Wherever I lay my mat

Practice anywhere

With a yoga mat in tow, you can practice pretty much anywhere. That said, the shape of many rooms, certainly make it difficult, however, with some furniture removal, you’re certain to find a space big enough for a mat. Go outside if necessary. Maybe there’s a roof space or a garden somewhere.

The effects of long journeys can take their toll on every level of our being – the physical body, our mental state and our emotions, therefore it’s best to listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs. A vigorous practice after stepping off an overnight flight is not to be recommended, especially if you haven’t slept.

But some pranayama (breathing exercises) may be just the tonic. Breathing is fundamental to living. It is also the key to yoga – the union of the mind with the body. Breathe in and out of the nostrils, keeping lips gently closed, expanding the abdomen, ribcage and chest on the inhalation, relaxing them on the exhalation. Make inhalation and exhalation of equal length, long, deep and controlled. With each breath, observe the moment at the end of the exhalation, just before you draw in the next breath, and experience the stillness of body and mind.

Mindful breathing in itself can vastly improve health and wellbeing, allowing us to take control of our energy. This alone can help combat the energy loss and sleep deprivation associated with travelling. You can also practice this simple breathing exercise, before take off or landing, especially if you have a a fear of flying, or during long delays at airports. No mat required.

Below are some sample asanas or postures for the various stages of your journey.

DURING YOUR JOURNEY

Yes, your yoga practice can begin on the plane (no scoffing in the back seats, please). Most airlines now provide a guide to inflight exercises. Make the most of these, and do at least a few of them, since they will help to avoid some of the problems associated with long-distance travel.

Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

Find a space somewhere on the plane where you can touch your toes, maybe at an exit door. From standing, bend knees slightly, and fold forwards from the waist, allowing the spine to gently lengthen, with the weight of the head hanging down to the ground. Keep your eyes closed, to avoid the funny looks you’re getting from the other passengers and the crew…After any period of time sitting in one place, it is a good idea to lengthen the muscles along the spine and in the legs, and get some extra blood flowing into the head. Just the action of standing up and walking around helps circulation and reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Rotations – ankles, wrists, neck (with care) and shoulders.

You can do these while sitting in your seat.

Coordinate your breathing with the movement, ie: inhale as you start the rotation, exhale as you complete the rotation. It is also helpful to close your eyes and visualise the joints as you move them, focusing on relaxing them as much as possible. Rotations keep the muscles supple and loosen the joints.

Seated twists

Also in the comfort of your seat, sit upright and keep your chin parallel to your seat back. Place your left hand on the right side of the right knee and use the pressure against the knee to twist to the right as far as you can, looking over your right shoulder. Take five to ten deep breaths in the posture and gently release. Repeat on the opposite side. Twists assist the efficient flow of energy along the central energy channel of the body, and therefore through the whole body.

UPON ARRIVAL AT YOUR DESTINATION

Cat stretch pose (marjariasana)

Kneel on your mat on all fours with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, fingers facing forwards. Inhale, raising the head, pushing the backside upwards, gently depressing the spine so that the back becomes concave. Expand the abdomen fully and completely fill the lungs. Hold pose for around three seconds. Exhale, lowering head, drawing the belly inwards and arching the spine upwards towards ceiling. Draw the hips forwards and the forehead towards the hips. Maintain the stretch for three seconds, accentuating the arch of the spine. This is one round. Practice five to ten rounds. Try to perform this posture breathing as slowly as possible. This combination of spinal stretches helps is particularly good at alleviating backache caused by sitting for long periods of time.

Bridge pose (sethu bandasana)

On a yoga mat, lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Peel the spine, vertebra by vertebra, off the floor, starting with the coccyx, elevating the hips. Press down firmly with your feet and draw the buttocks up and under toward the backs of the knees. Keep the thighs parallel. Interlace the fingers and press arms gently down on the floor to help lift the chest. Observe the chest coming closer to the chin. Take five to ten full breaths, then slowly roll down through the back to the floor.This asana helps to draw energy to the base of the spine and exercise the internal organs, stimulating blood-flow into the heart and head.

Spinal twist (shava udarakarshanasana)

On the floor, with lots of room to stretch out (watch out for the furniture!), lie flat on your back with legs and feet together. Bend the right knee and place right foot on top of left knee. Bring your left hand over to hold the right knee. Reach your right arm above the head and stretch out the left leg, extending right fingertips and left heel away from each other. Inhale and guide right knee down to floor with left hand, rolling onto your left-hand side and pinning the knee to the floor. With palm open to the sky sweep the right arm out at full extension to about level with the right shoulder. Then close the eyes. With each breath, relax the right hip, creating space between hip and shoulder, encouraging right shoulder towards the floor. Take five to ten breaths. Roll back to centre and rest, with minimum adjustments, for a few long breaths. Re-align the body and repeat on the opposite side. This stretch opens up the body, giving an excellent twist along the whole of the spine. If you find the stretch with the foot on top a little strong, simply let the knees fall to one side, and the arms to the other for a simple twist. Deep breathing massages the internal organs and gets positive energy into every cell of the body.

Viparita karani

This is one of my favorites. Find a space by a wall. Bring the buttocks about a metre from the wall, lying on your back. Extend the legs upwards and rest the feet on the wall, forming a 45-degree angle with the legs. Close your eyes and let the wall and floor completely support you. Rest and simply observe your breath. Cover your eyes with an eye pillow or towel. This helps lengthen and re-align the spine, gently extending those poor hamstrings shortened by your travels, and helps drain off the toxins that tend to accumulate in the lower regions of the body. This is an excellent posture for rejuventation, especially if you have little time for anything else. It’s a perfect one to try after a day of long meetings.

Finish any of the above, with about ten minutes in: Corpse pose (savasana)

For this one, all you need is quiet, a warm space and preferably distraction-free zone, where you can lie down.

Lie on your back, feet mat-width apart, toes hanging out to the sides, arms by your sides away from the body, palms facing upwards. Close your eyes. Take a deep inhalation and, as you exhale, completely let go of tension in the body. Tune into your breathing, letting it become softer and softer.

Savasana has a more powerful effect of relaxing the body and mind than sleep itself. In case you suffer from jetlag (which these postures should help you avoid), just lying in bed in savasana can help to re-adjust your body clock and, before you know it, you may soon drift off to sleep.