A fully seated chair yoga practice
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
When I approach a yoga class as a teacher I invite people to connect to their breath and notice what their starting point it “Start where you are.” Then I will ask people to notice how they feel, to connect to their body in a mindful, creative way “Use what you have.” And then I will offer ideas around what may be possible from there…there is no expectation to do what I ask, rather I ask “Do what you can.” Quotations by Arthur Ashe.
In this article I offer a short insight into chair yoga and what I love about taking support in our practice with this versatile prop. My hope is, should you wish to take it along with me, that you are able to notice more fully the above prompts in an accessible, comfortable and enjoyable way.
What I love about chair yoga
I have found it really useful lately to explore yoga from the support of a chair whilst exploring accessible yoga practices with both Jivana Heyman and Amber Karnes. It has totally transformed the practice for me! I always thought chair yoga would be a practice more specifically for older people or for those with physical limitations. I have come to the realisation that chair yoga is, in fact for all of us to explore.
I honestly feel there is a place for chair yoga in any given practice we may want to take for ourselves…and as a practitioner with others.
Many yoga classes begin with some kind of centring practice, a way to get us into our body and out of our head. Often, what centres us is a connection to the ground, an awareness of how we feel in our physical body and in the breath. This provides us with space to notice how we feel physically, energetically and mentally. Sometimes we may experience some agitation at the start of a yoga practice and it is useful to be able to reduce this in some way so that we can focus on the more joyful elements of the practice. The connection with the ground enables us to become anchored, literally grounding ourselves through the body to the Earth. Connection to the breath can help us both to relax and cultivate focus in preparation for the practice ahead. This approach to centring should (hopefully) help to relieve some of the agitation we may be feeling when we begin.
Chair yoga is a great place to start the practice because not only does it provide a comfortable starting point, it enables full body support and a solid connection to the ground. It acts as a prop upon which we can prepare and focus ourselves in preparation for the practice ahead. If there is an overall bodily comfort and feeling of support then the usual patterns of physical discomfort that may arise such as tight hamstrings, or a stiff back and shoulders can be reduced.
Who is chair yoga for?
Chair yoga is useful to anyone who may be new to yoga as well as for any experienced practitioner. It is a useful prop which enables adaptation of traditional yoga postures, shapes or sequencing in ways that are more accessible, enjoyable and comfortable. It is a great way to experiment and change our perspective of movement and support and to notice how something may feel should we decide to take it from the support of a chair. It also provides a platform for a creative approach, to rethink how we can move and breathe with this added use of a stable prop. It is also one way for the practice to build gradually and can provide a base for a more strengthening or expansive practice whilst equally allowing support for more comfort and stability when sitting and focussing on the breath.
I have been using chair yoga lately at the start of many of my general group classes because it means we are all starting on the same level, quite literally in terms of eye level, but also physically. It forms a very useful and inclusive starting point.
If we can take a practice that is supportive, connected and more accessible…
“..You feel more comfortable in your skin, more grounded and peaceful in your mind, and aware that wellness is available to you, just as you are. You can embody your power and reclaim the space you take up in the world.”
Sun Salutation chair yoga practice: 25 minutes
In my latest YouTube practice I offer a 25 minute chair yoga class which explores the sun salutation series from a chair.
I’ve really enjoyed practising this energising sequence fully from a chair because it has made me realise the creative possibilities the practice in ways that may just well make it more accessible and enjoyable for others. It opens a space for creative thinking and application. Normally the sun salutation series involves a lot of getting up and down from the ground, and in turn can be physically demanding. It is certainly not a practice I would teach very often, and if I were to, I would be breaking it down in ways that slow the pace and rhythm so that it can be more breath-centred and mindful.
What I do love about sun salutations in the traditional sense is that they form a sequence that enables us to experience our energy, build stamina and strength throughout our whole body, and that connects us to nature through the empowering and uplifting qualities of the sun. It can be a useful and inspiring practice for us all adapted in some way.
When we take the sequence from the support of a chair there is still a wholeness of energy that arises, and we can choose for ourselves to pick up or slow down the pace of movement and breathing depending on how we feel. The chair also means we don’t bend so deeply into a forward fold or even bend position our head below the heart like we would in many regular standing postures. This means it is not only a healthy strengthening practice for the spine, but it may also be useful for anyone who suffers from vertigo, hypertension or dizziness. This approach may also provide greater stability for the pelvis, the lower back and improve postural awareness. Sun salutations on the chair will activate the whole body whilst putting less less pressure on the knees and keep tender wrists happy.
Chair yoga is a step towards practising yoga for self-care no matter your body type, age, ability or experience.
This short practice can be taken as a quick way to re-energise during the day, it could also be one way to break up long periods of time spent sitting at a desk, or you prefer wish to incorporate it into the beginning of what could be a longer practice. I’d love to know how you get on and most importantly enjoy this time and space to nurture and care for yourself! For this practice I suggest you place a mat underneath the chair for additional grip and stability. You may also find it useful to have either a folded blanket or some yoga blocks (large books work well for this) to go under the feet for height.
There are now over 20 pre-recorded practices available for you on YouTube to experience. Anything from 5 minutes of breath awareness through to longer holistic practices which I hope will inspire you to practice. What I offer here is continually evolving as I enjoy discovering useful ways to support and direct ourselves through the practice of yoga.
Along with my YouTube channel you can connect with me on instagram by signing up to my mailing list, where I will keep you up to date with my ongoing class schedule as well as linking out to my blog, so you can be the first to read any new article or practice that I have launched.
I teach weekly online classes via Zoom along with small, group classes from my home town of Marple, Manchester. You are welcome to join me at any stage, whether you have experience of yoga or not, practices are designed to be inclusive and accessible.
Keep in touch and I look forward to reconnecting with you soon.