In the same way that the body moves through flows of motion and increased flexibility during cycles of traditional yoga, chair yoga implements this practice as well. According to Yogapedia, almost any traditional yoga pose or move can be replicated and altered to accommodate chair yoga. Along with increased ranges of motion through holding poses on a chair, pranayamas (also known as breathing techniques) are a popular practice within chair yoga and can assist in reducing anxiety, introducing or practicing meditation, and creating spatial awareness.
The Perfect Modification
Chair yoga is an ideal exercise for those suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoporosis, and multiple sclerosis. It may also benefit people over a certain age who have trouble moving through the up and down motions of traditional yoga since it allows them to stay stabilized. When done with others as part of a group fitness class, you’ll also benefit from the pure socialization aspect of it!
According to Jimmy McKay, a physical therapist at FOX Rehabilitation, “There are four phases of degeneration that progress naturally as we age. Exercise is a major intervention to slow this process down. If a joint cannot move through its normal range, it will limit the amount of activity that can be done.” That means that by promoting stretching, activities such as cleaning the house or gardening become less of a “pain.”
Here are a few simple chair yoga poses (called asanas) and exercises that can be easily completed at home. They combine breathing awareness with yoga exercises that can be done while sitting in a chair or lying down. If possible, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing, but any type of clothing is fine. If you experience any pain, simply skip that exercise. All yoga exercises are gentle, never pushing the body. The goal is to feel relaxed and peaceful.
If you have the time to learn only one technique, this is the one to try. In coherent breathing, the goal is to be aware of your breath and to breathe slowly while mentally counting the lengths of your breaths.
Begin by counting to 2 as you inhale, pause, and exhale to the count of 2. (With time, as you practice breathing exercises, you may be able to work up to longer breaths, counting to 3, 4, 5, or 6 as you inhale or exhale.) Begin to straighten your spine and place your hands on your belly—notice sensations of breathing in your belly. If you are comfortable, close your eyes. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of 2. Pause, then slowly breathe out to the count of 2. If possible, work your way up to practicing this pattern for five to 15 minutes per day.
When you are ready, open your eyes, remove your hands from your belly and just rest in the chair.
Seated Mountain Pose
Mountain pose, also known as “samasthiti,” or equal standing, is often practiced at the beginning of a class and between poses as a way to reset and balance the body.
Using a straight-back chair with no arms, if you are able, come to the front edge of the chair. Try to keep your spine straight and sit up tall, feet flat on the floor, ankles directly under your knees, hands on your knees—this is called seated mountain pose.
As you are seated, you want to try to push down into the chair with your lower body and buttocks, while lifting your chest and neck and head up tall, feeling like you are stretching the spine. Pretend there is a big balloon attached to the crown of your head, pulling your head and upper body straight up. Your head is level, your eyes looking across the room. Try to focus on some point across the room.
Take a few minutes to hold this pose, being aware of your breath while seated. Do you feel the subtle movement as you breathe? There is no right or wrong way to feel this—just an awareness.
Seated cat and cow
Start with your hands on your thighs and sit up tall. As you exhale, round your back, pulling your abdominal muscles into your spine, tucking your tailbone under and tucking your chin into your chest. Be as round in the upper back as you can, pushing your mid-back toward the chair. This is cat pose.
As you inhale, allow your belly to move forward, arch your back, send your sternum forward and look up toward the ceiling (if your neck is comfortable) or keep your head parallel to the floor. This is cow pose.
Repeat this motion several times, inhaling into cat and exhaling into cow.
Place your left hand on your right knee and your right arm over the back of your chair. Turn to look over your right shoulder and hold for four breaths.
On the inhale, feel your spine lengthen and, on the exhale, feel a deeper twist. Exhale back to center and repeat on the other side.
Seated chest opener
Sit on the front edge of your chair and interlace your hands behind your back. As you inhale, lift your hands up and away from your back, while gently lifting your chin away from your chest. As you exhale, lower your hands.
Repeat this motion on your breaths at least two times. Switch the grip of your hands and repeat.
Chair pigeon/hip opener
Place your right ankle on top of your left knee. Let your right knee relax out to the side while keeping your foot flexed. As you inhale, sit up tall and, as you exhale, enjoy the stretch. You can increase the stretch by placing your right hand on the right knee and applying gentle pressure. To increase the stretch even more, keep your back flat and spin lengthened and start to tip forward from the hips.
Stay for three-to-five breaths and repeat on the other side.
Seated forward fold
Start with your hands on top of your thighs and take a deep inhale. As you exhale, fold forward at your hips (rather than rounding the upper back) draping your body over your legs. Slide your hands down toward the floor. You can either hold each elbow with the opposite hand or let your arms dangle to the floor. Let your body hang heavy over your legs and your head and neck relax. On an inhale, let your hands rest on your thighs and slowly roll back up to seated.
Repeat this sequence several times.
And finally, take a moment to congratulate yourself on completing this mindfulness exercise and taking the time out of your day to nurture yourself.