If you find that the best space to do your yoga practice is very small, you’re not alone. Sometimes the only place where we find peace and quiet is the bedroom, study, or just a small living area. Alternatively, you can find yourself in a popular holiday stay such as a shepherd’s hut, converted rail carriage, tree house, or like me, a narrow boat. They are all fabulous ways to go on UK staycations, but none of them are very spacious. Even so, it’s still important to look after our body, and our back in particular. This blog about yoga for small spaces gives you ideas to practise yoga wherever you are.
The title of this blog “never too small” refers to a YouTube series I enjoy watching, about redesigning old, small apartments into beautiful and functional living spaces. The idea of the various architects is that instead of building new homes, older ones can be restyled and form part of sustainable and enjoyable living in densely populated cities. Very often, they are only about 500 to 700 square feet, but beautiful and extremely well designed.
Not even too narrow
Staying on a narrow boat for a while, I’m also learning how to live with less, in a place that is small but beautiful and functional. The only limitation is the amount of place there is to do yoga. Ideally, to practice yoga, one needs the space to lie down with the arms able to stretch overhead and to the side. If you can’t do that in the space you find yourself, you probably know very well how to make a small space work.
On the narrow boat I had to adapt my yoga practice to fit the space. Basically, the boat has a low ceiling, which means I can’t practice my favourite arm lifting movements. Instead of allowing myself to get more and more hunched, I make an effort to stretch out frequently. This is easiest lying on my back, so the stretched-out, supine pose has become essential in my daily practice. The space is also narrow, of course, so while a sun salute works to stretch the front and back of the body, supine twists and wide-legged positions are harder.
The variations I found for myself have inspired the practice below. I chose some different poses from the usual ones, but of course, my go-to cat & cow, dog and many poses from other blogs will also work well. I hope this blog about yoga for small spaces can help you wherever you are.
If you have painful knees or acute back pain, some of the practices below are not appropriate. Having said that, they can be completely adapted to have the same effect. If you have a physical limitation that stops you from doing yoga, don’t hesitate to contact me either via zoom or via the contact page to see how a tailored yoga practice can be healing rather than harming.
Set up a free consultation call here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/.
Yoga for small spaces:
Kneeling spine mobility
These movements can be done sitting on a chair as well. They involve moving the spine in different directions so as to keep it supple and healthy.
-Keep the hips anchored and feel tall through the crown of the head. With an exhalation, rotate the spine without pushing or pulling. Centre yourself forward with an inhalation and repeat a few times. If it feels good, stay for a few breaths. This is about inviting the spine to move with ease. Look over your shoulder and allow the neck to complete the rotation.
Next, exhale and lean back to round your spine.
Inhale and straighten your spine again. Feel the crown of your head lifting while the chest feels gently open and wide.
Repeat these two positions a few times.
To feel more length throughout the spine, interlace the fingers and lift your arms with the palms facing up.
Stay for a few breaths in this position.
In addition to lengthening the spine, this stretches the shoulders too. Nonetheless, if your shoulders don’t like this position, keep the arms lower.
For the lateral stretch, come to stand on the knees (soften the surface underneath if necessary) and straighten the right leg out to the side.
Inhale and lift the left arm, exhale and stretch it up and over towards the right.
Inhale, return to the centre and repeat 4x on each side.
This position strengthens the abdominal muscles. However, in order to do so, keep the back gently rounded. If you straighten your back, it will be the hip flexors that are working more.
Sit with your legs bent in front of you.
Exhale and lift your feet off the ground, trying to bring the lower legs parallel to the mat.
You can hold the side of your upper legs or straighten the arms next to the legs.
To make it harder, extend the legs while keeping the balance.
Stay for up to a minute. Don’t forget to breathe!
This position is suitable after the previous pose because it stretches the front of the body. Provided your shoulders are happy with it, it can be a nice shoulder stretch as well.
Sit down again with your legs bent in front of you and feet hip-width or a little wider apart. Place your hands next to your hips with the fingers pointing forward.
Lift the hips off the mat and come to a more or less straight table top position.
Keep your head up rather than leaning it backward. The latter would not be beneficial for your neck.
Stay for 3-7 breaths before coming down.
Cross-legged forward fold
Cross your legs, with the heels more or less under the knees.
Start by leaning forward from the hips to where it feels like a good but not too strong stretch for your gluteus muscles.
Stay in this straight-back position for a few breaths.
Then round your back and stay in the forward position, if comfortable for 3-7 breaths.
Do the same with the legs crossed the other way.
The cobra pose helps us keep our upper back upright and strong. In this variation, I’ve added the movement of the head to also stretch the sides of the neck.
Start by lying on your front and look over to one side.
Place your hands underneath the shoulders and your elbows close to you.
Engage the leg muscles and the lower abdominal muscles.
Inhale and lift the shoulders and head without putting weight on the hands. After all, you want the upper back to work for you, rather than the arms. This also avoids crunching and hurting the lower back.
Look down while the shoulders and head are up.
Exhale and lower your head, looking over to the other side.
Repeat, if comfortable, 4-6x .
Supine long stretch
If you don’t have the length in your space to lie on the floor with your arms overhead, this position can be done upright against a wall or door.
Lie with your back on the mat and stretch our the legs.
Hold your elbows and stretch the arms overhead.
Rest the arms on the floor or on your forehead.
Stay and breathe 5 to 7 breaths.
Resting for 5 to 10 minutes or even longer is essential after a yoga practice. We tend to feel impatient and rush to the next activity, but do give yourself this time to lie, breathe and observe. Your body will be so much more relaxed for it, and your mind will get the chance not to worry about anything for a while.