July 6, 2017

Chair Yoga

Chair Yoga is a relaxing way to relieve stress by combining flowing movements with gentle stretches and meditative breathing. It is a great way to strengthen body awareness and focus the mind – all from the seat of your chair.

Yoga may be an ancient practice, but it is also an ever-evolving one. For much of its existence, yoga was an oral tradition in India that was passed down from teacher to student, meaning that certain elements stayed the same, but teachers often left their mark in ways that expanded and changed the practice over time.

In the last few centuries, yogic wisdom has been put to paper – and video tape and computer screen, for that matter – and it has spread across the entire world. So even though we now have more extensive records of yogic teachings, the practice continues to evolve because so many more practitioners are learning its techniques, making yoga their own and spreading it to others.

Many of the recent forms of yoga that have emerged aim to make the practice accessible to more people – not just people who already possess a certain level of fitness or physical ability.

For example, Yin Yoga focuses on slower movements and longer holds for the postures, making the practice great for people who want to stretch, but don’t necessarily want to sweat. Restorative Yoga involves even longer holds and less movement. Props are used to hold the body in a passive stretch, but practitioners are encouraged to relax their muscles, allowing the stretch to happen with minimal effort. Aqua Yoga transforms some of the load-bearing stances of a more active yoga practice into low-impact, joint-friendly exercises. Curvy Yoga uses props, modifications and body-positivity to break down stereotypes about “who can do yoga.”

Chair Yoga is part of this relatively new array of accessible yoga. It is designed for yogis who have trouble getting up and down off the floor. The chair is a tool to essentially bring the floor up to you. Many of the poses are simply modifications of positions from other yoga traditions that have been altered so that the same stretch or effect can be achieved while seated in the chair. For example, the common yoga positions of “cat” and “cow” are traditionally performed while on the hands and knees, but the same freeing motion for the spine can be performed while seated in a chair.

In other poses, practitioners may be standing, and the chair aids with balance or reduces the weight-bearing intensity of the pose. The classic posture of “tree” is a good example. Yogis can work on improving their balance while the support of the chair remains close at hand if they need it. In “downward facing dog” at the chair, practitioners get the same stretch for the whole backside of the body, without having to be able to support so much of their body weight in their wrists.

As with any yoga practice, there are variations in Chair Yoga that allow room for the yogi to advance. Just because the practice is being performed with a chair doesn’t mean the practitioner can’t “feel the burn” if they want to.

Regardless of what kind of yoga practice you do, some things remain the same. Yoga helps you become more aware of your body and your breathing. It calms the mind and energizes the body while helping you feel more strong and flexible. It fosters an environment where you can practice focusing your attention and expand your perception of what is possible.

With so many options available, including Chair Yoga, it is now easier than ever to find the right yoga practice for you.

Amy Widner

RYT 200 yoga instructor

Writer in the Communications & Marketing Department at UAMS

Chair Yoga instructor in the Donald W. Reynold Institute on Aging Ottenheimer Therapy and Fitness Center at UAMS