I don’t know about you, but the body I wake up with in the morning isn’t a very good one. I’m not at my physical or mental best. Everything feels heavy and lumbering. One hand or the other is usually numb. I can hardly bend down to pet the cats or pick up the clothes I tossed on the floor the night before. In this state it’s hard to get moving, even to do basic chores like cleaning out my car or pulling weeds in the yard. Feats of strength, coordination, and fluid responsiveness – like squatting and deadlifting with my strength and conditioning coach, or dealing with multiple attackers at the dojo – seem like distant fantasies. There’s no way this body can accomplish those things.
But I know a simple process to change this body into the one that can do all those things easily and comfortably: Do my warm-ups.
I was reminded of this at last week’s Aiki Summer Retreat, a week-long Aikido camp. When I’d bow in for class at the last minute (or late!) my body wasn’t ready – I felt creaky and stiff. When I made a point of arriving early and going through my usual warm-up routine I felt strong, limber, and grounded. It makes a world of difference to warm up before we try to get active.
My routine starts with walking laps around the mat, then jogging for short bits, dropping back to a walk when I need to catch my breath. I progressively increase speed -walking faster, then running – as my body feels ready, until I am jogging laps, and sprinting one long side of the mat as fast as I can go. Once my muscles are warm I loosen up further with big range-of-motion exercises, and finally do some front and back rolls, and a few stretches. By the end I am breathing hard, sweating, and ready to train without feeling like I might shatter when I hit the mat. The whole process takes only about 10 minutes. When I lead warm-ups before class at the dojo – not as vigorous – they only take 5 minutes. It’s a small investment of time that has big pay-offs, including more energy, better focus, and fewer injuries.
Your warm-up process will likely not include sprinting and rolling. (Or maybe it will!) Find a routine that works for you. Start with big, fluid motions, or with simply walking. Get yourself breathing and sweating – you’re literally getting your body warm and getting your systems ready for physical challenges. Make that 5-10 minute investment in yourself, to become who you need to be to take on whatever challenges you have in your day.
The practice of doing warm-ups extends beyond the physical realm, too. They are what morning pages are to writers. Warm-ups give us an easy, small goal that gets us moving and prepares our bodies and minds for the real work. When the work you are facing seems insurmountable, forget about it for the moment, and just do your warm-ups. They will move you to a better level, and from there the work ahead doesn’t look so bad at all.