If you were a ’90s kid, you might remember seeing “Sit and Be Fit” after “Sesame Street” on PBS. If there’s one thing Mary Ann Wilson taught us, it’s that you don’t have to get out of your chair to get active.
Chair yoga is a great way to get moving without getting up — neon sweat bands are optional. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for more support during your yoga practice, and it can help add some flow to your work-from-home routine.
What exactly is chair yoga, anyway?
Chair yoga involves modifying yoga poses so they can be done while seated. With the support of a chair, the benefits of yoga become accessible to even more people, regardless of age, flexibility level, injuries, or mobility issues.
While sitting, you can still do a variety of twists, bends, and stretches, from Cat-Cow to Urdhva Hastasana. Try chair yoga for yourself with the following moves.
11 chair yoga poses to try
First things first: You’ll need a chair. But before you start Googling “yoga chairs,” know that you don’t need anything fancy — just something sturdy. (Steer clear of chairs without backs or with wheels.)
If your feet don’t touch the floor, grab a yoga block, a folded yoga mat, or another sturdy material to place under your feet so you have a solid foundation.
In each pose, sit toward the front edge of the seat, if possible. You want to be active in each pose while still maintaining stability.
Safety tip: Many of these exercises can be performed safely if you use a wheelchair or have other mobility restrictions, but it may be a good idea to chat with your doctor or physical therapist before trying a new activity.
1. Seated Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose is a perfect warmup pose to focus your breath and engage your core.
Take a deep breath in and lengthen your spine. (Just like your teacher always told you, sit up straight!)
Exhale and push your sitz bones (the very bottom of your pelvis) into the chair. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle.
Take another deep breath, exhale, and roll shoulders down and back. Gently engage core muscles and relax arms by your sides.
Hold the pose for about a minute, remembering to breathe.
2. Seated Warrior I
Make Xena the Warrior Princess proud with this move that stretches your arms and improves circulation.
From Seated Mountain Pose, inhale deeply as you raise your arms above your head. Lace your fingers together with pointer fingers and thumbs out. (You’ll look like you’re “shooting” the ceiling.)
Exhale and roll shoulders back. You’ll feel your shoulder capsule (the handy muscles that hold your shoulder joint together) working.
Take 5 deep breaths, then bring arms back to your sides.
3. Chair Forward Bend
Time to get bendy. Chair Forward Bend will lengthen your spine and stretch your back muscles.
Place your palms on your thighs and inhale. Keeping spine straight, exhale as you bend forward as far as you find comfortable. To intensify the stretch, let arms hang loosely down toward the floor.
Take at least 5 breaths. Inhale as you head back to upright position.
4. Chair Extended Side Angle
This move’s like Chair Forward Bend, but with a twist. Chair Extended Side Angle strengthens your chest, lungs, and shoulders while stimulating your abs.
Fold into a Chair Forward Bend (Uttanasana) position. Place left fingertips on the floor or a yoga block on the outside of left foot.
Open your chest and twist to the right as you inhale. Extend right arm toward the ceiling and look up at your arm.
Hold for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Modification: If you can’t easily touch the floor, don’t sweat it. Use a block or another sturdy object instead.
5. Simple Seated Twist
Twisting poses help ease lower back pain and support healthy digestion. For that reason, they’re often dubbed “detox” poses.
With your spine extended, raise your arms straight up and out from your sides, fingers pointed.
Exhale and gently twist to the right. Don’t just twist your back — move your whole torso as you lower your arms. Lightly rest right arm on the back of the chair. Gaze over right shoulder and stay put for 5 breaths.
Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side.
Safety tip: It might be tempting, but don’t force the twist by pulling on your chair. This could cause serious pain or injury.
6. Chair Pigeon Pose
If you’re a bird, I’m a bird — er, a pigeon, that is. Chair Pigeon Pose stretches your glutes, and groin and stimulates your digestive system.
Bring right ankle to rest on left thigh. Keep knee lined up with ankle.
Hold for at least 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
7. Chair Eagle Arms
Forget being a pigeon — now it’s time to be an eagle. This move strengthens your arms, opens up your shoulder joints, and increases circulation.
Inhale as you stretch your arms out by your sides. Exhale and bring arms in front of you. Swing right arm under left arm. Grab your shoulders with opposite hands. Basically, give yourself a hug (aww, #SelfLove).
Inhale and lift elbows a little higher. Exhale, roll your shoulders down and back, and take a few breaths.
Repeat on the other side.
Modification: If you’re pretty flexible, try releasing your grip from your shoulders and wrapping your forearms around one another in front of you, keeping your elbows at chest height. Your right hand’s fingers should rest in your left palm.
8. Seated Cat-Cow
Moo-meow, it’s time to do Cat-Cow. This move releases tension and strengthens your back. Start with a long, straight spine and your knees above your ankles.
First, Cow: Inhale, arch your spine, and roll your shoulder blades down and back.
Now, Cat: Exhale as you round your spine, draw belly in, and bring chin to chest. Let your shoulders and head fall forward.
Move back and forth for 5 breaths.
9. Reverse Arm Hold
Now, let’s make like Missy and flip it and reverse it. The Reverse Arm Hold stretches your shoulders, opens up your chest, and helps you relax.
Inhale as you stretch both arms out by your sides, palms down. Roll both shoulders forward as you exhale. Let hands swing loosely behind your back.
Clasp hands together and gently pull to add some resistance — but don’t release your grip.
Take 5 deep breaths, then repeat with opposite arms.
10. Seated Five-Pointed Star
When you wish upon a star, this pose strengthens, lengthens, and aligns your spine.
Take a deep breath and extend arms out to either side. Keep your spine neutral. Stretch through your fingers and the top of your head.
If you can, stretch legs straight out too. Your limbs and head should help you form the star you are.
Hold for 5 breaths.
11. Chair Savasana
Savasana is the final resting pose of just about any yoga practice. It’s the perfect way to relax and re-center after your routine.
Sit with your eyes closed and your hands resting loosely in your lap. Rest for a few minutes, simply observing the sensations in your body. When you’re ready, open your eyes slowly.
Why do chair yoga?
Just like other forms of yoga, chair yoga provides a number of health benefits — and it’s accessible to more people. There are several science-backed reasons to give it a try:
- Strength, endurance, and flexibility. In a 2015 study, researchers concluded that a 12-week Hatha yoga program improved participants’ strength, endurance, and flexibility.
- Mental clarity. Yoga is known to aid in mental clarity. A 2019 review of 11 studies concluded that yoga improves several brain structures and may help prevent age-related declines in brain function.
- Balance. Falls can be a major problem for older adults. In one 2012 study of older adults who had previously experienced falls, researchers found that chair yoga improved mobility and balance.
- Pain and fatigue relief. In a 2018 study of older adults with osteoarthritis, those who did chair yoga for 8 weeks showed a greater decrease in pain and fatigue than the control group.
- Stress relief. One 2016 study found that a regular yoga practice reduced cortisol (the primary stress hormone) in people with anxiety and depression.
Chair yoga consists of modified poses that can be done while seated, which makes the poses accessible to more people. This practice has many of the same benefits as traditional yoga, such as reducing stress and improving your strength, flexibility, and balance.
It’s particularly helpful for folks with mobility issues or injuries. If that’s you, just make sure to chat with your doc first. Safety: You deserve it!
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