6 Yoga-inspired warm-up exercises for the body
(For each of the poses below, the title links to Tummee – a FREE yoga website for teachers and practitioners alike that has information on thousands of yoga poses and more. Click each link to see a picture of how the pose might look for you, as well as some modifications).
The following three poses can all be practiced on a chair (or the loo) and are therefore appropriate for those moments just before your public speaking event.
Be sure to practice the side bends and cat-cows before the twists, so that your spine has had a chance to warm up
Seated side bends are great to help develop your public speaking presence.
60-70% of our lungs are along the side and back of our body, so creating space in these areas allows for our lungs to increase in capacity and strength.
Why do we need bigger, stronger lungs? Because this allows us to take deeper breaths, which switches on our parasympathetic nervous system. This is our rest-and-digest state and is what’s responsible for keeping us calm, grounded, and relaxed – exactly the conditions you want for your speech or presentation.
How to do seated side bends
1. In your chair, place your feet under your knees, your knees hips distance apart, and your head and shoulders directly over the hips with a natural curve in the spine. Keep both sit bones pressing gently down into the chair and relax both arms down to your sides.
2. On your next inhale through the nose, lift your right arm up so that your fingertips reach up to the ceiling. Your right sit bone still gently grounds down into the chair.
3. As you exhale through the nose, keep the sit bones where they are (don’t let them lift) and bend over to the left. Keep your torso parallel with the back of the chair (not rounding down to face the floor). Your right fingertips are now reaching diagonally up to the left.
4. Feel the stretch along the right side body. Your right arm never has to be straight, bent elbows are fine. When you’re ready, inhale up, and exhale the arm down.
5. Repeat on the left side.
PRO TIP: Focus on only moving the upper body, keeping the lower body “stuck” in position. That way, when you are in the side bend, you can notice the expansion in the side of the chest as you breathe in. If it helps, put a block between your thighs to remind your lower body to stay still.
Seated cat-cow is a great way to warm up the spine, stretch the muscles across the top of the back, and open up the top of the chest.
All this also contributes to creating greater space for the lungs.
How to do seated cat-cow
1. Assume the same seated position in your chair as you did for seated side bends. This time, Reach your arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
2. Inhale here, then as you exhale through the nose, round the back and reach your arms forwards.
3. As you inhale through the nose, arch the back, and bring your arms down and back behind you, interlacing the fingers if that’s available to you. If not, try holding onto a strap or belt with both hands to help open up the chest.
4. Repeat two or three times, following the pace of your breath.
PRO TIP: As you reach the arms back, keep the belly engaged and draw the ribs gently in. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it helps to really focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together without compromising the lower back.
Twists are a great way to keep the spine healthy while also creating strength and space in the chest.
They’re fantastic if you spend a long time sitting at a desk or computer.
How to do seated twists
1. Return back to the same neutral seated position. Then shift forwards so you’re on the edge of your seat, almost.
2. Reach both arms up on the inhale.
3. As you exhale, Bring your left arm to the outside of the right knee, and the right arm back behind you, so that your fingertips are resting on the seat behind your right hip.
4. Inhale to lift the chest and lengthen the spine. Exhale to twist, using the strength of the belly muscles more than the arms. check that both hips and knees remain facing forward and are not twisting around to the right.
5. Stay here for a few breaths, then when you’re ready inhale to lift both arms up as you face forwards and exhale to bring both arms down to the side.
6. Repeat on the other side.
PRO TIP: the neck is also part of the spine, so as you twist, try to look over the shoulder of the back arm, but don’t force it.
Moving on now to poses you can do without a chair, we will start with cat-cow.
Like seated cat-cow, this pose is great for warming up the spine, creating strength in the arms, legs, and core, and developing breath awareness.
How to do cat-cow
1. Come on to all fours, with your wrists below your shoulders, and knees below your hips. Gently pull in your belly, and endeavor to keep this engagement throughout the movement on this pose. You can choose whther to tuck or untuck your toes, but either way makle sure your feet are in lign with your knees and if the toes are untucked they point straight back behind you.
2. Inhale here, then as you exhale arch the back up toward the ceiling, reaching the tailbone gently down to the floor and tucking your chin into your chest.
3. As you exhale, keep the belly engaged as you gently lift the tailbone up to the ceiling, arch the lower back down, and reach the chest forward, lifting the chin up to the ceiling if that feels right for your neck.
4. Repeat for a few rounds, using the breath pace as the guide.
PRO TIP: Keep the shoulders in the same position throughout, so you don’t dump into the shoulders as you drop your back down. This requires continuous pushing into the mat. If your knees hurt, place a folded blanket or towel under them for extra padding.
Anjaneyasana (often translated as low lunge) is a fantastic pose.
It strengthens and stretches the hip flexors, strengthens the core, and creates space in the upper chest and back.
All this contributes to developing better posture as well as increasing lung capacity and lung strength. If we’re allowed favorites in Asana, this one is mine.
How to do Anajaneyasana
1. From the same starting position as you were in for Cat-Cow, bring your right foot forward to the inside of the right hand. Tuck the toes of the left foot, lift the knee a little, and gently scoot the back leg back just a little so that when you lay the knee down again, you’re resting on the fleshier part of the upper knee and untuck the back foot.
2. Engage the core muscles to lift your hands onto your right knee and to lift the upper body upright.
3. Gently reach the tailbone down toward the back of the left knee, and gently pull in the belly.
4. Once stabilized, inhale to lift your arms up, reaching the fingertips to the ceiling. If it feels comfortable on your neck, lift your chin to look up. Otherwise, stay looking forwards. Keep drawing the ribs and belly in to protect the lower back.
5. After a few breaths here, release the arms down on the exhale to frame the front foot and return to the starting position.
6. Repeat with the left leg.
PRO TIP: Keep actively pushing down into both feet to help with balance and to help engage the core.
Extended side angle is another favorite of mine because so much is going on in this pose you have little time to think of anything else.
As with side bends, it’s great for increasing lung strength and lung capacity, while also working on leg strength and flexibility which contributes to better posture.
How to do Extended Side Angle
1. From mountain pose, reach the left leg back behind you about the distance of one leg length. Rotate the back foot so that it is pointing toward the long edge of your mat. Keep the front foot facing the short edge of your mat.
2. Gently rotate the hips so that as best as possible they are facing the long edge of the mat. Keep your hip bones level.
3. Check your shoulders are over your hips so that you’re not leaning forward and that your tailbone is gently reaching downwards so that you’re not arching your lower back (in what I like to call “duck bum”).
4. Reach your arms out to the side at shoulder height. Look over to your right hand. Reach the arms away from each other while still keeping the shoulders over the hips.
5. Exhale and bend the front knee so that it comes roughly over the ankle.
6. Inhale here, then exhale and bend the front arm at the elbow, resting the elbow on the front thigh and pointing the hand towards the long edge of the mat, with the palm facing up. The back arm will likely be reaching up toward the ceiling.
7. Inhale here, then exhale to bring the top arm up and over so that it is in line with your left ear, palm facing down to the floor. Check that your chest is still facing the long side of the mat and not rotating down to the floor as this will constrict the breath.
8. Breathe, focusing on reaching the top arm up and grounding the back leg down on the inhale, then tucking the tailbone and re-engaging the belly on the exhale. It’s tougher than it looks.
9. Exhale, and engage the core to lift yourself up, straighten the front leg, and relax the arms. Switch the rotation of the feet so that your left foot is now pointing to the short edge of the mat, and your right foot to the long edge.
10. Repeat steps 2 to 10.
PRO TIP: To come out of the pose, rotate both feet so they are pointing to the long edge of the mat, bend the knees and heel-toe your feet in toward each other, then step to the top of the mat and resume Mountain pose.