I used to associate chairs and yoga with two things: Utkatasana (a.k.a. Chair pose), the well-known yoga posture, and sitting, something that can cause health issues, but that yoga can address. After trying chair yoga, my associations and understanding have changed. I was impressed with the support a chair can truly offer, and just how easy it is to adapt yoga poses to the support of a chair.
What is Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga is simply adapting yoga asanas with a chair. The chair makes yoga postures accessible to students by offering additional support and is a great way to help improve strength and flexibility.
To do chair yoga, your need a sturdy chair with no arms. The height of the chair depends on your body, but you want to either be able to touch the floor with your feet or place a block to raise the ground to your feet. Take your time entering the poses and exploring what feels right for you.
The classic combination of cat-cow is excellent for spinal flexibility and back strength. To begin, sit in the chair with your sit bones toward the middle of the chair and place your hands on the sides of the chair or under your thighs. On an inhale, pull up on the chair with the hands and open the chest, lifting the chin slightly up and extending the spine, creating a small backbend.
On the exhale, pull the core muscles in and bring the chin down, bringing the shoulders toward the ears and flexing the spine inward. Connect these movements with your breath and continue to hold onto the chair or thighs for additional resistance.
Pigeon pose is a great way to stretch and strengthen the hips, and this seated version of it is no different. Sit in the chair with your tailbone toward the back of the chair. If your feet are unable to touch the floor, place two blocks under them. Bring the right ankle to rest on the left thigh, just above the knee.
Reach the arms upward, creating length in the back, and on an exhale come forward, reaching the hands toward the feet or blocks. Hold the pose for up to three minutes and repeat on the other side.
Side stretches strengthen the core, especially the intercostal muscles located between the ribs. To begin, bring the feet to the floor or to blocks. Reach your left hand down the grip on the side of the chair, crossing the right knee over the left. Inhale and bring the right hand up, reaching it toward the left for a side stretch. Repeat the stretch the on the other side.
Warrior II-Reverse Warrior
Warrior poses are powerful, full body strengtheners. This supported Warrior flow activates the low body, upper body and core. To begin, place the chair under the front thigh, bringing the foot to the floor or a block, toes facing forward. Press the outer back foot down, with your toes facing out. Bring the arms to a “T” position, coming into Warrior II.
Press through the front foot and reach the front arm up and back, reversing the pose. Connect your inhale and exhale to the movements, finding your flow with the support of the chair and block.
Wide Legged Forward Fold
Taking a forward fold with wide legs provides a gentle inversion, calming the mind and stretching the back. Bring your sit bones to the middle to front of the chair—whatever is more comfortable! Bring the feet out wide, three to four feet apart. Inhale and reach the hands up, and on the exhale come forward, either placing the hands on the sides of the chair, the ground, or the feet.
Tree pose activates the standing foot, helping to find stability and balance. Stand next to the chair, place the closest arm on the top to help you balance. Bring the right left to the ankle, calf or thigh. Stabilize in the pose, using the chair as support and breathe.
Chair yoga offers a unique support that can be utilized and enjoyed by yoga practitioners of all ages, body types, and skill levels. Let’s release chairs from being the cause of sitting-related health issues, and instead start using them to get strong, flexible, and supported in a healthy way!