Yoga is for Everyone! Introducing Chair Yoga


I very much believe in the idea that yoga can be brought to any individual in some form: it's just about finding the right fit. Asana is just one part of yoga, but it is a very effective modality of healing and union.

I'm going to start a two part series of yoga asanas that may be more accessible. I recently learned that I have stress fractures in both of my shins and looked into modifications( you can read about some of these in my blog) for my own practice, so that they were mostly non weight bearing. Then I discovered chair yoga, but found little variation in the poses. I've put together a series of poses that can be done right from the comfort of your chair. Whether you are stuck sitting in a car or plane, or you have physical limitations, this sequence will give you a well rounded practice! 

  Warm up : Front, back, and side body stretch

Cat/ Cow Flow

  1.  Begin with a tall spine, feeling your sits bones grounded and lengthening up from foundation.
  2. Feet are planted about hip width apart - you can even lift the toes to find active grounding through  the feet.
  3.  Hands lightly rest on thighs. 
  4. Inhale to cow, draw shoulder blades back, pull heart forward, gaze up into extension.
  5. Exhale to cat, pushing the hands away as you draw belly button to spine, rounding into flexion.
  6. Move through 5-10 rounds of breath, beginning breath and movement synchronization 
Crescent Moon 
  1. Draw feet to touch, squeezing inner thighs to stabilize your core as you bend
  2. Grab the left wrist with your right hand and inhale lift up and over to the right
  3. Keep grounded through left sits bone and continue to hug inner thighs together
  4. You can gaze under the left arm and pull strongly with bottom hand to keep upper body active.
  5. Take three to five breaths on the right side, then switch and repeat to the left.


Basic Sun Salutation

  1.  Upward Salute: INHALE sweep the arms up, lengthening through the spine, even creating a little back bend in the upper spine.
  2. Forward Fold: EXHALE gently fold forward, belly and thighs meet first, letting head hang heavy, upper body relaxed.
  3. Halfway Lift: INHALE lift up halfway onto fingertips, drawing belly up and in, creating a straight spine, back of the neck long.
  4. Plank: EXHALE draw feet to touch and back toward the chair so you are on your big toes, INHALE lift arms to shoulder height, palms facing out in front of you, lean forward with a straight spine, so that you have to engage your abdomen to keep you lifted. 
  5. Low Plank: EXHALE bend your elbows to your sides, imagining bringing your heart between the hands, rather than drawing hands back, shift your torso even further forward, really engaging your abdomen to stabilize and keep the back from arching.
  6. Cobra: INHALE and now let your back arch, lifting your gaze up and pulling your chest forward, finding a little back bend
  7. Downward Facing Dog: EXHALE lengthen out the legs, toes flex up, arms and torso straighten out, so you make a letter V shape.
Take 3-5 rounds of sun salutations, focusing on the subtleties of your core, finding the challenge by pushing to the point of almost falling forward, so that you are forced to use your abdomen to stabilize.  

Twists

We have four different twists here that move from more simple to complex, so you can choose the right level for you, or incorporate all four, starting with the simplest and creating a progression. 
  1.  Simple Spinal Twist: Sit facing the right side of the room, both feet to touch. Grab either side of the back of the chair and use this as leverage to facilitate twist. Inhale to lengthen and exhale to twist looking over right shoulder. 3-5 breaths then switch sides
  2. Prayer Twist: Cross the right leg up and over the left, hands to prayer. Inhale to find length, exhale hook left elbow outside of right knee. Draw thumbs to heart center, shoulders away from ears. Take 3-5 breaths and switch sides.
  3. Figure Four Twist: Take right ankle up and over left thigh, so you make a number four position with your legs. Flex the top foot strongly, drawing pinky toes away from you to protect the knee and align the shin. Inhale grow tall in prayer and exhale hook right elbow to the sole of foot and twist, looking over left shoulder. Stay for 3-5 breaths and switch. ***This pose is like a seated pigeon, so can be done without the twist to focus on just the hip stretch for less intensity. 
  4. Reverse Triangle Twist: This is a great pose to enter from a forward fold so that you are already in the right position. From forward fold, place your left fingertips or palm on the floor beside your right foot. Inhale, reach the right fingertips to the sky, using your left arm into the right leg as leverage, twisting from the core to open up. Take 3-5 breaths and switch sides. 
Warrior Series

Lunges are a great opportunity to stretch out the hip flexors and psoas, which are in flexion in most other chair yoga postures, due to their seated nature. Pick a side to start on and you can do all these postures on one leg before switching for a vinyasa-like flow or alternate after each pose. 
  1.  High Lunge: Spin towards the left leg, so that your right thigh can drop off the edge of the chair. Inhale sweep the arms up, reaching through the fingertips and dropping the tailbone straight down as much as you can to find the deep stretch. Shift forward so you re on the ball of the back foot, and straighten the leg for a deeper stretch. Hold for 5-7 breaths.
  2. Twisted Lunge: Inhale in high lunge, exhale open up your arms to the back wall, reaching the left fingertips to the right wall. Gaze at your left thumb with your right eye as you use your core to revolve. Hold for 5-7 breaths.
  3. Warrior I: Unwind from the twist and plant the back foot at about a forty five degree angle, grounding the outer edge of the foot. Inhale your arms over head to prayer right above your heart, pressing the pinky fingers towards each other. Draw the right side of the torso forward away from the back leg, squaring forward from the torso. You can hold for five breaths here and then maybe split the palms for a little variation for five more breaths. 
  4. Warrior II: Inhale in Warrior I, and exhale open up Warrior II, opening the back foot to a ninety degree angle, and squaring your torso to the front of the room. Shoulders stack over hips, gaze over the front middle finger. Hold for five breaths and then try flipping the palms to the ceiling for five more breaths, even bending the elbows slightly to feel the biceps engage. 
  5. Extended Side Angle: From Warrior II, place the left forearm on the left thigh, palm facing up, and sweep the right arm up by your ear. Extend to the left side, but also revolve the left side of your body up to the sky, pressing the forearm into the leg to lift up out of the waist. Hold for 3-5 breaths. 
  6. Extended Side Angle Variation: To take a strengthening variation from here, extend the left arm up by your ear as well, challenging the sides of the body and core to keep you lifted. Stay for 3-5 more breaths. 
  7. Reverse Warrior: Inhale to reverse your warrior, sliding your right hand down the back right leg, left arm extends up into a side stretch. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then you can also take a variation by extending the right arm up as well for 3-5 more breaths. 
Core and Play

Eagle Crunches - Similar to supine eagle crunches, I like this flow of a shoulder stretch variation into swooping eagle variation
  1. Set up in eagle first, cross wrapping right arm under left, finding prayer or grabbing opposite shoulders to make it more accessible. Lift the right leg up and over left, wrapping right toes around ankle if it's available. 
  2. On an inhale raise the elbows up, hands away from the face, feelings nice stretch across your shoulder blades.
  3. Exhale bring your elbows down to meet the knees, really compressing the front body. Use your abdominals to squeeze al the air out while squeezing the legs together, and underneath the armpits for a nice lymphatic flush. 
Move through 5-10 rounds here, focusing on the core to drive the breath and facilitate the compression. 

Scale Pose - Scale Pose is an arm balance done with crossed legs with hands pressing you up off the floor, but the elevation of the chair makes it a little more accessible while still challenging for the core.
  • Hug the inner thighs together as you grasp the sides of the chair firmly. On an inhale push down into the chair and tuck the knees into the chest, exhaling to engage the abdominals and feeling an extra inch of lift, by scooping the belly up and in.
Hold as long as you can, working up to five slow deep breaths. You can take a few rounds, eventually working up to one long hold.

Mobility Fun

  1. Knee to Chest:  With the left foot planted, draw the right knee into the chest towards the right shoulder, interlacing the fingers underneath the hamstring or on the shin. Stay static for about three breaths, feeling the slight pinch in the hip flexor, then you can start to make circles with your knee in both directions, loosening up the hip joint. 
  2. Leg Extension: From the previous pose, either keep the grip underneath the thigh or grab into the foot to extend your leg. Have a tall spine, so if you need to keep your knee bent in order to keep spinal length, it will ensure the safety of your low back. After three or so breaths, you can also work in a thyroid compression by taking head to knee pose, tucking the chin into chest and connecting forehead to knee. 
  3. Dancing Shiva: If you are holding your foot, grab the outer edge of the foot with the left hand and extend the right fingers towards the right side of the room, twisting away from the leg. Again, you can keep the bend in your knee while holding the foot, or make a fist by your knee and twisting. This variation will actually require more strength to hover the knee, and requires the abdominals to create the twist more. 
  4. Dancer's: Finally, grab the inner edge of the right foot with your right hand, holding onto the back of the chair with your left hand for balance. Turn your torso to the left and start to kick back with your right foot to create a mini bow and lengthen out the hip flexor. To add more, extend the left front leg and imagine energy shooting out from both toes lifting you out and up. Take three to five breaths and repeat all poses on the opposite side. 
And that's a Wrap! 
I hope you enjoyed the variety of chair yoga poses I have to offer here. I know how frustrating it can be to be limited by injuries, and am happy to share what I hope are poses more accessible to a wide range of people. Namaste!