Chair Yoga – Benefits and Why You Need to Practice it NOW!

It’s been a little over two years that my best buddy completed her Yoga Teacher’s Training Program, and started her own studio from home. I’ve been doing yoga with her for the past year and a half, and have noticed incremental difference in my posture – for the better – and my ability to center myself during a crisis situation.

My teacher – Deepa Thukral – leads by example, and I completely believe in the philosophy that Yoga is a way of life and not just something that you practice thrice a week. Let me explain – very recently, Deepa was on a flight back home, after a family vacation.

A family member in her group, who was dealing with an upset stomach earlier in the day, took ill suddenly and fainted. Instead of panicking – which her folks were doing – she centered herself, checked her breath and calmly asked for help.

Luckily for her, there was an acupuncture specialist, traveling onboard and they came forth and helped bring the ill family member, back to consciousness. When Deepa narrated the incident to us in class, I observed how calmly she narrated the whole ordeal. Her takeaway from the entire incident was that, Yoga has helped her not fly into panic-mode, at the press of a button.

Triggers are going to come in our lives, how we choose to respond to them, is what will make the difference. Deepa chose to respond rather than react – and this is something all of us can use in our office life. That irritating boss whose life ambition is to make things miserable for you. Or that annoying colleague, who side-tracks often and never submits their presentations on time.

You can deal with all of them better, by spending a few minutes – fifteen minutes – right at your desk, and do some Chair Yoga.

Your Chair Does Yoga

A few weeks into our classes with Deepa, we were introduced to Chair Yoga. In sophisticated terms, it’s also known as Corporate Yoga (there is Truck Yoga for truckers as well), but in lay terms – it’s simply Yoga done either sitting on the chair, or using it as a prop / support.

It’s hard to imagine that you can achieve the same impact as doing Yoga on the floor or standing, than if do it sitting on the chair and getting weight-loss results. I guess the key thing that people miss out, is that Yoga is not about the inch-loss or weight loss. It is about aligning your mind, breath and posture – so that you can balance yourself and have a body and mind that is healthy and nourished with positive energy.

While it’s easy to imagine doing asanas like the Parvat Asan or mountain posture, because this particular posture focuses on your hands aligning and stretching towards the sky. The sides of your torso extends, and so does your spine. While standing and doing this posture is good, it’s equally impactful if you do it sitting down on the mat in lotus position or on your chair.

It’s a no-brainer that Yoga is very beneficial for people with mobility issues. This includes the elderly people and those with disabilities. Chair Yoga allows people with health challenges and other restrictions – like lack of time, or long working hours, to work on their bodies, mind, breath and soul – even if it’s for just fifteen minutes a day, and get an impactful session out of it.

Chair Yoga is a form of Yoga that was developed by Lakshmi Voelker-Binder in 1982. This gentle form is done whilst sitting on a chair that has a back support or using it as a prop.

Let’s Be Practical About the Chair

Yoga helps to loosen and stretch painful muscles, it reduces stress, and improves circulation. It is known to reduce anxiety, and helps lower blood pressure. It protects joints, and builds strength and balance.

Chairs don’t take up much floor space and Deepa manages to fit all twelve of us in four rows, is her square-ish studio. It definitely takes lesser space than mats and you can even sit in a circle, facing each other, and do your drill.

Chairs are everywhere. Your commute in the train, long-haul flight or office chair, are all potential places to do Chair Yoga. If you are in the passenger seat of your car, then you can do Yoga there too. From simple foot rotations and neck rotations, to the more intense Surya Namsakars using the office chair … all is possible, you just need to have the intention to do.

My favorite is the Downward Dog, followed by Setu Bandh or Bridge posture, both of which help open up the legs, pelvic and shoulder muscles.  If you can sit on a chair, you can do Yoga on the chair. This is the mantra, and you should really try it. Doing seated cat-cows and knee rotations are far more effective for me, than when I do them on the floor.

The quality and range of motion you can achieve with the chair is incredible. For those who find Surya Namaskar intimidating because of the floor movements of ashtang and bhujang asana, should try the Chair Yoga variation. The range of motion, using the seat of the chair as support, makes it easier to for you to do the postures correctly. Rather than struggling to do it on the floor, maybe you can master the chair and then get on to the real thing.

Non-fit people – or those staring out new, can benefit greatly from doing Chair Yoga. If forward bends are too tedious for you, sit on the chair and extend your spine forward, or reach for your toes. The range achieved will be better than trying the same postures with blocks.

Benefits of Chair Yoga

Improved Strength: Because you are able to do your postures correctly, sitting on the chair, you are able to strengthen your body easily and see the difference in your daily activities.  

Improved Flexibility: The simple task of reaching to pick up a fallen object, or tying shoelaces can be a terrible action, as it impacts your bad back. However, gaining strength via Chair Yoga, you can expect improved flexibility.

Chair Yoga can help those with mobility issues to undertake activities that they have perhaps been unable to, such as reaching down to tie shoe laces or pick things up.

Stress Buster: Like Deepa teaches us, Yoga is a way of life and it’s about improving the quality of your lifestyle by bringing in balance. When mobility is an issue, or time is a restriction – five counts of equal breathing along with deep inhalations and deeper exhalations, can help set the tone for your day. Ten minutes is all that this will take – do it just before your next big meeting, and see the difference.

Pain Management: Sometimes injuries throw us out of action, and here is where Chair Yoga comes into play. Almost every posture that you learn in Yoga, you can replicate it on the chair. In fact, there are some that are exclusive to the chair, and give you a better range of motion. The important thing is that, even if you have a leg injury, you can sit on the chair and work on the upper body.

Yoga is all about adapting and working on yourself with what you have. There is no competition and you progress depending upon how much you have managed to implement Yoga in your life. For example, now I’m very mindful about the way I sit on my chair while working on the computer.

I’m mindful to tuck in my tailbone a little, before climbing the stairs. I eat without distractions and focus on the meal in front of me. And during my long haul flights, I ensure that I do a few stretches for my back and legs, while I walk down the aisle.