What Is Chair Yoga?

Chair Yoga is a great way to practice for people with mobility issues, chronic illnesses, or low energy levels.

Let’s take a closer look at what chair yoga is, its many benefits, and how to practice it. Plus, we include some follow-along videos to help you get started today!

Chair Yoga Definition

Chair Yoga is a branch of yoga practice that utilizes a chair (and sometimes other props) to modify the practice. Most poses are performed from a seated position; however, the chair can also be used for support in standing postures like Triangle Pose or inversions like Downward Facing Dog.

The classes are often promoted to senior citizens, but many other groups of people can benefit from practicing Chair Yoga.

For example, it’s a great exercise option for people with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. It can also be a gentle enough option for those who suffer from low energy levels, including people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME), depression, chemotherapy patients, or someone recovering from an illness. Chair Yoga is inclusive enough to appeal to people with certain physical disabilities or serious injuries.

Although Chair Yoga mainly consists of traditional yoga asanas adapted to be performed with assistance, it also includes a broader spectrum of movement, especially targeting the upper body. It is possible to practice Chair Yoga both at a studio and in your home. Additionally, many medical rehabilitation facilities include Chair Yoga as part of the recovery program for physical injuries, mental health issues, or addiction.

Benefits of Chair Yoga

There is a myriad of reasons why Chair Yoga was developed and why it found its audience. Benefits of Chair Yoga include:

  • Inclusivity. Chair Yoga is a slow-paced and gentle practice that can be adapted to suit almost anyone. It is specifically designed to be less taxing on the muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system, while still giving the practitioners a chance to move their bodies. As such, Chair Yoga can appeal to people with physical and mental disabilities, chronic illnesses, mobility issues, or low energy levels. It is also suitable for older people and pregnant women.
  • No special equipment. If you want to practice Chair Yoga, all you need is a chair. You don’t have to buy a yoga mat or a long list of additional props. And since the practice is slower and gentler, there is no requirement for high-end fitness apparel. As long as you are comfortable and your clothes don’t restrict your movement, you can practice wearing almost anything.
  • Practice anywhere. Unfortunately, the very people who could benefit from yoga are often restricted when it comes to commuting to a yoga venue. And even if the commute isn’t too bad, some venues are not suitable for disabled students, students with injuries, or students with mobility issues. Chair Yoga is a great way to practice yoga from the comfort of your own home! It’s safer than most types of yoga practice, and it barely takes up any space!
  • Grounding practice. In Chair Yoga, there are very few (if any) standing postures and no inversions or arm balances. Most poses are performed while seated on the chair, with the sit bones planted and the feet grounded. It’s a great opportunity for finding focus and grounding yourself.
  • Social opportunity. Older folks might find it difficult to meet people, and many public spaces are not equipped to accommodate their gentle pace. Chair Yoga classes are not only a good way to stay fit and mobile, but they can also be a wonderful social outlet for the older generation.

Chair Yoga Poses

Chair Yoga poses include:

  • Cow Face Pose. A modified version of the full yoga pose, where the practitioner is seated on the chair. In this variation, only the arms are manipulated into a bind.
  • Seated Cat/Cow. A great variation of spinal movement that doesn’t put any pressure on the joints. In a seated Cat/Cow, the practitioner rests their hands on their lap as they alternate between arching forward (spinal extension) and rounding their back (spinal flexion).
  • Chair Pigeon. This pose, also known as the Figure-of-Four, requires the practitioner to rest one ankle above the opposite knee. This action stretches the groin and opens the hip, mimicking the effect of Pigeon Pose.
  • Seated Garland Pose. To adapt Malasana to a chair sequence, the practitioner is instructed to widen their stance, opening the hips. To make the pose more intense and mimic the effects of Malasana, practitioners are encouraged to lower their torso towards the gap while continuing to lengthen through the spine.
  • Downward Facing Dog with Chair. This pose takes the essential elements of Adho Mukha Shvanasana and removes the potential strain on the wrists, as well as reduces the risk of falling. For the chair variation of Downward Facing Dog, the practitioner’s hands rest on the back of a chair, with their arms extended and their torso positioned parallel to the ground. The hips are aligned above the feet, creating a 90-degree bend. This way, the spine is elongated, the hamstrings and calves are stretched, and the chest is open, just as it is in the classic Down Dog.
  • Chair Lunge. In this variation of a lunge, the thigh of the front leg is rested on the seat of the chair, while the other leg is extended backward. This pose is typically performed facing one side of the chair, with the back of the chair available for extra support. It is possible to stretch both sides of the body without even leaving the seat.

How to Practice Chair Yoga

The only piece of equipment you need is a chair. However, choosing the right chair can make or break your practice. The seat of the chair should be soft enough to not create any discomfort for the sit bones. If desired, a small cushion can be used to make sitting more comfortable. The back of the chair is used in several Chair Yoga poses, so find a chair with a backrest. Make sure the chair is sturdy and stable.

When you sit in your chosen chair with the glutes and thighs filling the seat, the knees should be bent to approximately 90 degrees, with the feet resting firmly on the ground. If your height stops the feet from reaching down, you may rest your feet on a small stool.

It is also possible to practice Chair Yoga using a wheelchair, although it may require some pose modification. A knowledgeable teacher will be able to sequence a class in a way that is inclusive for wheelchair users.

The way a Chair Yoga class is usually structured, it starts with some breathing and centering activities. During the physical portion of the session, many poses focus on activating the upper body and relieving pressure from the legs and feet. The session usually ends with seated meditation, although some teachers offer an option to lay back in Savasana or rest the calves on the chair for a modified version of Legs-Up-the-Wall.

Start Chair Yoga at Home

If you can’t make it to a studio that offers Chair Yoga classes, or you would rather try Chair Yoga out at home, check out these follow-along videos.

Gentle Chair Yoga for Beginners and Seniors

Inclusive Chair Yoga Class for Everyone! Welcoming Wheelchair Yogis!

Chair Yoga FAQs

How Long Are Chair Yoga Classes?

Chair Yoga classes tend to be shorter than mainstream classes like Yin or Vinyasa. A typical Chair Yoga class lasts 25-35 minutes. That way, it’s easy to fit into one’s schedule and not too taxing on the body.

Does Chair Yoga Count as Exercise?

Chair Yoga absolutely counts as exercise! It involves a variety of movement that targets different areas of the body. Some poses build muscle strength, and others improve flexibility. Additionally, Chair Yoga is a great way to gently work out your cardiovascular system and strengthen your lungs. Not everyone is built to run marathons or lift weights, and Chair Yoga is a great exercise alternative for those with limited mobility, injury, or fatigue.

What if One of the Chair Yoga Poses Is Too Difficult or Impossible to Perform?

Even though Chair Yoga is designed to be kinder and gentler on the body, let’s not forget that everybody is different. From physical conditions to bone structure, there are many things about our body we cannot control. If any poses in the Chair Yoga sequence result in severe discomfort or pain, that’s your body signaling for you to stop. If that happens, you have the option to modify the posture to suit your body or skip the pose altogether and rejoin the practice when you feel ready. If you’re not sure how to modify a pose, ask your teacher – they should be able to direct you in a way that allows you to benefit from the practice nonetheless!

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Chair Yoga for the first time if you have any type of injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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