Last month, my mother-in-law came to town for her birthday, and I made her this chocolate cake. It was awesome. Later in the month, I went to Santa Fe and then Albuquerque for a week to complete my senior adult yoga certification (more on this later). Some of the poses we learned over these past 9 months were modified to use a chair, and I’m sharing some of those poses with her (and you) today.
Please note: if you have never practiced yoga, or if you have fears about this practice, please consult a yoga teacher in a yoga studio before practicing at home. These photos are to be used as a guide only.
Also please note: if you have no interest in chair yoga and want to get on with the best vegan chocolate cake you’ll eva eva eva taste, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
CHAIR YOGA: AN AT-HOME 30 MINUTE PRACTICE
BEFORE BEGINNING: Make sure your chair is on a non-slick surface, like a yoga mat. It’s OK if just two of the chair legs are on the mat, as long as the chair won’t move. Also, it’s good to have a backless folding chair. You can buy these from Target and remove the back, or do what I did and order these chairs from YogaOutlet.
To Begin: Sit in your chair, close to the edge, and focus your attention on your breath. Feel your spine getting longer as you inhale. Notice how your shoulders gently decline on the exhale. Feel your sits bones on the chair seat. Notice the natural movements of your body without changing anything. See your belly fill up and your chest lift on the inhales, and release on the exhales. Sit for a few breaths, simply noticing.
A note on your breath: you want to be able to have control of your breath for all yoga poses – this means if you feel a shortness in your breath or if you’re holding your breath, please back out of the pose instead of pushing through.
A note on pain: do not ever continue in any yoga pose if you feel pain. Sensation is a different story; you will feel sensation. Pain is never a good thing though. Our society believes no pain = no gain when in fact no pain = no pain. There’s no glory in pain; staying with pain is all ego. Always, always, always come out of a pose and relax if you feel any pain in your joints.
Cat/Cow is often what we use in yoga to warm up the spine. This is a great pose for awakening synovial fluid in the spine, and for remembering to move with breath.
Sit close to the edge of the chair. Feel your sits bones pressing into the chair seat. Both feet are firmly on the earth, a few inches apart from each other. Hold on to the rails of the chair with your hands. As you inhale, lift your head up towards the ceiling, while gently arching your back, slightly sticking tailbone out. On the exhale, round your shoulders and spine, chin moves toward chest. Move very slowly, filling all the way up on the inhale, and trying to release all breath on the exhale. As you move through yoga practices, you’ll notice that your breath gets longer and deeper, so don’t fret if it’s hard to fill up or release all air as you begin. As a general rule of thumb, you breathe in as you expand and breathe out as you contract.
SEATED: Forward Fold
Forward folds are great for gently awakening the hamstrings – please simply remember to keep a slight bend in your knees if your hamstrings are tight! Also, don’t worry about where your hands fall in this pose. That is not the point. In yoga, one of the goals is to get space, not to stretch to capacity. Be gentle with yourself, always! NOTE: if you have glaucoma or low blood pressure, talk to your doctor before doing this pose.
Scoot to the edge of the chair and straighten your legs, keeping a slight bend in the knees. On the inhale, begin to lift your arms up overhead. On the exhale, slowly begin to fold, having your hands reach towards your thighs or shins. If you have any fears about folding, keep your hands on the chair rails instead of lifting them up. Just remember to sit up taller as you inhale and fold, hinging at your hips, as you exhale. Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then slowly lift up on an inhale. Bend your knees and sit straight up in your chair for a few breaths before moving on.
STANDING: Downward Facing Dog
Stand in front of the chair seat, with your body facing the seat. Place your hands on the chair seat, and on the exhale, slowly walk your legs backward, creating length in your spine and arms. Walk back far enough so that you begin to feel an opening in your arms, shoulders and hamstrings; this does not have to be far. Alternatively, face the chair away from you and hold onto the top of the chair; then walk back. This alternate option is great if you have glaucoma or low blood pressure, as your head will stay relatively even with your hips. In my training we were often told to leave the chair off the mat for these poses, and to push the chair away from us. This seems shaky to me, so I will not explain this version, however if you wish to give this a try, feel free to do so.
STANDING: Crescent Lunge
Crescent is my favorite standing pose. I am starting with this pose because for me, it’s gentler on my body than the Warrior poses as your hip stay facing forward and it’s not as an extreme of an opening in your back foot.
Place the chair so the seat of it is turned away from you, and you have plenty of room left on your mat to use for lengthening your legs. Stand behind the chair, with your hands resting on the top rail. As my hands are shown, it’s best to place the ball mounds of your hands on the chair and not grip the chair. Notice how if you grip, you’ll tighten everything: shoulders, jaw, etc. Try not to grip; easier said than done. 🙂 Both sets of toes will be pointed towards 12:00 in this pose. Keeping your right foot steady, feel all four corners of your foot grounding into the earth. On an exhale, lift your left foot and set it directly behind you, starting no more than a foot’s distance. You’ll land on the ball mound of your left foot. If you feel steady here, lift your left foot up again and move it further back. You do not need to go far back on this leg at all – just move it backward until you begin to feel length in your left hamstrings and your hips. Make sure your right knee is as close to a 90 degree bend as possible, either directly above or behind your right ankle. Stay for 5-10 breaths, and then on an inhale, bring your left foot forward to meet your right. Stay standing for a breath or two, and then switch sides.
STANDING: Warrior 1
I am showing an advanced version of this pose with my front leg draped through the chair. You can turn the chair to the side and drape your front leg on the front of the chair seat (as seen in Warrior 2 below), or you can use a similar layout as the Crescent pose above by standing behind the chair, with your hands on the chair rail the entire time.
With the chair seat facing you, and you holding the chair seat with both hands, drape your left leg through the back rail of the chair so that your entire left thigh can rest on the chair seat. Keeping both hands on the chair, walk your right foot back about a foot’s distance, and turn your toes to a 45 degree angle. Your entire back foot will be pressing into the mat – think of this leg as your grounding leg; make sure you place full effort into this leg. If you choose to then lift your arms, do so on an inhale, slowly lifting them up towards your ears, fingers wide and palms facing each other. The trick with this pose is keeping your hips fairly facing forward; that means you might not want to extend your back leg very far, and that also means you will want your feet to be wide, like you are standing on train tracks, not on a line. As with Crescent (and all standing poses with the front leg bent) make sure your front knee does not go past your ankle. Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then very gently return your hands to the chair and begin to walk your right foot back in. Rest for a few breaths, and then slowly repeat on the other side.
STANDING: Extended Side Angle and Warrior 2 Prep
Extended side angle and warrior 2 poses can feel intense on the hips so I like to begin small by externally rotating the femur bone and feeling the gentle hip opening.
Stand with your left hip to the side of your chair seat, and place your left hand on the top of the chair rail. Holding on to the chair, raise your left leg onto the chair seat, and open your leg out to the left, externally rotating your thigh bone, turning your toes to the left, and breathing into the hip space. Hold for 5-10 breaths before slowly bringing your thigh back to face forward and lowering your leg to the ground. Repeat on the other side.
STANDING: Warrior 2
Warrior 2 is different from Warrior 1 in that you have a greater rotation in your back thigh, and your back foot is parallel to the short edge of your mat.
Sit near the edge of your chair, and then turn your entire body to the side, so that your bum is closest to the right edge of the chair, and your left hand can hold onto the back chair rail. Keep a 90 degree bed in your left leg, with all four corners of your left foot grounding into your mat. Then begin to walk your right leg out to the right, and slowly begin moving it behind you. Your right foot will be parallel to the short edge of your mat, and as with Warrior 1, press into that foot to strengthen your leg and help you ground into the earth. With Warrior 1, your hips will remain mostly turned towards the front of the room, and with Warrior 2, your hips will open up to the side with an external rotation in your right leg. Your shoulders will begin to slowly open to the side as well. If you feel steady, open your arms out, with your left arm in front of you and your right arm behind you, palms down. If it feels OK on your neck, look over your left middle finger. Hold for 5-10 breaths, pressing into your back foot the entire time, and when you’re ready to come out, begin by lowering your arms, and then slowly moving your right leg back in line with your left. Sit for a few breaths before turning the chair around (or tuning your body around) and moving to the other side.
STANDING: Extended Side Angle
Extended side angle has the same leg alignment as Warrior 2. Begin in Warrior 2 set up with your left leg on the chair seat, bringing your left forearm to the top of your left thigh. Begin to spin your torso to the side, noticing your collarbones opening up to the side and your shoulder blades reaching towards each other. Your left palm will face up towards the ceiling. Stay here for a few breaths, expanding your chest on the inhales and settling your forearm into your thigh on your exhale. If you feel steady here, begin to raise your right hand up to the ceiling, and stay for a few breaths. You make also choose to reach your right arm overhead, towards the wall in front of you, palm facing slightly towards the floor. Stay here for a few breaths, and then slowly lower your right arm. Bring your left hand to the chair rail, and begin to bring your right leg back in line with your left. Stay for a few breaths noticing each leg before continuing on to the other side.
STANDING: Triangle (Modification)
Triangle pose is a beautiful, grounding pose, and I’m presenting two different options below for getting into this pose.
Turn the chair so the seat is facing you. Sit with your left hip facing the back of the chair, left thigh fully on the chair seat. Hold onto the back of the chair with your left hand, and walk your right leg to the right, opening at the hip, right toes pointed to 12:00, foot firmly grounding into the earth. Reach your right arm directly out from your right shoulder on an inhale, finding space in your spine, and then lower your right arm down towards your right shin or thigh on an exhale. Keep your gaze towards your right leg unless your neck has no strain, if so, then you may turn your gaze forward or up towards your left shoulder. Hold for 5-10 breaths before raising your right arm back up, and slowly bringing your right leg back in line with your left. Sit for a few breaths before moving to the other side.
For the full version of triangle pose, stand in front of the chair seat, your body facing away from the chair. Step your left foot about one foot to the left, both toes pointed directly in front of you. Keep your left toes pointed straight ahead, and begin to turn your right toes to the right, externally rotating your thigh bone. Bring your arms out wide, like you’re going into Warrior 2, and begin to reach your right arm to the right, with your left hip titling to the left. On an exhale, lower your right arm to the chair seat, and if possible, lift your left arm straight ahead, palm facing the same direction as your hips.
STANDING/BALANCE: Warrior 3
Balance series – you can begin this from Warrior 1 pose, or Mountain/Tadasana (standing top of mat, all four corners of both feet in the ground, feet 4-6″ apart, spine extending on inhale, shoulders softening on exhale, palms facing forward). Turn the chair so the back of it is facing you, and step 1-2 feet behind the chair. Hold onto the chair with both hands, as shown, or ball mounds of hands pressing onto the top of the chair rail. Leave your left foot on the ground, remembering to focus on all four corners pressing into the mat. Hinge at your hips as you begin to raise your right leg behind you, toes pointing down. Raise your right leg a few inches, or work to get it in line with your spine. Press through your heel to keep your right foot active, and hug your thigh muscles to the bone. Gaze should be looking down at the chair seat. Hold for a few breaths until you’re ready to come out. When you are ready, come out slowly, meeting your right foot to your left, and returning to stand. Get your grounding for a few breaths before repeating on the other side.
STANDING/BALANCE: Half Moon
Big time balancing pose! This is a good one to enter from Warrior 2 or Triangle. Work up to this pose.
Turn the chair so the seat is facing you. Turn your left toes to face the chair seat, and your right toes facing forward, as if you’re prepping for triangle. Extend your arms wide, and reach through your left arm, hinge your hips to the side and lower your left arm onto the chair seat. Hold the seat firmly with your left hand, and if you feel like you are able to balance, begin to lift your right foot off the ground, raising your leg a few inches or more, pressing through your heel as you would in Warrior 3, this time toes pointing in the same direction as your hips. If you feel comfortable here, begin to raise your right hand to your hip, and stay for a few breaths. If you still feel steady, begin to raise your right hand up to the ceiling, still pressing into your left hand, staying secure on the chair seat. Gaze may stay down towards the chair seat, or you may turn your fead to to the side only if you feel very steady. Stay for a few breaths and then slowly begin to lower your right arm and right leg before moving to the other side.
SEATED: Chair Twist
After all that standing work, it’s nice to end in a seated pose before completing your practice. Spinal twists are a great way to end yoga as they help with digestion and detoxification, both of foods and thoughts.
Sit in the chair as you began your practice, sitting near the edge of the chair seat. Both feet are firmly on the earth, a few inches apart from each other. Take a few moments here to simply breathe. When you’re ready, on an inhale, raise your arms up overhead, extending through your spine, and on an exhale, slowly begin to twist your spine and arms to the left, lowering your left arms down by your side or grabbing the back of the chair with your left hand, and right hand on your knee, or reaching for the chair rail. Stay in the twist for 5-10 breaths, and if you are able, on each inhale try to extend through your spine little by little, and on the exhale, possibly twisting deeper to the left. Try to keep your hips pointed forward, so your twist is through your spine. This may mean that your twist is smaller than pictured. After your final exhale in this pose, on an inhale, slowly twist out of this, back to center, raising your arms up on the inhale, and then lower your arms down by your sides on the exhale. Stay for a few breaths before moving on to the other side.
If you are able to get down on the floor, please do so and spend a few minutes in savasana, corpse pose, before continuing on with your day. This means extending your legs straight, letting your feet hang to the side, and bringing your palms down by your hips, if that is comfortable for you. Close your eyes, return to your normal breathing, and rest for a few minutes, letting your practice sink in. If you are not able to get on the floor, spend a few final moments in the chair, with your eyes soft and closed, possibly extending your legs straight and leaning back into the chair if that is comfortable for you. Savasana is the most important yoga pose as it allows your body to process everything it’s just been through and it allows your mind to fully settle. Do not skip this pose, whichever version you may need.
Interested in learning more?
I teach at several studios throughout Fort Worth and hold private yoga sessions in my home. I’m a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and have advanced certification in senior yoga. I’ve worked in senior living for 12 years and place an extreme value on our elders. If you or someone you love would be interested in scheduling privates in my home or yours, please reach out to me!
EITHER WAY please try my chocolate cake recipe below – it’s insanely delicious and I promise you will not notice it is vegan.