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  • Writer's pictureEve Bernfeld

The Warm-Up (Part 1)

Tennis ball? Or key to feeling better?

Last Friday I woke up feeling hung over. I had NOT been drinking, but I had been burning the candle at both ends by traveling (including a red-eye) over the previous weekend, and then rolling right into a week where I taught four extra classes on top of my normal schedule. And I still had a two-hour class on Embodied Education to teach that morning at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. Yay, and also, Ugh.

As I trudged around the house getting ready to go and wondering how I would possibly have the energy I needed to teach, I remembered a part of the lesson plan: the power of a warm-up. Oh, right. I should probably take my own advice. By then I didn’t have much time. My warm-up lasted approximately seven minutes. I did a brief lie-down on the floor and then rolled a tennis ball under each of my feet. And I swear, I felt like a new person.

Of all the tools I routinely use to keep myself from completely losing my head, this is probably the oldest, and one I keep rediscovering.

The Warm-Up.

A warm-up is a preparation. It may, quite literally, warm one up, but it also gets one in the right frame of mind to do whatever is next. Dancers are all about the warm-up, as are singers. There’s an old saw about the actor’s warm-up being a cigarette and a cup of coffee, though I think most take their craft more seriously than that. I hope you would warm up before running a 5K, and I also want to suggest that a warm-up can be just as effective for everyday life.

I have done a warm-up before an interview. Before I’ve sat down to write. Before giving a presentation or teaching a workshop. Before heading to work in the morning. A friend recently told me that she did a warm-up before her mammogram. No, she didn’t imagine it would improve the results, but she certainly went in feeling more at ease.

So what do I mean when I suggest a “Warm-Up”? There is no particular recipe. I have my own preferences based on a few decades of movement research, but that is not a prerequisite. I’ll describe some ground-rules (for you to take or leave) and then give a few examples.

Features of a Warm-Up:

It involves your Whole Body. This one is kind of easy, as I like to tell my students that everything is a whole-body activity. But most of us tend to forget that, so it’s good to remember that whatever you do, it should de-gum you in a generalized way.

It is Mindful. If you do it while you watch TV or check your email, that doesn’t count. Three minutes spent mindfully moving is, for the purposes of centering and preparing you, far superior to 30 minutes sweating on the elliptical trainer in front of a screen.

You Enjoy it. This doesn’t mean you don’t experience resistance. I can convince myself to just about anything except what I most need. But I am ALWAYS glad I did it.

When you are done you feel centered, yet lively. Your engine is running but not racing. You’re ready to go, but not amped. If you try an activity that doesn’t do this for you, try something else.

I gave you an example of what I did last Friday (Alexander Technique lie-down and rolling a tennis ball under each foot). Here are a few more ideas:

Dance to a favorite song.


Walk backwards around your house.

Empty the dishwasher very slowly and thoughtfully, as if it were Tai Chi.

Engage in your favorite workout or movement routine, but, again, slowly and thoughtfully. Allowing yourself to be present.

Take a walk or a run or a bike ride (sans headphones).

A warm-up can be as short or long as you have or need.

I am hereby challenging myself to take my own advice and do a warm-up every day for a week. Will you join me? I’ll check back next week to tell you how it’s going and I hope you will too!

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