Simple, breath-based movements can be helpful for practitioners hoping to return to their practice after an injury or undergoing surgery. It’s something yoga teacher Cyndi Lee knows well: four days after her second hip replacement, Lee tried doing some gentle movements along with her breath—from her bed. The founder of OM Yoga Center in New York City quickly realized that these simple postures didn’t just help her reclaim her identity as a yogi, but also gave her a sense of wholeness within her body.
“If you’ve been cut open and pulled apart, it’s hard to feel integrated with your body,” she says. “But when you coordinate even the simplest movements with your breath, it’s a gathering together of your body and mind that can help you feel that integration again.”
Here are a few poses that Lee says helped her ease back into her practice and teaching.
Pranayama with simple arm movement
Sit on the edge of your bed or in a comfortable chair with your back straight and your feet planted on the ground. Inhale for a count of 4 (or less, if that’s more comfortable) and exhale for a count of 4. After a few rounds of this equal-length breathing, add some arm movement. On each inhalation, lift your arms out to your sides and up toward your ears, and on each exhalation, bring them back down to rest beside your hips. Do this as many times as you want.
Gentle side bend
On an inhalation, raise your left arm out to the side and above your head so that your biceps are beside your ear. On an exhalation, gently bend your torso toward your right, feeling a stretch in your left side. On an inhalation, return to standing and repeat on the other side. This basic movement helps open your lungs, rib cage, and back—all of which can get really tight and funky when you’re in bed for extended periods of time.
On an inhalation, raise your left arm out to the side and above your head so that your biceps are beside your ear. On an exhalation, gently twist to your right, moving your left hand down and across your body to place it on your right thigh while moving your right hand behind you on the bed or chair. Stay here for a couple of breaths, being careful not to go too far into the twist. On your next inhalation, return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
On an inhalation, raise both of your arms out to either side and hold them at shoulder height. On an exhalation, externally rotate both arms so your palms face the ceiling; on an inhalation, internally rotate both arms so your palms face the floor. Continue these movements on the breath for 30 seconds to a minute.
Simple chest opener
On an inhalation, reach your hands behind your back, and interlace your fingers. Stay here, and return to the equal-length breathing you started with, focusing on lifting your chest and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Garudasana (Eagle Pose) variation
On an inhalation, reach your arms in front of you so they’re parallel to the floor, and spread your shoulder blades wide across your back. On an exhalation, cross your right arm over your left and bend your elbows, raising your forearms so they’re perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands can face each other. Return to equal-length breathing, lifting your elbows up and stretching your fingers toward the ceiling. Stay here for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.