It’s been well-documented that practicing asana, or the poses of yoga, has incredible benefits to both your physical and mental health. Yoga can improve strength and flexibility, reduce stress, help you sleep better, and much more. The problem is that many people hesitate to give yoga a try because it can seem inaccessible. When you first look into yoga, you might be overwhelmed by images of experienced yogis doing advanced poses, usually in some exotic location you’ve never heard of. This isn’t reality for most of us, and it can cause people to think yoga is not for them.
The truth is that yoga is for everyone, and you do not have to do fancy poses to reap its benefits. Yoga is accessible to us all, and that includes people with physical limitations, chronic muscle pain, joint stiffness, and seniors. In this post we’ll learn about chair yoga and how it delivers the same benefits as traditional asana while offering the support needed for people who think yoga might be too difficult for them.
At Inspiring Actions, we offer a Chair Yoga class at our River Falls, Wisconsin location, as well as online, Thursdays at 10:45am with instructor Jackie, who also teaches our Somatic Movement class (another great class for people who are worried yoga might be too physical for them)! Our Chair Yoga class offers gentle yoga poses in a seated position and using a chair for balance and support. The poses and sequences in this class deliver the same benefits as traditional asana but are modified for people with any physical limitation that would make standing yoga difficult.
Read on to learn more about chair yoga and visit our schedule here to see our full list of classes and events. All are welcome at Inspiring Actions, and we have a class for you regardless of age, yoga experience, or physical abilities.
What is Chair Yoga?
Traditional yoga classes involve using a mat for a series of both standing and sitting postures, balance work, breathing techniques, twisting, core work, and stretching. Chair yoga uses many of these same features modified for a seated position, using a chair for balance, or both. A typical class will flow very much like any other class, and the instructor will offer modifications of many of the poses so you can find one that feels best for you.
In chair yoga, you’ll obviously not be doing any head stands or balancing your body weight on one foot, but many poses can be modified to be done seated. The idea with chair yoga is that you are promoting the flow of prana, or life energy, in your body which breaks through energy blockages in your system that cause pain and other forms of suffering. You are also gently stretching your muscles, releasing toxins and stuck energy, much like giving yourself a massage.
For example, cat/cow pose shows up in just about every type of yoga class, and it can easily be done in a chair. Cat/cow pose is done on the hands and knees, extending the heart forward on an inhale and arching the back on an exhale. It’s easy to replicate these exact same stretches while seated; instead of the belly extending down and then up, it extends forward and then backward. Supine twist is another pose that’s excellent for chair yoga. In a traditional class, you would do this pose lying down. But in chair yoga, you can actually use the back of your chair to gently twist your spine to a comfortable level.
What are the Benefits of Chair Yoga?
Most of a chair yoga class will be done seated, so it is considered more of a gentle style of yoga. While its true that a chair yoga class might be less physical than a fast-paced vinyasa class, the benefits you’ll receive are no different than those of a traditional yoga class. The modified poses will improve flexibility and muscle strength, increase circulation, and promote mental clarity.
Pranayama is the yogic word for breathing techniques you’ll often encounter in a yoga or meditation class (read our post about it for some techniques you can try!). Because this is typically done seated anyway, pranayama is often used in chair yoga. Pranayama helps calm and quiet the mind and sends calming messages to our nervous system.
Here are a few more benefits of a regular chair yoga practice:
- Decreased stress
- Mental clarity/sense of calm
- Increased compassion/patience for self and others
- Pain reduction
- Lower cholesterol/blood pressure
- Improved mobility
Who is Chair Yoga Best For?
Chair yoga is beneficial to everyone, but the seated/supported nature of it makes it excellent for people who might struggle with a standing class. This includes seniors, people who struggle with muscle pain or joint stiffness, arthritis, injury, or any other type of physical limitation. If you have thought that something about your physical state or current physical condition means you’re not a candidate for practicing yoga, then chair yoga is for you.
It’s also great for beginners. Chair yoga introduces common yoga poses and modifications, so it can be helpful to learn these poses in a gentle, slower class to learn the basics. Since chair yoga increases flexibility and muscle strength, it’s a great way to develop a firm foundation for your future yoga practice. If physical limitations aren’t an issue for you, you might use chair yoga as a way to build up to more challenging classes
Any style of yoga is beneficial to your health, and it’s always better to do something rather than nothing. Consistent asana practice will no doubt improve your life, and chair yoga makes this accessible to all. If you’ve never tried yoga before and you’re hesitant to jump into it, if you’ve experienced an injury or physical limitation, or if you’re an experienced yogi who wants a gentle class to reconnect with the body on a deep level, give chair yoga a try.
You can register for our Chair Yoga class here at Inspiring Actions in River Falls, Wisconsin; if you’re more comfortable practicing at home, the class is also offered online! Our Somatic Movement class is also a great choice for people who feel drawn to the benefits and style of chair yoga. We’d love to see you there! In the meantime, check out this 15-minute chair yoga session by Yoga with Adriene; she also has one for people in wheelchairs. Thanks for reading!