Portable Yoga: 3 Practices You Can Take on the Road
As a yoga teacher and therapist, 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.
Breathing practices, or pranayama, can be done anywhere, anytime. Like most yoga practices, breathing practices can serve to energize or to calm. 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 is a form of breathing that involves taking long slow breaths at a rate of about 5.5 breaths per minute. This technique was developed by a pair of psychiatrists in New York City who found it helped individual who undergone some type of trauma or with a severe mental health condition. Coherent breathing is also recommended to cardiac patients because of its stabilizing affect on heart rate variability. Your heart rate variability scoreis 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, and 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 (sometimes referred to as deergha swasam) is traditionally taught in beginner yoga classes. This practice serves to sooth the nervous system, reduce anxiety and aid with insomnia. Often it is taught lying down, but you can just as easily practice it seated in a chair.
How to practice Three-Part breathing:
Imagine your torso is in three parts: the low belly or abdomen, the lower ribs, and the chest. As you slowly inhale, allow your lower belly to expand. As you continue to inhale, feel your lower ribs expand out to the sides, drawing the breath up to your collarbones. Let the exhale be passive and smooth, reversing the flow of breath as you empty first your chest, then your ribs and finally your belly. You may choose to gently engage the lower abs on the exhale. I like to visualize the inhale as being like filling up a pitcher with water slowly from the bottom to the top. I imagine the exhale as pouring the water out of the pitcher to empty it. Again, you can do this for a few breaths or a few minutes to help bring calm into your mind and body.
Alternate Nostril or “Hand-to-Hand Breath”
This last breath practice is a variation of alternate nostril breathing (also known as nadi shodhana) which 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 1-2 easy breaths as you settle. Then bring your awareness to your right hand. Imagine inhaling the breath into your right palm and traveling up the length of your arm to the center of your chest. Pause briefly here and 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 4-6 additional cycles: inhale right, exhale left, inhale left, exhale right.
Next, visualize your breath entering through both palms and moving up both arms to the center of the chest. Imagine the breath moving up and out through the crown of your head as you exhale. Repeat this pattern for 3-4 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!
Sending love and light,