Chair yoga offers many of the same benefits as a standard yoga practice. If you have not exercised in a long time, are recovering from an illness, or simply have trouble getting up and down from the mat, chair yoga gives you the opportunity to practice yoga. Before embarking on any exercise program, you should check with your doctor. Always keep in mind that yoga should never hurt. If a pose does not feel right, do not force your body into the pose. If you feel dizzy or have trouble breathing, stop immediately.
Always do chair yoga in a sturdy, armless chair on a non-slip surface. Make certain there is enough space between the front and back legs so it will not tip over. Your feet should be flat on the floor, but you could place a book under your feet if they do not reach. The chair should measure at least 30 inches at the back and 17 inches at the seat. For those over 5’8”, there are chairs that measure 35 inches at the back and 21 inches at the seat. Breathe smoothly, in and out through your nose. Here are eleven poses suitable for all ages.
- The Mountain
Mountain pose is the basis for all standing poses and seated chair poses. This pose benefits spinal alignment. Always try to sit and stand with good posture to benefit the bones, muscles and internal organs.
To do a seated mountain, sit in the chair, preferably away from the back of the chair to help build core strength ● If you need to rest against the back of the chair, that is fine also ● Sit with good posture, feet hip width apart ● Your palms are either resting down on your thighs to ground you or palms up in a gesture of receptivity ● Your shoulders are down away from your ears, your chin is parallel to the earth and the crown of your head is reaching toward the sky ● If it does not make you dizzy, you can close your eyes and focus on inhaling and exhaling through your nose ● If it makes you dizzy to close your eyes, keep your eyes open, and simply focus on your breathing ● Inhale and exhale five times ●
A seated mountain pose is the perfect pose for meditation and to begin your chair yoga practice.
- Neck and Shoulder Rolls
The benefit of neck and shoulder rolls is to relieve tension. We tend to carry a lot of tension in that area. In fact, sometimes it may feel as though we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders! Shoulder rolls improve range of motion in the shoulders and also help relieve tension in the upper back.To do a half-neck circle, bring your chin to your chest ● Then inhale and bring your chin over to the right shoulder, exhale back to center, then inhale over to the left shoulder, and then exhale back to center ● A full circle of the neck should not be attempted as the neck is not a ball and socket joint ● Do this five times to relieve neck tension ● To do a shoulder roll, inhale and bring your shoulders forward, up, and exhale back and down several times, and then inhale back, up, forward and down ● Do this five times and try to imagine all of your tension floating off into the Universe! ●
- Cat/Cow Pose
This is a very important pose to keep the spine flexible and to nourish the spinal discs with a fresh blood supply. Cat/cow also benefits the hip sockets and can help relieve back pain.
To do cat/cow pose, place your feet hip width apart and place your hands by your knees ● Inhale to lift your spine into a gentle backbend, lifting your chest and letting your neck and head lengthen back ● This is the cow backbend ● Next exhale to round the spine, bringing your chin to your chest, coming into the cat forward bend ● Do this at least five times ● If you have a neck injury, keep your head in line with your torso ● Repeat five times, inhaling as you arch your back and exhaling as you round your back ●
- Half-Moon Pose
The benefit of a Half-Moon Pose, or seated side bend, is that it stretches the sides of the body, improving flexibility, and helps to relieve muscle tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back. It also stretches the intercostal muscles of the ribs.
To do Half-Moon pose, hold onto the right side of the chair and inhale the left arm up and then exhale the arm to the right ● Take three inhales and exhales in this pose, then inhale the left arm up and exhale the arm down ● Repeat this on the right side ●
This pose should be done with caution if you have rotator cuff, neck, shoulder or back injuries.
- Seated Twists
Twists are very beneficial for digestion and elimination and detoxifying the abdominal organs. They also increases spinal flexibility and range of motion.
Begin by placing your left hand on your right knee and inhaling your right arm up ● Exhale and follow your right hand back until you feel you can touch the back wall ● Then inhale and follow it front and exhale and lower your hand ● Place your right hand on your left knee, inhale raising your left arm ● Exhale and follow your left hand back until you feel you could again touch the back wall ● Inhale, follow it front and then exhale and lower ● Repeat two times ●
If you have arthritis in the spine or disc problems, you should avoid twists. Pregnant women should also avoid twists.
- Camel Pose
All day long, we constantly bend forward. It is beneficial to the spine to occasionally bend backwards. Back bends are energizing and help stimulate the adrenal glands. They also helps to strengthen the back and improve posture. They stretch the front of the body and expands the chest.
To do camel pose, place your hands on your lower back to support the spine, shoulder blades toward each other and bend back ● Take three inhales and exhales ● After the back bend, you can fold forward, resting your hands on your knees or legs, taking six inhales and exhales ●
If you have a neck or back injury, do not perform this pose.
- Downward Facing Dog Pose
There are many benefits to the downward facing dog pose. It lengthens the spine, stretches the shoulders, hamstrings and calves. It energizes the body and helps to relieve stress.
To do downward dog, place your hands on the back or seat of the chair and walk your feet back until you feel a gentle stretch in the spine ● You can move your neck from side to side to relieve tension and move your jaw around so there is no tension in the jaw area ● Take six to eight breaths, then walk your feet back toward the chair and slowly stand up ● If you experience upper or lower back pain or cannot breathe slowly and deeply, come out of the pose ●
- Chair Pose
Chair pose helps strengthen the quadriceps, hip flexors, ankles, calves and back. It strengthens the shoulders and chest and helps to stimulate the heart and diaphragm. Chair pose helps prevent falls by strengthening the quadriceps.
To do chair pose, stand in front of the chair, making sure the chair is in back of you ● Inhale your arms up and exhale, bending the knees and moving the thighs back as if you are sitting in an invisible chair ● Draw the low belly in and up and reach the crown of the head toward the sky ● Stay in the pose for three breaths, then inhale, straightening the legs and exhale the arms down ●
Do chair pose at least two times. If you have knee problems, do not bend the knees too deeply.
- Poses for Hands and Feet
We should not neglect our hands and feet in our yoga practice. Our hands are our most important tool! Life becomes very difficult if our hands and fingers are stiff. We need to exercise our hands and feet to keep them strong and supple.
Hand exercises are of great benefit if you have arthritis or stiffness in the hands. Pointing and flexing the feet can help to keep the ankles strong to better support the body and prevent falls. “Clams and starfish” and wrist circles are very effective hand exercises.
To start bring your arms in front of you and make a fist (clams) and then open the fingers wide (starfish) ● Do this eight times followed by four wrist circles in both directions ● Next, raise your right leg and point and flex the foot four times and make ankle circles four times in both directions, then do the left leg ●
Breathe normally as you do this exercise.
- Forward Fold Pose
While backbends are energizing, forward folds are relaxing to the body. They help with digestion and elimination by placing gentle pressure on the abdominal organs. Forward folds also stretch the lower back, hamstrings and hips.
To do a forward fold, inhale the arms overhead, the exhale the arms down as you gently lean forward from the hips, placing your hands either on the shins or the floor ● On the inhale lengthen the spine and on the exhale, fold a little more fully ● Relax into the pose for six to ten breaths, then inhale and slowly lift your torso up ● You never want to come out of the pose quickly as this could affect your blood pressure and make you dizzy ●
If you have a back injury, perform with caution. Also if you have untreated high blood pressure or glaucoma, do not lower your head below your knees. If you feel pressure in your head, do not remain in the pose.
Every yoga practice concludes with “shavasana” or “corpse pose.” Corpse pose, despite looking deceptively simple, is one of the most challenging yoga poses since we are attempting to let go of all thoughts. Shavasana is the final relaxation and gives the body a chance to absorb the work you have done.
To enjoy Shavasana, settle back in the chair with your palms resting on your lap ● When the palms are face down, that helps to ground you. When the palms are up, you are opened to receive ● If you do not get dizzy, close your eyes. If closing your eyes makes you dizzy, just stare at a point on the floor ● If thoughts come into your mind, just notice them and let them go. This is the challenging part of corpse pose! To quiet our minds is a very difficult task ● Just focus on your breathing, enjoying this moment of total relaxation ● Relax in this pose for five minutes, inhaling and exhaling through your nose ● When you are ready, open your eyes. You should feel relaxed and refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of the day ❢
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