Chair Yoga: Adapting The Practice To Fit Your NeedsJun 01, 2021 06:00AM ● By Sheila Ewers
Have you avoided a traditional yoga practice because of an injury? Do you struggle with balance or mobility? Have you been diagnosed with arthritis or osteoporosis? Is it difficult for you to get up from a seated position on the floor? Do you spend many hours at your desk? Do you have limited floor space for a yoga mat?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, chair yoga might be for you.
Chair yoga is an adaptation of traditional hatha yoga. Virtually every yoga pose can be modified with the use of a chair as a supportive prop to make the practice more accessible and enjoyable. Many of the basic body mechanics of the poses remain the same. Practitioners can access deep stretches, twists, hip openers, core strengthening, back bends and more while seated in a chair. They can also derive the same benefits that they would in a full mat practice, including enhanced muscle tone, better balance, reduced stress and a heightened sense of well-being.
Many people who are not otherwise able to practice more vigorous types of yoga enjoy a chair practice, but some choose it simply for the convenience. A quick chair pose or two sprinkled throughout the day can break up the stagnation of desk work, relieve the aches and pains of long travel and revitalize the body’s energy.
Tips for Practicing Chair Yoga Safely
- Place the chair on a non-slip surface like a yoga mat to prevent accidental sliding.
- Use a sturdy chair. A folding chair is fine, but a heavier chair is ideal so that you can lean into it without fear of it tipping or falling.
- Use blankets or cushions behind you to help support your spine, and use blocks as needed beneath your feet to optimize blood flow.
- If you experience difficulty with balance, keep one hand on the chair at all times, especially when transitioning from one pose to another or from the chair to the floor.
A Yoga Sequence to Practice in a Chair
Seated Mountain PoseSit upright in the chair with your hands resting gently on your lap. Plant your feet firmly on the floor or blocks. Elongate your spine and take several deep, diaphragmatic breaths.
Seated Cat/Cow Flow
Sit on the chair with your spine long and with both feet on the floor. Place your hands on your knees or the tops of your thighs. On an exhale, round your spine and drop your chin to your chest, letting the shoulders and head come forward. This is Cat position. On an inhale, arch your spine and roll your shoulders down and back, bringing your shoulder blades onto your back. This is Cow position.
Continue moving between Cow on the inhalations and Cat on the exhalations for five breaths.
With your legs facing forward in the chair, turn your torso toward the left and hold onto the back of the chair with your left hand. Place your right hand on your left leg for a spinal twist. Lengthen your spine on each inhale and twist gently on each exhale for five breaths. Then repeat on the opposite side.
Turn your whole body towards the right side of the chair. With your right hand, firmly grasp the back of the chair. Then grasp the front edge of the chair with your left hand while you slide your left leg behind you. Keep your toes turned under, and press the heel of your back foot away. If you feel stable, reach one or both arms overhead. Hold for five breaths.
Seated Extended Side Angle
From Crescent Warrior, pivot your left heel down to the mat, externally rotating your left hip. Be sure that you are fully supported on the chair. Rest your right forearm on your right thigh, and stretch your left arm overhead, creating a straight line from your left heel to your left finger tips. Hold for five breaths.
Turn forward on the chair. Rest for a moment. Then repeat Crescent Warrior and Extended Side Angle on the opposite side.
Sitting upright in the chair, bring your right ankle to rest on your left thigh. Flex your right foot to strengthen the right ankle. You can remain upright or bend forward to intensify the stretch if you like. Hold for five breaths, then repeat with the left leg.
Supported Downward Facing Dog
Ensure that your chair is stable and secure, then walk to the back of the chair and grasp firmly. Walk your feet back and lean forward until your head and torso make a ninety-degree angle. Engage your abdominal muscle for support. Hold for five breaths.
Legs on a Chair
If you can comfortably get up and down from the floor while using the chair to assist, try this pose instead of shavasana, or Corpse pose. If you feel safer in the chair, come back to seated Mountain pose, softening the shoulders away from your ears and breathing gently.
To do Legs on a Chair, place your calves on the seat of a chair with bent knees to alleviate strain on your back. Depending on the length of your thigh bones, you might need to add some padding to support your calves. Make sure your back is resting comfortably on the ground, and improvise with blankets or cushions if you feel they will support your relaxation here. Remain for five to 10 minutes. ❧
Sheila Ewers, ERYT500, YACEP, owns Blue Lotus Yoga in Johns Creek. A former professor of writing and literature, she leads group and private lessons, yoga philosophy workshops, yoga teacher training and retreats. Contact Sheila at [email protected].