The Power of Chair Yoga, Plus Exercises

12/11/2019 Yoga Yoga Fitness Health and Wellness Pranayama

A chair of any kind is an excellent prop and can support you in a fulfilling yoga practice. Here are some chair yoga poses that will help you cultivate strength, flexibility, and body-centered restful awareness.

chairyoga

Chair yoga is for everyone. Using a chair as a prop for yoga can be an expression of creativity as well as a useful, supportive, and empowering tool. A chair of any kind is an excellent prop and can support you in a fulfilling yoga practice.

Here are some people who may wish to practice yoga with the aid of a chair:

  • Young students in school
  • Senior citizens with limited mobility
  • People using wheelchairs
  • Those recovering from an injury
  • Pregnant mamas who want a mellow practice
  • Someone who works at a desk
  • Anyone interested in changing up their usual stretching routine

Chair Yoga Gives You Many Options

Chair yoga can be practiced anywhere you can find access to a chair. You could use a “yoga chair” or a plastic folding chair or a desk chair. Or your wheelchair. Or a couch. Or a seat of any kind. When it comes to chair yoga, use any opportunity you can find to practice. There are no specific rules, and the chair offers practitioners the opportunity to get creative.

Chair yoga can be practiced:

  • In a school classroom at a desk
  • In a conference room between meetings
  • In a hospital setting
  • In the car in a parking lot or driveway (make sure the parking brake is on)
  • On the edge of your bed or couch
  • In the backyard or outdoor area
  • At the kitchen table or counter (before you eat)
  • At a desk at work

Tips for Practicing Chair Yoga

Below you will find several examples of chair yoga postures. These poses can be practiced individually on their own or as a flowing sequence. Whether you will be practicing one pose or several, set the stage for a yoga experience just as you would if you were practicing with a yoga mat. Create a sacred space in which you can relax, ideally where you will not be disturbed, and set up your chair. Put the chair on a non-slick surface, such as a yoga mat. Place yoga blocks nearby so they can be put under your feet. Pad your chair seat and back with comfortable blankets. Put on some mellow music. Wear comfortable clothing in which you can stretch and stay warm.

The following yoga exercises are designed specifically to be practiced in a chair, but of course, can be adapted to whatever seat you are using. Give them a try!

Seated Breath Practices

Begin your practice by setting an intention and practicing some pranayama. Most breath practices can be done while sitting in a chair. Lean back comfortably in the chair or sit up with a long, tall spine. Place your feet on the floor or on yoga blocks. Begin with a box breath, alternate nostril breathing, or your own favorite breath practice.

1. Box Breath

  • Rest your hands on your thighs. Your eyes can be completely closed or slightly open.
  • Inhale for a slow count of four.
  • Pause your breathing and hold your in-breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale for a slow count of four.
  • Pause your breathing and hold your out-breath for a count of four.
  • Repeat for several rounds and then rest and breathe naturally.

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing

  • Rest your left hand on your thigh.
  • Bring your right hand toward your face. Rest your index finger and middle finger on the space between your eyebrows. Rest your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril.
  • Close off the right side of your nose with your thumb and breathe in through just the left side of your nose. At the top of your inhale, close off your nose with your ring finger and thumb and hold your breath briefly.
  • Release your thumb and exhale through just the right side of your nose. Pause briefly at the end of your exhale.
  • Continue to block the left side of your nose with your ring finger and breathe in through the just right side of your nose. At the top of your inhale, close off your nose with your thumb and ring finger and hold your breath briefly.
  • Release your ring finger and exhale through just the left side of your nose. Pause briefly at the end of your exhale.
  • Repeat this full cycle several rounds and then rest and breathe naturally.

Seated Spinal Twist

Stretch your back, shoulders, and abdomen with this gentle seated twist. Remember to breathe in as you sit up and lengthen your spine and breathe out as you deepen your twist.

Instructions

  • Sit comfortably in your chair.
  • Rest your feet flat on the floor or on stable yoga blocks.
  • Inhale and sit up as tall as you can.
  • As you exhale, twist gently to your right.
  • Bring your left hand to your right knee or thigh and bring your right hand to the back of the chair.
  • Turn your head left and right a few times and then settle in by looking to the right.
  • Hold the twist and breathe deeply for three to five breaths.
  • Unwind on your inhale and rest at center with your hands on your legs.
  • Repeat by twisting to the left.
  • Unwind on your inhale and rest at center with your hands on your legs.

Ankle Stretches

Strengthen and stretch your ankles, calves, and feet with heel lifts, ankle circles, and toe lifts.

1. Heel Lifts

  • Come to a comfortable seat in your chair.
  • Rest your feet flat on the floor or on stable yoga blocks.
  • Sit up tall and take several deep breaths.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • As you inhale, press into the balls of your feet and lift your heels as high as you can off of the floor or the blocks.
  • As you exhale, lower your heels.
  • Repeat lifting and lowering your heels for five to ten breaths.
  • Pause and rest for a few breaths.

2. Ankle Circles

  • Extend your right leg out in front of you to any degree.
  • Circle your ankle three times in each direction.
  • Release your right foot back down.
  • Repeat by extending the left leg and circling your left ankle.
  • Pause and rest for a few breaths.

3. Toe Lifts

  • As you inhale, press into the heels of your feet and lift your toes and the ball of your foot as high as you can off of the floor or blocks. Balance on the heels of your feet.
  • As you exhale, lower your toes.
  • Repeat lifting and lowering your toes for five to ten breaths.
  • Pause and rest for a few breaths.

Figure-Four Hip Stretch

Open your hips and stretch your glute muscles with a seated variation of Pigeon Pose.

Instructions

  • Sit comfortably in your chair.
  • Rest your feet flat on the floor or on stable yoga blocks.
  • Sit up tall and take several deep breaths.
  • Lift your right leg and cross your ankle over your left thigh.
  • Flex your right foot.
  • Rest your hands gently on your right knee and foot.
  • Sit up with a tall spine and breathe for five to ten deep breaths.
  • If you would like to intensify your hip stretch, maintain your long spine and deep breaths and begin to hinge forward from your waist, reaching your chest toward your legs.
  • If you would like to intensify further, gently rest your elbows on your right knee and foot.
  • If you would like to deepen this pose even more, begin to arch your back slightly.
  • Hold for five to ten deep breaths.
  • Unwind on your inhale, uncross your legs, and rest at center for a few breaths.
  • Repeat with the left ankle crossed over the right thigh.

Goddess Pose

Open your hips, inner thigh muscles, and groins with this seated version of Goddess Pose. 

Instructions

  • Sit comfortably in your chair.
  • Walk your feet out as wide as they can go so that your knees are pointed out in opposite directions.
  • Activate your pose by pressing your knees toward the back of your chair.
  • Rest your hands on your knees or thighs.
  • Sit up with a tall spine and breathe for five to ten deep breaths.
  • If you would like to intensify your Goddess Pose hip stretch, maintain your long spine and deep breaths and begin to hinge forward from your waist, reaching your chest toward the floor.
  • If you would like to intensify further, rest your elbows on your knees or thighs.
  • If you would like to add some movement to your hip opener, gently dip one shoulder down toward the ground as you exhale and then switch. Repeat for five to ten breaths.
  • Roll yourself up, bring your knees together, and rest at center for a few breaths.

Rag Doll

Release tension from your neck, shoulders, and back with this seated version of a mellow forward fold.

Instructions

  • Sit comfortably in your chair.
  • Place your feet slightly wider than your hips.
  • Bend forward, hinging from your hips, and rest your elbows on your knees or thighs.
  • Let your head relax and gently roll your head from side to side. 
  • Optional: Trill your lips as you exhale to relax tension from your jaw and face.
  • Round your back and fold forward for five to ten breaths.
  • If you would like to intensify your forward fold, allow your entire torso to drape forward over or between your legs. Let your arms dangle and let your head relax.
  • Roll up slowly and rest at center for a few breaths.

Whether you set up a yoga chair to practice a specific sequence of yoga poses or you spend five minutes at your desk doing some stretches midday, chair yoga can be powerful. Use a chair to support you as you recover from an injury or to add new, interesting poses to your mat-based yoga practice. Enjoy!

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.


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About the Author
woman smiling in yoga pose

Lena Schmidt

Certified Yoga Instructor
Whether it’s exploring the local trails, playing pretzel on the yoga mat, or diving into a book on inner peace, Lena loves an adventure. You can find her teaching yoga in San Diego, leading retreats near and far, and empowering others to be the change they wish to see in the world. Learn more about Lena at www.yoginilena.com . The spiritual aspects of yoga have aided Lena in the never-ending search for peace, calm, and positivity within, and she’s passionate about sharing these tools with others. She is intentional about taking yoga off the mat and loves finding the bridges between the heart and mind, the individual and community, and...Read more