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When You Want to Sit It Out, Try This Chair Yoga Practice

You can fit it in anywhere.

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There are all sorts of reasons that you might miss your yoga practice: You’re away from home and forgot your mat. You’re stuck in an airport. Maybe you’ve been working out or playing hard and finding time for a full practice just seems so…extra.

You could skip your practice altogether, but then you’d miss out on yoga’s benefits. Instead, you can practice with what you have. And we bet you have a chair somewhere nearby.

The benefits of chair yoga

Some of the poses we’re accustomed to doing on the floor can be done just as effectively on a chair. In fact, almost any pose can be practiced while seated. The benefit of chair yoga is that you get the stretch without the strain. And while chair yoga is often recommended for people who have limited mobility because of age or injury, it is also available to anyone who wants to practice.

All you need is something sturdy to sit on—secured, please, so it won’t slip out from under you. Then have a seat, take a deep breath, and begin.

Easy Pose, Sukhasana, on a chair. She wears white yoga shorts and top and sits against a white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Instead of the usual cross-legged posture, Easy Pose in a chair allows you to ground through your sitting bones and the soles of your feet. Despite its simplicity, this version requires your full attention to maintain an alert, upright posture,

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair so that the your glutes are firmly on the seat, but your sit bones and spine are away from the back of the chair.
  2. Plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, so that your knees form a right angle. (If your feet don’t reach the floor, place blocks or books underneath them.)
  3. Lengthen your spine, reaching the crown your head up toward the ceiling and your tail bone toward the seat. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position, without tilting it forward or back.
  4. Firm your shoulder blades against your back. Don’t over arch your lower back or jut your lower front ribs forward.
  5. Either stack your hands in your lap, palms up, or place them on your knees, palms down.
  6. You can sit in this position for any length of time, focusing on your breath.
Woman practicing Hasta Padangusthasana, Hand-to-Big Toe pose in a chair. She wears light colored yoga shorts and top, sitting against a white background in light yoga clothes prac
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand-to-Big Toe Pose 1)

Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose is a standing balancing posture in which you raise one leg up high—in front of you or to the side—and hold onto its big toe, creating a stretch in the back of your legs and your hips. This seated variation gives you a similar hamstring stretch.

  1. From seated Sukhasana, straighten and extend your right leg forward without hyperextending your knee. Flex your right foot and press through your heel.
  2. Hinge at your hips and fold forward over your thighs, keeping your back long and the chest reaching forward.
  3. With your right hand, reach toward your extended foot and clasp your big toe with your first two fingers.  (If you can’t reach your foot, use a strap or a towel around the ball of the foot and hold the ends of it with your right hand.)
  4. Feel the stretch throughout your back body, along your spine, hips, hamstrings, calf, and ankle.
  5. Stay here for anywhere from a few breaths to a couple of minutes.
  6. Release and return to Easy Pose.

 

Woman Practicing Marichyasana 1 in a chair. She is wearing a light colored yoga shorts and a top, sitting in a black folding chair against a plain white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Marichyasana 1 (Marichi’s Pose)

Marichyasana can be an intense, complex twist. Or you can practice it this way for a simpler hip stretch, with or without the twist.

  1. From seated Sukhasana, lift your right knee and draw your right heel close to your right sitting bone.
  2. Clasp your right shin or the back of your thigh and hold your leg close to your body. Keep you spine long and straight; don’t lean back or to the side.
  3. Stay in this position for a few breaths. Or, on an exhale, twist to the right, hooking your left elbow around your right knee and supporting yourself by placing your right hand on the back of the chair.
  4. Keep your left knee firmly facing forward.
  5. Release and return to Easy Pose.
Bharadvajasana, Bharadvaja's twist on a chair. She wears white yoga shorts and top and sits against a white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja’s Twist)

This pose gives you a full-body twist from your head to your hips. You can use the back of your chair to give you gentle leverage as you rotate your spine.

  1. From Sukhasana, inhale and lengthen your spine, reaching the crown of your head up and keeping your tailbone on the seat of your chair.
  2. On an exhalation, twist your torso to the right. Place your right hand on the seat or back of the chair. Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee or thigh.
  3. On the next exhale, you may find a little more of a twist. Take your gaze to the right.
  4. To exit the pose, exhale and slowly unwind. Return to Easy Seat.

Repeat these four poses on the left side.

Woman practices Tittibhasana, Firefly Pose sitting in a black folding chair. She leans forward and places her hands on two cork yoga blocks. She is sitting against a white wall.
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) with blocks

Firefly Pose relies on upper body strength. Practicing the pose with a chair allows you to practice the shape of the pose without the balancing act.

  1. Start in Sukhasana. Come to the edge of your seat and stretch both legs out into a wide-legged position. Flex your feet and press away with your heel, but avoid hyperextending your knees.
  2. Place two blocks on the floor in front of you, shoulder-distance apart.
  3. Fold forward at your hips and reach your hands toward the blocks, resting your palms on the blocks. (You can adjust the blocks to whatever position you need.)
  4. Keep your chest and the crown of your head reaching forward, and your arms and legs active and engaged.
  5. Inhale and lift your feet off the mat as you keep your legs straight. Your feet can be pointed or flexed.
  6. Hold the pose for 15 seconds or longer, then return to your seated position.

Alternately, you can bring your hands to the seat of the chair, rather than blocks, and lift your legs so they are parallel to the floor. Press down on the chair and extend your legs for the feeling of lifting into traditional Tittibhasana.

Woman in off white yoga clothes practices Cow-face pose (Gomukhasana) in a chair
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Cow Face Pose can twist you into a bit of a pretzel—or it can be a gentle shoulder and hip stretch. Find your comfort level as you practice.

  1. From Sukhasana, elongate your spine and lift out of your lower back.
  2. Inhale and take your right arm out to the side and then reach it up toward the ceiling, with your palm facing you.
  3. Exhale and bend your right elbow and reach your hand down toward your neck. Bring your elbow in close to your face and up toward the ceiling as your hand reaches down your spine.
  4. On your next inhalation, reach your left arm out and up over your head. Grasp your right elbow.
  5. Keep your spine long and your shoulder blades pressing forward into your back.
  6. Stay in the pose for 15 seconds or longer.
  7. To exit the pose, exhale and carefully release your arms out to your sides and return to Easy Seat.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

For a more intense stretch, practice traditional Gomukhasana arm and leg positions:

  1. From Sukhasana, cross your right leg over your left.
  2. Inhale and take your right arm out to the side and rotate it so your palm faces the wall behind you and your thumb points down.
  3. Exhale and bend your right elbow and bring your right arm behind your back, with your palm facing away from you and your upper arm pulled in close to your body. Reach your right fingers up towards your neck.
  4. Inhale and take your left arm out to the side and up toward the ceiling with your hand facing you.
  5. Exhale and bend your left elbow and reach your hand down toward your neck. Bring your elbow in close to your face and up toward the ceiling as your hand reaches down your spine.
  6. Reach your hands toward each other. If they they touch, clasp your hands or fingers if possible.
  7. Stay in the pose for 3-5 breaths. Slowly release your arms and return to Easy Seat.
Woman practices Garudasana, Eagle Pose,on a chair. She wears white yoga shorts and top and sits against a white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Garudasana (Eagle Pose)

Standing Eagle Pose requires a great deal of balance. When it’s practiced in a chair, you can focus on the stretch in your shoulders and hips.

  1. Start in seated Sukhasana. Place your feet hip-width apart with your knees at a right angle.
  2.  Sit up tall, elongating your spine and lifting the crown of your head as you ground yourself in the seat.
  3. Lift your left foot and cross your left thigh over your right If possible, curl your right foot behind your right calf, and hook it there.
  4. Reach both arms out in front of you and cross your right arm over your left at the upper arms.
  5. Bend bend both elbows, raising the them to shoulder height.
  6. Bring the backs or your hands together or wrap your forearms around each other to clasp your palms together.
  7. Stay here for five deep breaths, feeling the stretch in your upper back.
  8. Return to Easy Seat and repeat on the other side.
Woman practices Warrior I pose in a chair. She sits astride the chair facing right, with one leg behind the others. She is wearing a light yoga plans and top, against a white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)

Warrior Poses are full-body experiences—you stretch and strengthen your arms, legs, and spine. Using a chair allows you all the benefits of the standing pose with added support.

  1. Sit near the front edge of a sturdy chair.
  2. Turn your body to the left and move your glutes closer to the edge of the chair to create a shelf for your left thigh. Square your hips and torso in the direction of your left thigh.
  3. Extend your right leg back and straighten it as much as possible without hyper extending. You may tuck your back toes under in a lunge position or keep your foot angled flat on the ground, pressing the back edge of your foot onto the floor. Keep your back thigh engaged.
  4. Inhale and lift your arms overhead, palms facing in, lengthening your spine and lifting your chest. Or you may place your hands on your hips or on the seat of the chair for support.
  5. Stay in the pose for 5–10 breaths.
Woman practices Warrior II pose in a chair. She sits astride the black chair facing right with her arms extended at shoulder height. She is wearing a light yoga plans and top, against a white background
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose)

  1. From Warrior I Pose, pivot slightly to the right, turning your torso and your right foot and knee to face the direction of the front of the chair.
  2. Bring your arms down to shoulder height. Reach strongly through both arms, in opposite directions, and look past your left fingertips.
  3. Keep the crown of your head stacked over your pelvis and your shoulders over your hips.
  4. Press your left thigh bone back while releasing your tailbone down.
  5. Stay here for 3-5 breaths.

Repeat Warrior I and Warrior II on the other side.

For more poses, access Yoga Journal’s Pose Librarywhich blends expert instruction from top teachers with video instruction, anatomy know-how, pose variations, and more. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.