Ten Reasons to Do Chair Yoga
By: Joanne Spence, BSW, E-RYT 200, RYT 500 and RCYT
Published: July 1, 2016
10. Chairs don’t take up much floor space.
Many places where I teach do not have the floor space for 10 mats, but most places have space for 10 chairs. You can create an intimate circle, or space chairs out if you have more room and want to do sweeping arm movements.
9. Chairs are easy to come by.
Everybody has one or has access to one. Alternatively, you could use that nearby park bench or low concrete wall. Easy access to a chair removes a barrier to yoga practice. No more “the dog ate my yoga mat” excuses!
8. Chairs are accessible to anyone who can sit.
That includes a lot of people. A surprising number of seemingly able-bodied people who I come across greet me with lots of nervousness until I reassure them they will not be on the floor. People have all sorts of body issues that you may never know about. Somehow, a chair is an equalizer for them.
7. The quality and range of movement one can achieve from sitting in a chair is surprising.
In one of my classes, a veteran marathon runner had sweat beading down her face just from doing a seated cat and cow and lateral movement of the spine in a chair. She simply had not moved her body in this particular way before, and her body was responding. There’s no downside; fit people can still “feel good” from the slow movement. Non-fit people - or perhaps folks who are a little disconnected from their bodies – usually can give themselves permission to try something as non-threatening as sitting in a chair.
6. A chair can be a great prop.
You can sit on it. You can stand and use it to help you balance, or put your foot on it for some hip work. If you like the pose Balancing Half Moon but struggle with it, try using a chair instead of blocks. It’s a beautiful and freeing thing. The idea is to find steadiness and ease in every pose, which is the very thing that the ancient sage Patanjali wrote in Yoga Sutra 2.46: sthira sukham asanam.
5. Chairs are a great aid to posture.
Sit at the very front of your chair with your feet hip width apart and firmly planted on the floor to challenge your posture. Do this for 15 minutes each day, and see how your posture and your breathing will improve.
4. People in wheelchairs feel special.
They bring their own chairs and love being part of the group and participating just like everyone else is. Normalizing is good.
3. Chairs slow you down.
Some of us need all the help we can get. It is hard to hurt yourself when you slow down. Often, it is harder to move mindfully when we are trying to move slowly. We feel more. But that’s the idea: to feel more, physically and mentally, and to notice what’s going on internally.
2. Using a chair is humbling. Practicing in one is good for the ego.
There’s no pretention here; just you and the chair and maybe a block or two. It is okay to balance with both feet on the floor. Humbleness is good. Neither chairs nor yoga have the corner on the market when it comes to relaxation. There are many ways to practice, relax and meditate. However, if you have never tried yoga, chair yoga is a great way to start.
1. Using a chair allows REAL people to do REAL yoga.
Over the ten years I have been teaching yoga from a chair, I have been able to persuade many a person that “yes, this really is yoga, and no, you do not have to stand on your head or be flexible to practice.” That prevailing image folks have in their heads about yoga intimidates many people. Historically, yoga was almost entirely non-posture based, as is evidenced by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2"Yogas citta vritti nirodhah," meaning “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Yoga originated as meditation practice.
So, why do we continue to be bombarded by images from the yoga “industry” that make us think it is all about the slick arm balance of a super bendy person? Often, these poses are achievable by only a small percentage of people practicing yoga and may even be contraindicated for most people practicing yoga. So, let’s be real and honest.
I am committed to promoting the message that if you can breathe, you can do yoga. Like they say at TED, that’s an “idea worth spreading. “I hope you pull up a chair and join me.
Joanne Spence, E-RYT 200, RYT 500 and RCYT, is the happy and grateful recipient of the Yoga Alliance Foundation’s 2015 Advanced Training scholarship. She recently graduated from the Subtle Yoga Teacher Training, Asheville, North Carolina. Joanne continues to teach part-time at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA and is the Executive Director of Yoga in Schools and the director of Urban Oasis Pittsburgh, a private yoga studio. Joanne’s trainings and chair yoga DVD can be found at www.yogainschools.org and www.absolutebeginneryoga.com.