It is common to see individuals and teams’ warm-up before exercising or playing sports. In fact, most people do a little warm-up that includes a few minutes of aerobic type exercises, followed by a few stretches, maybe some skill work, before getting in to a workout. When it comes to a warm-up like this, I understand the science, and want to share a little bit of that with you this week. We’ll also explore if Māori traditionally considered a warm-up necessary.
Today, preparing the body for sport or exercise is a widely accepted practice in the sports and fitness industries. The fundamental purpose of the traditional warm-up is to help prime our body to best perform a future activity or task. This can include activities that target our manawa (heart), our working uaua (muscles), our energy systems, and even our hinengaro (brain). When I think about the latest warm-up protocols, they remind me of how our tūpuna considered the different components of the tinana. I will share with you an example of what a typical warm-up might look like to a sports team, and how it relates to our atua Māori from my perspective.
Firstly, we take an aerobic activity like running. A short, low intensity run will begin to send a signal to our manawa to move more blood and oxygen around the tinana. As a consequence, the manawa begins to beat faster helping to power our working uaua in preparation for the game ahead. Preparing the manawa and moving liquid around our tinana has a connection with Tangaroa, the atua of the ocean. We have the liquid component in our tinana that is like the waters of the ocean, and we also share a heartbeat. The waves that constantly roll in to shore have been likened to the heartbeat of Tangaroa.
Secondly, once the blood is pumping the body begins to warm up and our uaua start to function differently. They are a little bit like a rubber-band, where our uaua become more pliable when they are warm. This can effectively increase how far our uaua can stretch, potentially increasing our strength, and reducing the risk of pulling or tearing a muscle. To begin with, you want to keep the uaua moving to develop warmth and pliability. This means no static stretching when you are cold, keep your tinana moving! The uaua are connected with Tūmatauenga (God of war), as it was he who gifted them to the formation of Hineahuone, the first female being.
Thirdly, beyond our uaua, a well-developed warm-up will also target our hinengaro. A warm body will increase the speed at which our nervous system signals our muscles to work. To improve this, we want to use specific skills, like passing and catching, which will strengthen specific connections between our hinengaro and our uaua. By doing so, we can improve our coordination and reaction time—elements that are controlled by our hinengaro. The hinengaro is an interesting component from our tūpuna’s perspective with variations across iwi. Some credit the original creator for instilling thoughts and intents in to our hinengaro, others associate it with Tāne for his retrieval of the three baskets of knowledge. I recently heard another kōrero that the left side of the brain was connected with Tūmatauenga for rational and logical thought, while the right side of the brain was connected with Rongo for creativity and intuition. I like this for the reason of distinguishing the active (Tū) and passive (rongo) elements of our hinengaro in regards to movements.
As you can see, there are a range of elements to a warm-up that are specific to what you are trying to achieve. Each of these elements also have a connection back to Māori concepts of the human body and its relationship to our atua Māori and the natural world. We get the heart pumping; we warm the body and the working muscles, and prime the nervous system.
By providing Māori concepts to these approaches, it makes the warm-up more relevant to me. Although these Māori concepts may apply to a traditional warm-up protocol, I still do not believe my tūpuna would think about a warm-up the way we do today. I think in this instance we are applying Māori content to a Pākeha process. In that case, the question is not so much about whether my tupuna would consider a warm-up as necessary, but rather what a Māori process for engaging in physical activity looked like? To find the answer to that question, you’ll have to check back here next week for part 2.