Chair yoga is a light and gentle type of yoga that can be done using a chair while sitting down. Some poses can also be done standing while using the chair for balance and support.
You may be surprised that most traditional yoga poses can be performed on a chair. This is a great option for people who have limited mobility or conditions that don’t allow them to practice traditional yoga on a yoga mat.
Benefits of chair yoga
Chair yoga exercises can increase your flexibility, improve your concentration, build strength, and also make you feel less stressed or anxious.
While chair yoga exercises are performed seated or standing using a chair for assistance, they follow the same principles as traditional yoga. The physical poses stretch and strengthen many of the same muscles and the breath work is based on traditional pranayama and harnesses the power of the mind for meditation.
Chair yoga can be especially beneficial for older adults. A recent review found that practicing chair yoga can help older adults build muscle and maintain upper and lower body strength. Another study that followed adults in a retirement community for 12 weeks found that those who practiced yoga twice a week (mostly with chair assistance) had less fear of falling and more confidence in their physical abilities, plus better lower-body flexibility and balance.
While chair yoga is a great option for those with reduced mobility, that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t find benefit from it. If you sit all day at work, chair yoga is a great option to avoid tension and pain from sitting in the same position and helps combat poor posture. And one study even found that chair yoga done at the office can reduce stress and elicit a relaxation response.
10 chair yoga poses
Here are 10 simple chair yoga poses you can do anywhere.
Sitting on a chair with your feet planted on the floor as wide as your hips, place your hands on your knees. Inhale and arch your upper back, looking up as high as you can with your head. Make sure the shoulders stay down. Then exhale as you round your spine and drop your chin to your chest, allowing the head to come forward. Move between these two positions for a total of 5 breaths each.
Chair forward fold
Sitting upright with your feet planted on the ground as wide as your hips, slowly hinge forward at your waist. Fold forward so that your chest is reaching toward your thighs or resting on your thighs. Allow your chin to drop toward your chest and your arms and shoulders to fall in front of you. Allow your hands to reach toward the floor or rest on the floor. Hold for three breaths, and then slowly roll up.
Chair downward facing dog
Stand upright facing the chair. Bend at your waist and place your hands on the seat of the chair. Externally rotate your shoulders so that they move away from your ears. Feel a stretch in your hamstrings and back. Hold for 3 breaths, then slowly stand upright to release.
Chair side stretch
Sit with your feet firmly planted on the ground as wide as your hips. Inhale as you reach your right arm up and over toward the left side. To help with balance, reach your left arm across your lap, grabbing the right leg or right side of the chair. Breathe into the right side of your body for 3 breaths, then come back to center, release, and switch sides.
Sit sideways on the chair so that the right side of your body is touching the back of the chair. Keep your feet flat on the ground as wide as your hips. Inhale and reach both arms toward the right and hold onto the chair. Exhale as you twist to the right, using the chair to help you twist further to the right. Be sure that your knees stay in line with each other (don’t let the left knee come further forward than the right knee) and engage your abs to help maintain the integrity of the pose. Hold for three breaths, and then switch sides.
Chair warrior II
Sitting on the chair like you did for the twist, swing the left leg around behind you so that it’s on the opposite side of the chair. Press down through your front right foot and press down through the outer edge of your back left foot. Pull your naval in toward your spine, and lift the arms up as high as the shoulders. Look over the right arm and hold for 3 slow breaths. Release and switch sides.
Chair reverse warrior II
Start in the chair Warrior II pose outlined above. Slowly reach your right arm up toward the ceiling while letting the left arm lower toward your leg, resting on the left calf. Feel a stretch in the front of the right side, and hold for 3 breaths. Then switch sides.
Sitting in an upright position, cross your right thigh over your left tightly. If you can, you may wrap the right foot around the left calf. Then, cross your left arm over the right arm, and bend at the elbows. Try to bring your palms to touch. Lift the elbows up as high as the shoulders without hunching the shoulders. Pull the shoulders down away from the ears. Hold for 3 breaths, unwrap, and repeat in the opposite direction.
Sit upright with both feet planted on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, letting your left leg fall out to the side. Flex your left foot to protect the left knee. If you don’t feel a stretch in your left glute, slowly hinge forward, bending toward your legs. Hold for 3 breaths, and then release and switch sides.
At the end of your practice, sit upright and relax your arms by your sides. Close your eyes and take 5 slow deep breaths to slow your heart rate and absorb the effects of your chair yoga practice.