Have you ever felt a little frustrated with your yoga practice?
Even though you practice regularly, perhaps your progress in certain poses feels stuck. And while your body might feel you’ve reached your potential, your mind harbours a sneaking suspicion there’s more gold to unearth.
So what can you do? Push a little harder? Find a new teacher? Attend a workshop or two?
All worthy possibilities, but have you thought about taking a seat?
Yes, a seat, or more specifically, a yoga chair.
Don’t discount this unassuming member of the yoga prop family - the humble chair is surprisingly versatile. From facilitating a supported head-stand or strong, juicy backbends through to a simple, seated sequence, a chair can help you unlock more depth, understanding and appreciation in several key yoga poses.
Ready to discover the possibilities?
Choose your chair
When you want to experience the full potential of a chair, choose a Yoga chair which is specifically designed for yoga.
Yoga chairs are backless, creating more seating options. You can easily sit backwards, forwards, or side-on. There’s plenty of room to slide your legs through too. Yoga chairs are very strong and at the same time light and foldable, making moving and packing away effortless. The chair feet wear non-slip grips for added stability and security.
Build a foundation
Every well-rounded yoga practice evolves from a solid foundation. It’s no different when you’re partnering your practice with a chair.
Tadasana (mountain pose) offers a useful baseline to check in with your alignment, and to set the tone for your practice.
Sit comfortably on your chair. With the feet hip distance apart, ground the soles of the feet into the floor. (If the feet don’t easily reach the floor, use a bolster to bring the floor to you).
Extra grounding - Use the chair as a launching pad to grow the length of the spine - actively press the hands either into the seat, slightly under the buttocks, or use the chair back or legs to rise up out of your seat.
When you are sure you’re comfortable, get a sense of lift at the crown and broaden the chest and collarbones as you lift the heart. Use the contact point between the seat and the tail as an anchor for the base of the spine. Have the chin parallel to the floor and relax the jawline, cheeks and eyes.
Simply observe the gentle ebb and flow of the breath at the belly. As you inhale, notice the belly expand, and the lower ribs lift up and away from the hips. As you exhale, sense the body empty of breath and recede around the midline. Spend 1-2 minutes here.
Sweet shoulder surrender
Stretching skyward can certainly challenge our sense of balance. Here, the chair provides a steady base for a big, tension-releasing lift that your shoulders will thank you for.
From your seated position, interlace the fingers on top of the head, with the palms facing up. Keeping the face soft and crown in line with the tail, straighten the arms so the palms face the sky. Feel the sides of the torso lengthen as you breathe in to the chest and upper back. Stay for 5-10 breaths, then slowly release.
Inviting a chair to the mat can also help you experience correct alignment in balance poses. In the traditional version of Garudasana for example, the desire to stay upright can compromise optimal alignment. In this version, wrapping the legs and arms while seated minimises any rotation of the pelvis and torso.
Go big in your backbend
When craving a big backbend, call on a chair for encouragement and support.
Try Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two legged inverted staff pose). For extra comfort and lift, add a blanket and bolster to your chair. Sit side-on on one edge of the chair. Ground the feet firmly to the floor. Gently lower your torso to lie over your bolster, ensuring the neck is well supported. Take the arms overhead to fully open up into the chest. When you feel ready, straighten the legs and ground the heels. Stay for 10 breaths. To come out, take the soles of the feet to the ground and bring the arms and hands back beside the body. As you inhale, draw your chin to your chest as you lift back into a seated position.
As a delicious counter-pose to your backbend, or simply to release the spine at anytime, fold into a forward bend.
Wriggle up to sit on the edge of your chair. Straighten the legs, ground the heels and peel the toes back toward your face, to activate the legs. Breathe in to lengthen the torso, and as you breathe out, tilt forward from the hips. Rest the hands wherever they feel comfortable or use a yoga strap. Rest here for 10 slow, steady breaths.
Rinse and activate
A chair can help elevate the rinsing effects of a twist. In this version, the addition of a block highlights the role of the lower body by activating the inner line of the legs.
Turn to sit side-on. Ensure the feet are in contact with the floor. Place a block between the calves. Initiating the movement at the belly, turn the torso, neck and head toward the chair back. Take the hands to lightly grip the back of the chair to assist your rotation. Gently squeeze the block with the legs. Settle here to find the breath. On each inhale, grow the spine a little taller. On each exhale, twist a teensy bit more (if it feels right). Stay in the twist for 5 slow, deep breaths before changing sides.
Turn upside down, with support
Inversions can be daunting, particularly without the right level of support. A yoga chair can make going upside down accessible and safe while holding you snuggly in place.
We’ll be honest - it’s a bit fiddly to get into this pose - but once you do, it feels wonderful!
Start with the chair to the side of the yoga mat. Place a bolster or blanket on the mat for your shoulders and if you would like a bit of extra comfort place a blanket on the chair. Go into a shoulder stand on the bolster/blanket and then slide the chair over so that it is against the bolster. Lower your legs down on to the top of the chair and hold the outer rail to give you extra support. Come out of the pose in the same way. That is, raise your legs and slide the chair to the side of the mat and then bring your legs down to the floor.
Salamba Sarvangasana (supported headstand) and Baddha Konasana (cobbler pose) in Sarvangasana
Put your feet up
Seal your practice with some well-deserved downtime in savasana. Including a chair in this Savasana variation delivers the refreshing benefits of a mild inversion, while giving the calf muscles a soft massage-like treat from the light pressure of the chair seat - nice!
Sit on your mat, just in front of your chair. As your roll onto your back, swing the legs up to place both calves on the chair seat. Pop on an eye pillow and blanket, if desired, and rest for 10-20 minutes. When you are ready to come out of your final pose, draw the knees to your chest, roll to your side. Come up to a seated position on the mat.
Sit down for more
It’s safe to say all dedicated yoga practitioners experience a plateau on their asana journey from time to time. But with a little help from a yoga prop, it’s possible to feel inspired and dive a little deeper into the whole range of yoga asanas.
Next time you’re craving more, reach for a chair!