Today’s practice is dedicated to two friends who are currently spending a week in a Tiny Trailer, the mobile version of a Tiny House. Said “trailer” more resembles a pod: As one who is ensorcelled by the idea of living off-grid in a small space, I was immediately enchanted by this trailer when my friends gave me the “grand tour.”
In reality, one of the pals, F., was the excited instigator for the bitty home-on-wheels; the other, C., was less enthused, but fully supportive of the idea. The basic plan was that F. would spend a month in Florida in her new pod; C. would fly down for a week. Admittedly, C. expressed some trepidation over the tight quarters and possible claustrophobic feelings: Along with this understandable concern, she expressed her doubts about fulfilling her daily yoga practice in an area scarcely wider than her arm span.
As I moved through my own practice this morning, I realized that if one can forego wide=legged or arm-reaching postures and vinyasa, a full, effective session can be had. As I began to consciously create a “tiny space” routine, I recalled one of the first descriptions of ashtanga yoga that I heard during my earliest forays into the style, more than 20 years ago: “jailhouse yoga.”
While yogic philosophy may seem anathema to being locked up for criminal activity, deeper consideration leads one to understand that of all times and places, cell life would demand a non-earthly outlet. As some prisoners turn to religion, some turn to physical activity or meditation as a reprieve. The ashtanga allusion points to the availability of a powerful practice, regardless of space limitations.
As I began to prepare today’s practice, however, I had to recognize that the Tiny Trailer floor, wall, and ceiling space is less than even a typical jail cell. With that in mind, this routine utilizes three of the most powerful—yet often short-changed—aspects of a profound, complete practice: fluid spinal mobility; full, steady breathing; and calm, certain balance, both physical and mental.
To begin, sit on your heels, bolstering as needed (i.e., under the knees, and/or buttocks). Give yourself 1-3 minutes to shift your thoughts away from your seemingly limiting surroundings: Focus your closed eyes on the Third Eye, and place one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Find your breath, and then begin to move into deep ujjayi breathing. In these initial moments of your practice, you have already risen above spacial confines.
Once you have come into your practice, slowly open your eyes. Place your hands, fisted or flat on the ground next to your hips. Lift your bottom straight up off of the heels, however high your arm length will allow. Maintaining an upright, aligned spine, begin to rock your pelvis forward and back: Inhale as the front hip points tilt forward; exhale as they tilt back. Emphasize only the pelvic flexion and extend, keeping the rest of the spine and head still. Rock for 1-2 minutes.
Next, come into baby Pose with your hands clasped behind your back; lengthen through the elbows, so that the arms remain long and engaged as you move into the next exercise. As you inhale, lift the hips and rock forward onto the crown of your head; lift the arms as far up off of the back as you can, hands remaining in Venus Lock. As you exhale, return to the original position. Move up and down, inhaling and exhaling: This movement sends energy from the base of the spine all the way up to the Crown Chakra, encouraging a complete flow of qi through your system. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
Begin the next piece by coming onto all fours for traditional Cat/Cow: Inhale as you deeply arch (flex) the spine; exhale to round the spine into Cat pose. Continue for 30-60 seconds with this familiar breath pattern. Then, invert your breathing: Inhale into the Cat, or deeply rounded position; exhale as you lift the tail, open the chest, and extend the spine toward the floor. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
Next, rise onto your knees, toes long or curled under for balance and support. If you need cushioning under your knees, feel free to include that. Inhale, and raise your arms straight up through your front space to bring them overhead. (Because you are on your knees, a low ceiling should no longer be prohibitive.) Exhale, and in one swooping motion, come into Baby Pose, arms reaching long behind you, by your hips. Immediately inhale to rise onto your knees, bringing the arms overhead; exhale smoothly back down into the Baby Pose. Continue this fluid, abridged variation of a Sun Salute for about a minute, or 5-10 rounds of up/down movement.
Ending your “Sun Salutation” in Baby Pose, steady your breath, and then rise onto all fours, and then into Downward Dog. Remain here for as long as feels good to you; feel free to walk your feet closer to your hands if your space is short. From Downward Dog, walk forward into your preferred version of Standing Forward Bend: e.g., bent knees, dangling arms, crossed elbows, holding big toes, etc.
Rise slowly out of your Forward Bend, coming to ground yourself in Mountain Pose. Breathe steadily, eyes open. Bend laterally to the right, and then to the left; include an arm reach if space allows. Stretch dynamically back and forth, easing open the side body: As lateral movements encourage communication and a feeling of expansiveness, this side-to-side movement will further diminish the feeling of being stymied by a tight space.
After your lateral back-and-forth stretch, return to Mountain Pose. Place both hands on the navel, using your ujjayi breath to regain complete centeredness. Then, practice Tree Pose in whatever variation is your most stable version; hands and arms are also your choice, depending on space and personal stability. Breathe deeply on each side for 5 breaths.
Follow Tree with Eagle Pose (one knee bent over the other bent knee, ankle wrapped or not; opposite arm crossed over the other at the elbow, wrists wrapped or not). Again, give 5 complete breaths to each side.
For your final balance, step one foot back a few inches: Tip your torso forward, keeping the head aligned with the spine, arms along your sides a few inches away from the body. As you tilt forward into this modified Virabadrasana (Warrior) III posture, you may also bend the back (lifted) leg if space necessitates “shortening” the pose. If you keep the arms engaged and reaching back as you open the chest and float, you will not feel stunted by the modification. As with your other balances, take 5 steady breaths on each side.
To end your Tiny Space practice, resume a gentle, dangling Standing Forward Bend for a few breaths, and then return to sit on your heels. Close your eyes, and again remind yourself how no space or time concern can alter your ability to expand your mind and body; to revitalize your system; or to imbue your entire being with peace and positivity.