Using a chair for yoga? As a yoga teacher I often see a question mark on my students and colleagues faces when I suggest using a chair as yoga prop.
Yoga asanas involve extension, exertion, as well as relaxation of the body. The aim of the movement is to align the body correctly. For a yogi, the yoga asanas described below are the foundation of every yoga practice. The objective of a beginner yogi is to understand proper alignment. Whereas a seasoned yogi strives to find greater depths and sustain the asanas for an extended length of time. Whether you are a beginner yogi or an advanced practitioner, adding a yoga prop will help to stretch, strengthen, relax and improve the alignment of the body, enhancing the experience of the entire yoga practice.
My practice has personally benefited immensely from using props. To recover from a cervical spine injury, I began experimenting with ordinary and everyday objects such as walls, chairs, cushions and blankets. Props have been a core element of several restorative yoga practices over the years. In fact, the chair has been an important characteristic of Iyengar Yoga for decades. The easy availability of chairs made it an integral part of my practice. I was able to do more with the help of a chair, accessing key movements and achieving more height, balance and stability. I could stay longer and relax in challenging asanas, thus attaining their maximum benefit.
Try these foundational yoga poses using a chair. As a silent instructor, it will help you enhance the understanding of each asana. Important thing to note: the chair should be stable, without wheels and without hand rest and make sure your come out of the pose just like you go in.
Chair yoga pose No. 1: Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Place the back side of the chair against the wall. Stand in front of the chair. Bend forward and hold the sides of the chair seat. Press your palms down on the chair and walk your feet back until they are about 4 feet away from the chair. Make sure your feet are in line with your hands and about hip-width distance apart. Inhale, bend both knees, rotate your upper arms out and exhale as your push the chair away from your body, lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Then stretch your legs and lower your heels towards the floor. Keep rotating the shoulders out and press your chest towards the floor. Breathe and hold for 8 – 10 breaths.
- Doing the asana with the chair will help to shift the body weight from the arms to the legs and help you stay longer in the pose. It will extend the body evenly, correctly and to the maximum; building strength and length without compressing the shoulders.
Chair yoga pose No. 2: Upward Facing Dog – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- Place the chair against the wall with the back towards you. Roll a yoga mat, blanket or a towel on the top of the backrest. Hold the sides of the chair and take a few steps back. Take a deep breath in and as your exhale, use the grip on the chair to roll your shoulders out and lean forward until you land on the ball mounts of your feet and your pelvis rests on the back of the chair. Press the pelvis against the chair and use your arms to lengthen the spine up and open the chest. Stay for 3 – 4 breaths and repeat again.
- Using the chair will lengthen the spine in an arc, strengthen the arms and wrists and open the shoulders without compressing the lower back. The pelvic region and chest will be broadened, which is usually hard to access from a floor.
Chair yoga pose No. 3: Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II
- Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart and toes pointing forward. Place the chair in between your legs, facing you, more towards the right leg. Hold the chair and turn your right foot out to 90 degrees. As you inhale, broaden your chest and as you exhale, bend your right knee over your right ankle, bring your right thigh parallel to the floor and rest your right thigh on the chair seat. Adjust your chair slightly towards the right so that your right thigh and right hip are completely resting on the chair seat. Use your grip on the chair to press the left leg down and square your pelvis and chest forward. Depending on your height and tightness in your hips, you might have to add a cushion on the chair seat. Stay for 10 – 12 breaths and repeat on the other side.
- Warrior II is an intense pose and using a chair can help open the inner legs and groin area. The chair takes the load off the right leg and enables you to stay longer and work the details of the pose.
Chair yoga pose No. 4: Warrior I – Virabhadrasana I
- Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart, toes pointing forward. Place the chair in between your legs, facing you, more towards the right leg. Hold the chair and turn your right foot out to 90 degrees. Lift the left heel and turn pelvis from left to right, coming to the ball mount of your left foot. Inhale and exhale as your bend your right knee over your right ankle. Adjust the chair forward so that your entire right thigh and right hip are resting on the chair. You might have to step your left foot back a little to bring your right thigh to rest of the chair. Just like Warrior II, depending on your height and tightness in your hips, you might have to add a cushion on the chair seat. Stay for 10 – 12 breaths and repeat on the other side.
- Using the chair will help to keep the weight in the center of the body and thus making the pose lighter. It enables to stay longer in the pose and work on extending the back leg and hip.
Chair yoga pose No. 5: Extended Triangle – Utthita Trikonasana
- Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart. Place a chair behind you on your right side facing backwards. Turn the right foot out to 90 degrees and turn your left foot in slightly. Hold the backrest of the chair with your left hand, inhale as you lengthen and exhale as you hinge from your hips sideways to the right and support your right hand on the seat of the chair. If you wish to go further, go down and grab the horizontal rack. Stay there for 10 – 12 breaths and press down actively through both feet. At every inhale find length in your spine and at every exhale roll your chest towards the ceiling.
- The chair will give you support to stay longer, keep your body aligned and help you roll the left shoulder back and rotate and open the chest.
Chair yoga pose No. 6: Intense Side Stretch – Parsvottanasana
- Stand at the top of your mat with your feet together and place the chair in front of you. Step your right foot back about 4 feet. Inhale as you raise your arms up and exhale as you hinge from your hips, place your hands on the outer edges of your chair. Draw your right hip forward and left hip back. Roll your shoulders down and away from your ears and extend your spine forward. Hold for 10 – 12 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
- Using the chair will keep your weight and balance in the center of your body. This in turn will help to align the pelvis and lengthen the sides of the torso.
Chair yoga pose No. 7: Seated Spinal Twist – Bharadvajasana I
- Sit sideways on the chair with the right side of your body against the backrest and hold the backrest. Sit erect and lengthen from your spine upwards. Bend your elbows, pushing the right side of the chair away from your body and pulling the left side of the chair back towards your body. Press your feet down, inhale as you lengthen from your spine and exhale as you rotate from your torso to the right. Keep pressing your left hip bone and feet down and do not hold your breath. Stay for 10 -12 breaths and twist deeper at every exhale. Repeat on the other side.
- Using the chair will help you gain better alignment, extension and twist along the axis of the spine compared to sitting on the floor. It will improve the suppleness of the back, neck and shoulders without decompressing the spine.
[This article was initially published on Seattle Yoga News]