Warm-up in Yoga: a Fancy or a Must

A warm-up is a preparatory part of any training process that involves specific exercises to be done immediately before the basic part of the training complex. The main goal of the warm-up is to achieve the optimum level of the central nervous system’ excitability and to mobilize physiological functions of one’s body prior to the upcoming physical activity.

The need of dynamic warm-up in scope of the yogic complex structure is sometimes questioned. We consider the warm-up to be its essential part that has its own specific features.

Many asanas involve rather complicated joint rotation necessary for coming up into pose, and thus the warm-up shall necessarily include the muscle and joint (articular) exercises.

 First, the active joint movements normalize the level of the synovial fluid that fills up the joint cavities: the initial lack of its amount stimulates its formation and release into the joint cavity by synovial membrane, while its excess (which may occur in case of inflammatory process) leads to its absorption back to lymphatic or bloodstream. Additionally, its stickiness and electrolytic composition shall be changed. This facilitates significantly one’s further work in asanas, prevents eventual pain and thus resulted inability to perform many poses.

Second, in addition to its own joints the articular apparatus also includes tendons of muscles that pass through the joint or are attached to its capsule. Thus, the joint «coordinates» the action of the muscles group which tendons are involved in formation of the joint. The group is determined as a functional one and it unites muscles that perform the given motor act (the group includes the main muscle, the synergists, antagonists and supporting muscles).

In case the warm-up involves all major joints it shall cause coordination of relationships and movements of various functional groups of muscles and body parts. This is one of the main tasks «fulfilled» by asanas. And that is why the joint exercises can be considered an integral part of the main complex that advances a more thorough work with intermuscular relationships in asanas.

 Third, joint surfaces and joint ligaments come as an extensive receptor field that includes more than 4 types of receptors located in the joint capsule buried in joint ligaments and tendons of muscles that pass through the joint or are attached to its capsule.

Let us consider the main types of joint receptors. One of them – the Golgi tendon organ – is sensitive to changes in the joint angle, the other one – the Ruffini corpuscles – is susceptible to the rate of change. At that, the Ruffini corpuscles are also sensitive to activity of muscles that change the tension of the joint capsule. The Vater-Pacini corpuscles are sensitive to changes in the joint capsule tension resulted by its pulling and movements. The difference between Vater-Pacini corpuscles and Golgi and Ruffini receptors is that those first provide a quick response that lasts while the joint capsule tension is changed and ends up no later than in 1 second. Those latter are the «slow» receptors and the period of their adaptation makes up from 0.5 to 1 minute. So hence comes the need to perform warm-up of one joint for at least 1 to 2 minutes. 

Fourth, the performance of muscle and joint exercises intensifies blood and lymph circulation, makes local temperature rise and intensifies metabolism thus improving elasticity of ligaments, tendons and fascia of muscles attached to the joint. It makes it possible to «stretch» the tendons (thus explaining the recommendation to perform articular gymnastics with proper tension, with some effort) and consequently to “open up” the muscle for further work in asana. It is the density and springiness of connective tissue elements of muscle tissue that by making a kind of skeleton sometimes prevent one from stretching the necessary muscle and its intensive work-through.

The warm-up implies proper preparation of the muscle tissue. It is known that the muscles in rest receive about 15% of the blood minute output (BMO). In scope of dynamic muscular work these figures increase and may reach 88% of the BMO, first of all due to opening of the «reserve» muscle tissue capillaries. The volumetric blood flow shall thus increase from the rate of 4 ml / min per 100 g of muscle tissue to 100-150 ml / min, i.e. 20 to 25 times (O. Wade, IM Bishop, 1962; J. Schemer, 1973, Dubrovsky B. I., 1982, etc.). The blood flow shall increase when the load initially occurs and until the 3rd minute it shall reach its stable level depending upon the intensity of the load and initial medical condition of the organism.

The intensified blood flow causes the muscle tissue temperature rise from 34.8 C to 38.5 C. In its turn the temperature rise reduces the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen and promotes its (oxygen’s) release of chemical bonds. And in consideration of the fact that the blood flow shall increase by 20 times, the aerobic metabolism in the muscles can increase 100-fold due to oxygen utilization increase from 20-25% to 80%.

The rise of temperature is a process that some stages of glycolysis and glycogenolysis – i.e. the oxidation processes that provide the working muscles with energy – are sentient to. Consequently the rise of temperature shall be increasing the rate of oxidative processes and muscles supply with energy.

In this way we see that preparative dynamic load facilitates the maximum efficient blood supply to muscles which promotes proper involvement and work of muscle tissue in the asanas without switching to anaerobic energy supply. This prevents the formation of lactic acid and the emergence of «delayed onset muscle soreness».

The impact of dynamic warm-up on the cardiorespiratory system comes down to rise of external respiration’, heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac minute output and blood pressure coefficients and to further stabilization of these parameters at the new level.

For the most balanced and complete engagement of one’s body into the yoga-class work the involvement of more than 2/3 of the body muscles is preferable. Therefore the warm-up should include general exercises for the even workout of the major muscle groups. If one needs to prepare some peculiar zones more carefully, the general exercises can be added by some specific ones.

Hence we can estimate the duration of the proper warm-up: thorough workout of large joints and major muscle groups, enhancement and stabilization of cardiorespiratory parameters shall take at least 15 — 20 minutes. In scope of this the duration of dynamic load shall depend upon the body fitness: the more training practice the person has, the less time it requires for complete engagement into the basic mode.

All above-mentioned processes also affect the state of one’s nervous system by helping to achieve the optimal level of its excitability.

For a healthy person the criterion of properly and correctly performed warm-up shall be the feeling of warmth and heat in one’s body and the appearance of sweat. This indicates the transition of metabolism to the next level; the sweating helps in setting the necessary level of temperature control and better performance of excretory functions. These listed effects are correlated with the signs of the etheric body stimulation that are described in sutras on yoga.

In order to preserve the achieved state the interval between the warm-up and the following main complex should not exceed 10 — 15 minutes.

So here are the basic rules for the warm-up:

  1. The warm-up should involve at least 2/3 of the total muscle mass and it should last at least 10-15 minutes.
  2. The warm-up should include the general and the specific parts (if the workout of some particular area is required).
  3. The articular exercises with workout of all major joints should make up the mandatory part of the warm-up.
  4. The joints workout should be performed with additional tension.
  5. The workout of one joint should last at least 1 minute.
  6. The feeling of warmth and heat in one’s body and the appearance of sweat shall come as the criterion of properly and correctly performed warm-up. The same effect can be observed after performance of articular exercises only (A.G. Safronov «Yoga: Physiology, Psychosomatics, Bioenergetics»).
  7. The transition period from the warm-up to the main complex should not exceed 10 — 15 minutes.

Elena Akhrameeva
Yoga Instructor


25. 12.2010


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