and hips. 

  1. In Constructive Rest pose, bring your awareness to your breath.

  2. On an exhalation, rock your pelvis toward your head, lowering your low back gently to the floor.

  3. On your inhalation, roll your pelvis toward your heels, gently arching your low back away from the floor. This is similar to the actions we do in Marjarasana (Cat-Cow Pose). 

Dynamic Knees to Chest (Apanasana) 

This pose stretches your hip muscles and warms up your shoulders and arms. 

  1. From Constructive Rest Pose, stretch your legs out along the floor.

  2. Inhale and raise your arms overhead alongside your ears.

  3. Then exhale and bend your right knee into your chest, and hold onto the right shin with your hands.

  4. Mindfully squeeze your knee in toward your chest for a few breaths.

  5. Inhale and stretch your right leg along the floor and bring your arms back overhead.

  6. Exhale and bring your left leg in.

  7. Repeat the process, doing the sequence to 2 or 3 times to each side.

Reclined Hip Stretch Sequence 

This dynamic sequence is another good way to warm up your hips and focus your attention on the breath and movement.

  1. Start by lying on your back, with your legs straight. You can set yourself up near a wall, so your feet can press into the wall. 

  2. Inhale and raise your arms overhead and then back toward the floor.

  3. Then exhale and bend your right knee to your chest, bringing your hands to meet the knee. 

  4. Inhale, and gently guide your right knee toward the right using your right hand. 

  5. Exhale, and guide your knee back to center, then, changing to your left hand, guide your knee 6-12 inches over to the left.

  6. Inhale, and guide your knee back to center.

  7. Then exhale, and holding onto the back of your leg, straighten your leg toward the ceiling as much as you can. 

  8. Inhale, bend your knee, release your foot to the floor, and straighten your leg along the ground.

  9. Repeat the entire sequence on your left side.

  10. After that, if you wish, you can repeat the sequence on both sides for 3 to 6 rounds.

Reclined Leg Stretch (Supta Padangusthasana) 

One of my all-time favorite poses, this pose stretches the muscles around your hips in many directions as well as your hamstrings. You can do just one of the variations, but I typically do all four of them, as they also prepare you for many standing poses. Hold each variation for 30-60 seconds.

Version 1: Leg Straight Up

With a strap in hand, bend your right knee into your chest, place the strap over the arch of the right foot and straighten the right knee, stretching your foot towards the ceiling, keeping some tension on the two sides of the strap.

  1. Start in Constructive Rest position, lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.

  2. walking each hand up the sides of the strap until the arms are straight.

  3. Slide your bottom leg long on the floor, straightening your left knee and pressing out through your left heel.

  4. Adjust the angle of your right leg forward or back until you can easily keep the right knees straight and still feel a stretch in the hamstring and calf of the right leg.

  5. Relax your shoulders, and make sure your lower spine is either softly touching the floor or slightly arched away from it (and is not jammed into the floor or overarched).

  6. After you have aligned yourself, bring your attention to the sensations in your body or follow your breath. 

  7. To come out of the pose, bend your right knee, slip the strap off your foot, and lower your right leg to the floor. Then strap aside and shake out both hands for a moment.

  8. Repeat on the second side.

  9. When you’ve finished both sides, bend both knees and come into Constructive Rest pose for a few breaths.

Version 2: Leg to the Side  

This version focuses the stretch on the inner thigh muscles of your raised leg, releasing tight hip muscles. It also strengthens your core muscles, which helps relieve low back pain by improving spinal stability. 

  1. To come into the pose, start in Version 1.  Next, take both sides of the strap into your right hand and stretch your left arm out to your left side in a “T” position.

  2. Continue stretching out through your left leg as you slowly bring your right leg out to your right side and down toward the floor, stopping when your foot is one to two feet from the floor, according to your flexibility. Your hips will tip slightly to your right.

  3. Bring your right elbow to the floor as you keep tension on the strap and press your right foot into the strap.

  4. To create more stretch around your hip, turn your right leg so your heel spins up and toes spin down. If holding your leg out to the side is painful or too much effort, place a block or folded blanket under your right thigh to support it.

  5. To come out of the pose, lift your leg back to vertical. Then follow the instructions for coming out of Version 1.

  6. Repeat on the second side.  

Version 3: Scissor Legs  

This variation stretches your outer hip and leg, which is particularly helpful walkers, hikers, runners, and cyclists, who tend to be tight in these areas. Unlike Version 4, this version doesn’t require twisting your spine, so it is safer for those with lower back pain. 

  1. Start in Version 1. Take both ends of the strap into your left hand and extend your right arm out to the side in a “T” position.

  2. Keeping your lower back and pelvis on the floor, bring your right leg toward your left, about 6-12 inches across the midline of your body. Keep some tension on the strap and press your right foot into it. 

  3. To create more stretch around your hip, roll your outer right hip away from your waist so your right heel spins to the left and right toes spin to the right.

  4. To come out of the pose, return to the Version 1 by bringing your leg back to vertical. Then follow the instructions for coming out of Version 1.

  5. Repeat on the second side.

Version 4: Twisting  

Like Version 3, this version stretches your outer hip and leg along with your deep buttock muscles. But because this version is also a twist, it also opens your chest and releases tight back muscles.

  1. Start by coming into Version 1. Next, take both sides of the strap into your left hand and extend your right arm out to the side in a “T” position.

  2. Roll your hips and legs to the left, coming onto your outer left leg so your right hip is stacked on top of the left.

  3. Swing your right leg directly out to the left so it is parallel to the floor, with your toes pointing to the wall behind you.

  4. As you continue to reach your right arm out the side, try to keep both shoulder blades on the floor. If you can’t keep the right one on the floor due to tightness in your chest, allow it to remain a bit lifted.

  5. Keep some tension on the strap and press the right foot into it. To create more stretch for your right hip, leg, and buttock muscles, roll your right hip down toward your left foot and away from the right side of your waist.

  6. If holding your leg out to the side is painful or too much effort, place a block or folded blanket under your right foot to support it.

  7. To come out of the pose, return to Version 1 by bringing your leg back to vertical. Then follow the instructions for coming out of Version 1.

  8. Repeat on the second side.

Yoga Sit-Ups         

This dynamic sequence helps strengthen many of the core muscles of the belly area.  

  1. From Constructive Rest Pose, establish a slight arch in your lower back. You will be keeping this arched shape steady as you move through the yoga sit-ups, avoiding flattening or overarching the back as you roll up and down.

  2. Interlace your fingers and bring your hands behind your head, resting your head against them with elbows pointing to the sky.

  3. Start by taking an inhalation to get ready and then as you exhale, roll your head and chest up towards your bent knees a few inches.

  4. As you inhale, roll your head and chest back to the starting position.

  5. Repeat 6 times.      

Dynamic Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) 

This pose stretches the front of your body while also strengthening the muscles at the back of your body.  

  1. From Constructive Rest Pose, slide your heels back toward your buttocks so they are about 4-5 inches away.

  2. Place a block between your inner thighs on its narrow width and squeeze it moderately, maintaining the squeeze throughout.

  3. Now press your feet and arms (from shoulders to hands, palms down) down into the floor.

  4. On an inhalation, lift your hips straight up toward the ceiling as far as it’s comfortable, like an elevator rising.

  5. On an exhalation, lower your hips gently back down to the floor.

  6. Repeat 6 times.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

  1. Rest for a few breaths and then come into the classic version of Bridge Pose for 30-60 seconds.

  2. Return to Constructive Rest Pose for a few breaths. 

 

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Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Healthy Aging Blog spot.  

Photos courtesy of Melina Meza.

 

Baxter Bell, MD, C-IAYT, eRYT 500, is a yoga teacher and educator, physician and medical acupuncturist. These days he focuses on teaching yoga full-time, both to ordinary students of all ages and physical conditions and to the next generation of yoga teachers, to whom he teaches anatomy and yoga therapy along with his accessible, skillful style of yoga. Baxter brings a unique perspective to his teaching, combining his understanding of anatomy and medicine with his skill at instructing people from all walks of life and all levels of ability. Baxter is the co-founder and writer for the popular Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, where he shares his knowledge of medical conditions, anatomy, and yoga with practitioners and teachers across the world. In addition to being a frequent presenter at Yoga Journal Alive events and yoga conferences such as IAYT’s SYTAR, he is often quoted as an expert on yoga and health by major national news outlets such as The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. To learn more, visit www.baxterbell.com, www.yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com, and his YouTube channel Baxter Bell YogaBaxter is the co-author with Nina Zolotow of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.