Chair Yoga for Travel
by Stacie Dooreck (Saraswati)
Have you ever been at the airport, on a plane or a bus and felt like you really needed to stretch? You start wishing you could just get where you're going to do some yoga to ease that stiff back or those tight shoulders. Well, there's good news: you don’t have to wait! With some creativity and modifications you can always practice yoga. "If you can breathe you can do yoga," says the yoga master Krishnamacharya.
Here are some “chair yoga” ideas you can use on a plane, train, or bus (or at your desk, in a wheelchair …):
Sitting Mountain Meditation
1. As a starting point, sitting tall yet relaxed is the key to many meditation postures and breathing exercises (pranayama). Then simply become aware of your body sitting, allowing a natural stretch in your spine and feeling your lower body release downward and as your spine lengthens upwards.
2. Next, begin to simply observe your breath just as it is, without any effort or strain. This may take a little while, but the result is naturally calming. Keep bringing your focus back to your breath.
3. You can then add a basic breathing exercise: inhale slowly for 3 counts, then exhale slowly for 3 counts. Continue for a few rounds, possibly adding a stress-free 1-3 count pause in between each inhale and exhale. As you settle in, you can try 4 counts, then 5. The important thing is not to force anything.
4. You can also add a mantra, such as “so hum,” (meaning "I am") or simply OM. Add the mantra silently inside yourself as you inhale and again as you exhale. Mantras calm and help focus the mind adding benefit to your breathing exercise.
Upward Hand Pose
Wherever you are sitting right now, try this re-energizing 1-minute yoga break.
1. Inhale and lift your arms up overhead. Exhale as you lower your arms. Stay aware of your lower body’s connection with the seat and move slowly.
2. Repeat 5-10 times or hold the arms overhead for 3-5 slow, deep breaths, then exhale as you lower them.
3. Sit and relax for a few moments after.
Benefits: This energizes the body, stretches the spine and waist, and increases mobility to the shoulder joint.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
1. Sit tall and away from the back of your chair or seat on the plane. Cross your legs fully or just the ankles.
2. Inhale slowly. Exhale as you twist to one side. Keep the head centered over your spine and twist gently and evenly throughout the entire spine.
3. Hold for 1-3 slow, deep breaths or as long as comfortable.
Benefits: Twists release back tension, help the digestive organs, and calm the nervous system. They also increase spinal flexibility.
Precautions: If pregnant, for all twists, do not twist through the torso (belly). Twist only from the area above the ribcage (all trimesters). For whiplash or neck pain, keep the head facing forward or as comfortable.
Arrival Recuperation/Legs Up on a Chair
1. Sit down on the floor with the side of your body facing the chair front. Lower yourself down to your elbows then onto your back, using your hands and arms to support you.
2. Then bring the legs up on the chair. Place the hands about one foot from the hips with the palms facing up towards the sky. Keep the head centered over the spine.
3. Close your eyes and enjoy some slow, deep breathing. Relax your body and mind, settle in, and let go. Stay in the posture for 3 to 5 minutes, or longer if you are comfortable.
4. To come out lower the knees to the chest and pause. Then roll to one side and pause again. Use your arms to come up to sitting. (You can use the support of the chair if you need as well.) Slowly let the head come up last and sit quiet for a few movements and meditate on the breath. Observe the calm that this posture creates.
Benefits: This posture eases the low back, balances the body’s energy, and is said to help alleviate jetlag and insomnia.
Remember, yoga IS for everyone! So go ahead: stay seated and do some yoga today. Inhale, sit tall, exhale, relax.
Stacie Dooreck (Saraswati) is the creator of SunLight Chair Yoga and author of SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga for Everyone! and offers Chair Yoga teacher trainings at Sivananda ashrams in the US and Bahamas. A Sivananda Yoga instructor since 1995, she is also a certified Gentle Integral, Kundalini, and prenatal yoga teacher. Stacie has been implementing yoga programs in health clubs, senior homes, hospitals, and corporations since 1994.