I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked, “Isn’t that for old people?!” when I told them about chair yoga. I talk about chair yoga with so much enthusiasm that I assume everyone else is eager to try it, too!
People often equate yoga on the mat with young, flexible bodies and yoga in a chair with stiff, old bodies. That could not be farther from the truth. Without the potential barrier of getting down on a mat, chair yoga helps us connect with the essence of yoga – to integrate the mind and body through breath, awareness and positive intentions – for an accessible practice for every body.
Chair yoga is an all-levels style of yoga that uses the chair as a prop and/or is done seated for the entire practice.
4 Myths About Chair Yoga (and what’s actually true)
1. It’s just for seniors.
Chair yoga is for anyone who wants to practice yoga accessibly and without the potential barrier of getting down on a mat. Chair yoga has become popular in senior homes and for practitioners with limited mobility. However, it’s effective and beneficial for everyone.
This style of yoga is great for:
- People new to the practice.
- People recovering from injury.
- Office workers who want to enjoy yoga from their desk.
- Anyone short on time and limited on space.
- People who do not wish to practice on a mat or down on the floor for personal or medical reasons.
2. It’s just stretching in a chair.
Before I got certified to teach chair yoga, I thought it was just sitting in a chair stretching. But I’m blown away by the variety and the ways in which mat-based postures were adapted for the chair.
You can use the chair in two main ways:
- To sit the entire time
- As prop for standing postures (some classes combine both).
Chair yoga targets all of the same body parts as mat yoga. It also includes other elements of the practice such as a mindfulness, meditation and breathwork.
Static (hold) and dynamic (movement) stretches can be added to every posture by changing the arm movements, alternating which side of the body is in motion and holding postures for short or long periods of time. Traditional yoga sequences like Sun Salutations can also be adapted for the chair.
3. It’s too easy.
The level of difficulty is different for everyone and depends on what variations you practice with each posture. Some chair yoga classes use the chair as a prop for inversions and balance while others challenge students to hold postures for longer, twist deeper or add movement with each posture.
Experienced practitioners might benefit from the support of the chair, in absence of an in-person spotter, when trying to get into more challenging poses. Students who are nervous about trying certain postures on the mat can become familiar with how the movement feels in their bodies while seated or standing with their chair.
Easy is relative so remember, this is your practice and you can make it work for you whether you stand or sit.
4. You need a special chair.
Almost any chair will work well for chair yoga, but the best chairs:
- A sturdy straight back
- A wide base for your entire bottom
- No arms in the way
- Allow your feet to rest firmly on the ground with knees bent to 90 degrees.
When I’m teaching a corporate chair yoga class, practitioners are often sitting in their ergonomic, curved back office chair. While curved backs aren’t the best choice, I’d much rather someone practice with what they have than not at all. In those instances, I teach postures that are done sitting on the edge of the seat where the curved back won’t be a hinderance.
*chair yoga for people who use wheelchairs will often feature postures that focus on the upper body and are taught by instructors who specialize in this demographic.
Chair yoga is not just for seniors; you can enjoy all the benefits of yoga right from your seat or by using the chair for support. When we begin to view props as part of our asana (physical practice) experience, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities for mindful movement.
Try a full chair yoga class for your next practice or stop what you’re doing now, take a seat and explore some gentle movements today.