6 Yoga Poses That Don't Require a Yoga Mat

Woman in yoga tree pose by a lake

It’s certainly a gift to be able to practice yoga with a full arsenal of props and equipment on hand. But to what degree is the “stuff” actually necessary to practice? Your yoga mat has become synonymous with “doing yoga”, but what about when you’re traveling, outside in nature, or on a work break?

Unlike other forms of physical activity like bike riding, lifting weights, or even running, yoga requires nothing other than your body and breath, which luckily, are always with you! It’s easy to forget this, of course, usually waiting until the setting is just right for the perfect practice.

As you know, however, when you’re constantly holding off until everything is perfect, you find that the perfect moment rarely comes.

How can you activate mindfulness more regularly throughout your day, regardless of whether or not you actually have a yoga mat? Check out these postures that can be done anywhere, anytime, and will help you connect to your body, breath, and the present moment.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Yoga mountain pose

It may look like you’re just standing there, but in Mountain Pose, your whole body is alert, awake, relaxed, and in it’s optimal posture.

  • Place your feet hip-width apart, ground down with the four corners of each foot, and stand as tall as you can without letting your shoulders creep up.
  • Keep your arms down by your side with your palms rotated slightly toward the front of your body.
  • As you subtly drop your tailbone down and underneath you, feel your abdominals firm and you heart lift.
  • Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths.

Physical Benefits: Mountain Pose strengthens your legs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles, while training your spine to rest in its natural curvature. It also improves your physical strength, posture, balance, and circulation.

Energetic Benefits: A deceptively simple posture, Tadasana increases your awareness of your body, breath, and surroundings. When your body is in its proper alignment, you feel more vital, alive, and healthful. You can breathe with greater ease and connect to the moment you’re in.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukkha Svanasana)

Yoga downward facing dog pose

Downward-Facing Dog is perhaps one of the most common yoga poses, and for good reason as it offers lots of benefits.

  • If you’re in a location where you don’t mind touching the ground (like the beach, grass, or clean carpet), plant your palms shoulder-width apart, lift your hips, and stretch your heels down toward the ground.
  • If you don’t want to get your hands dirty or perhaps aren’t wearing something appropriate to do the full pose, try placing your hands on the edge of a table or your desk and then walk your feet back until you are able to melt your heart between your shoulders—essentially making an upside-down “L” shape with your body. You can also do this version of Down Dog with your hands on a wall, railing, or hood of your car (road trip, anyone?).

Physical Benefits: Downward-Facing Dog awakens and grounds the entire body. It opens and strengthens your chest, shoulders, and back, while stretching your hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons. A traditional Down Dog is a partial inversion, so it also improves circulation and blood flow to the brain.

Energetic Benefits: Downward-Facing Dog reduces stress and anxiety, brings greater awareness to the entirety of your physical and energetic body, and is versatile and efficient. With the proper breath, Down Dog can wake you up, or calm you down. Need to see things from a fresh perspective? Take five breaths in your dog pose and refresh your mind. Just take a cross-country flight? Ground your energy by plugging your hands down to the earth element and wake up the root chakra. Whichever version you choose, you’re likely to feel vital, engaged, and expanded after just a few breaths.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

Yoga tree pose

This is a foundational balancing pose that can be done anywhere, and allows you to connect to your body, breath, and present moment.

  • Standing on one foot, place the other foot on the inside of the standing leg.
  • You can take traditional hands at the heart in prayer position, but Tree Pose can also be practiced while your hands are busy with something else. Try performing Tree while you’re holding your baby, making a sandwich, or washing the dishes.

Physical Benefits: The obvious physical benefit of Tree Pose is that it challenges and improves your balance, but it also strengthens your leg bones and muscles, improves posture, and opens the hips.

Energetic Benefits: Tree pose is sometimes called a standing meditation. It is an opportunity to practice being calm amidst challenging situations. It connects you to your roots, but requires that you remain flexible when you’re hit with a stiff “breeze.” It develops your patience and self-acceptance, and you will get to practice falling with grace.

Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)

Yoga pose forward fold

You can practice this pose when you have a few minutes to spare, or you can sprinkle it into your daily duties. Try it when you’re bending over to tie your shoes, picking up your kids’ toys, or petting your dog.

  • With your feet parallel to one another, bend forward and hang over your legs; they can be close together or wide apart.
  • Bring your fingertips all the way down to the ground (if they’ll reach), or hold on to your ankles.

Physical Benefits: Forward Fold primarily stretches the backs of the legs and the lower back. It relieves tension in the upper body, neck, and face. It improves strength and flexibility in the legs and feet, and helps to improve circulation to the head and eyes.

Energetic Benefits: As standing poses go, this one is very relaxing. Forward folds are cooling to the nervous system and calming to the mind. They also decrease anxiety, depression, and fatigue, by getting the head below the heart. A few breaths in Forward Fold can literally turn your whole day upside down.

Half Sun Salutes (Ardha Surya Namaskara)

Yoga sequence half sun salutation

Once you’ve experienced Mountain Pose and Downward-Facing Dog, you’ve got the building blocks to this simple flow. A Half Sun Salute simply incorporates flowing movements to feel greater connection to your breath and how energy moves through you.

  • As you inhale, sweep your arms up to the sky, and as you exhale bend forward over your legs.
  • Inhale halfway, sliding your fingers up your shins, and then fold over again as you breathe out.
  • In one sweeping motion, inhale all the way up to a standing position, reaching skyward.
  • Finish the cycle by bringing your hands to your heart in prayer.
  • Repeat the sequence 3 to 5 times.

Physical Benefits: The word “vinyasa” means “to place in a special way,” so doing this simple sequence of poses helps you to practice moving from here to there with mindfulness and attention. By performing each movement with a breath, you also increase your stamina, and get your heart pumping with a little more power.

Energetic Benefits: Saluting the sun connects you to the fire element, associated with courage, willpower, and transformation. Reaching upward toward the sun, you invite that power and radiance into your own being; sweeping your arms up and out, you offer that positive energy out to the world.

Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Yoga pose legs up the wall

Traditionally performed where the floor meets the wall, one of the best ways to do this pose is in bed against your headboard.

  • Reclining comfortably, swing your legs up the wall and give all your weight to it.
  • If you’re on the floor, you can also lay on the ground with your calves on the seat of the couch or a chair.

Physical Benefits: This restorative pose has a huge return on investment. Physically accessible to most bodies, it calms the nervous system, boosts the immune system, and improves circulation in the legs. It’s the perfect physical antidote to a day spent sitting at a desk or working on your feet.

Energetic Benefits: Legs Up the Wall Pose can help you fall asleep at night, whether you suffer from occasional sleeplessness, or full-blown insomnia. It improves pain management skills, relieves menstrual symptoms, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you to relax. Maybe the best part of this pose? It invites you to do nothing. It requires no physical effort once it’s set up, and demands no energetic output beyond simple awareness. Lay there, hold space for your breath, and enjoy.


Experience a deep form of yoga and meditation that will take your practice to the next level as Deepak Chopra and Chopra Center master educators guide you through the 7 Spiritual Laws of Yoga and Primordial Sound Meditation at Seduction of Spirit. Learn More.


 

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About the Author

Karson McGinley

Yoga Teacher, Life Coach, and Joy Seeker
Karson McGinley is the founder of Happy-U ( H olistic A pproach to P ositive P sychology & Y oga) and the co-owner (along with her husband) of Happy-U Namasté Yoga Center in San Diego, CA. A teacher for over a decade, Karson works to bridge the gap between the ancient wisdom of yoga and the modern science of happiness through her yoga classes, workshops, and Happy-U’s Teacher Training program. Karson’s classes are inspired by what goes on in the modern day life of a joy-seeker, using the power of music, laughter, and storytelling to take her students on a journey within. Drawing upon her...Read more