Portable Yoga: 3 Practices You Can Take on the Road
As a yoga teacher, I’m always on the look out for ways to help you, my students, take your yoga practice with you when you leave class. While you probably already know there are benefits to practicing yoga more than once a week in a group class, you may feel stymied as to what exactly to do when practicing on your own.
For those of you who have attended my classes, you know I frequently point out how individual poses or practices from our group practice can be made “portable” for use at home. For example, a balancing pose could be done holding onto a kitchen counter while waiting for your morning coffee to brew. Or you could do simple joint rotations during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV shows. But my personal go-to, portable yoga practice is breath work.
Yoga “To Go”
Breathing practices, or pranayama, can be done anywhere, anytime. Like most yoga practices, pranayama practices can serve to energize or calm your body. Some of the most portable ones are soothing breathing techniques you can employ when you are feeling anxious or agitated. As an added benefit, these practices are sufficiently subtle that you can practice them without disturbing the person sitting next to you. This is particularly helpful if you’re sitting in a crowded waiting room or in a cramped plane.
So here are three soothing “portable” breath practices you can take on the road:
Coherent breathing involves taking long slow breaths at a rate of about 5.5 breaths per minute. Originally, this technique was developed for trauma and mental health patients, but everyone can benefit. In fact, coherent breathing is frequently recommended to cardiac patients due to its of its stabilizing affect on heart rate variability. Heart rate variability serves a general indication of the health of your autonomic nervous system. Studies have found that this type of breathing can reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system.
How to Practice Coherent Breathing:
Sit or lie down comfortably. Slowly breath in, expanding your belly for a count of four or five. Pause briefly, then exhale to a count of five or six. Repeat for 5-10 breaths. Ideally, you should practice coherent breathing for 5-10 minutes each day, but it’s a simple practice you can do while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting in the doctor’s office.
Three-part breathing (also known as Dirgha Swasam) soothes the nervous system, reducing anxiety and aiding with insomnia. Often taught lying down, you can also practice it seated in a chair.
How to Practice Three-Part Breathing:
Begin comfortably seated or lying down with your eyes closed. Slowly inhale, allowing your lower belly to expand like a balloon. Continue to inhale, feeling your lower ribs expand out to the sides. Then draw the breath up to your collarbones.
Allow the exhale be passive and smooth, reversing the flow of breath. Empty first your chest, then your ribs and finally your belly, gently engage the lower abs. Try visualizing each inhale as filling up your lungs like you might fill a pitcher with water from the bottom to the top. Then on the exhale, picture the water pouring out of the pitcher as you empty your lungs. As with the other breath practices, repeat this pattern for a few breaths or a few minutes. Pause and notice the calming effect on your mind and body.
Alternate Nostril or “Hand-to-Hand Breath”
This third breath practice is a variation of alternate nostril breathing, called Nadi Shodhana. Here I share an interoceptive version I call “hand-to-hand breath.” Because the hands rest in your lap, it is easy to practice while sitting in the car or on a plane. This type of breathing calms and centers the mind while also improving attention and increasing respiratory strength.
How to Practice Hand-to-Hand Breath:
Sit comfortably with your arms resting on your thighs, palms facing up. Take a few easy breaths as you settle in.
Then bring your awareness to your right hand. Imagine inhaling the breath into your right palm and the breath traveling up the length of your arm to the center of your chest. Take a brief pause here. Then visualize your exhale traveling down your left arm and exiting out your left palm. As you inhale again, imagine the breath entering through your left palm and traveling up the left arm to the center of your chest. Exhale the breath down the right arm and out the right palm. This is one complete cycle of breath. Continue for four to six additional cycles: inhale right, exhale left, inhale left, exhale right.
Next, visualize your breath entering through both palms and moving up your arms to the center of your chest. As you exhale, imagine the breath moving upward and out through the crown of your head. Repeat this pattern for three to four more breaths.
To complete your practice, rest for a few breaths, allowing the breath to flow easily and comfortably. Notice how your mind and body feels. You might consider trying this one lying in bed when you’re having trouble sleeping. It’s very soothing and relaxing. I invite you to visit my YouTube channel for a guided version of this practice.
I hope you’ll adopt these calming “portable” breath practices and take them with you wherever you go. Happy trails!