What are the benefits of chair yoga?
Let’s start by considering the benefits of yoga off the chair – stress reduction, increased flexibility and strength, improved mobility, lowered blood pressure, a greater sense of wellbeing and connectedness, and the list goes on. The benefits of chair yoga are the same.
Further, chair yoga is the embodiment of ahimsa, the first yama. It allows students with physical limitations to practice within their realm of safety without the burden of feeling they should be able to replicate positions that are unavailable to them, or feel left out. Chair yoga embodies inclusiveness.
Compare and contrast
The obvious difference between chair yoga and mat yoga is that with chair yoga the practitioner is seated all, most, or some of the time. Depending on the student’s abilities, the chair may be used as a prop in any number of ways. With mat yoga there is a lot of moving that is beyond the reach or comfort level of many: down to the mat, from back to belly, from belly to back, to all fours, to a seated position, up to standing, and so on. When we don’t have physical limitations that come with age or disability, it’s easy not to be aware of this.
All chair yoga is not alike
The common factor in all modes of chair yoga is the use of a chair. However, just as the asanas selected for a mat class will vary greatly depending on the style of yoga, abilities and preferences of the student, the student’s physical needs and limitations, be they permanent or temporary, and the skill and experience of the teacher, so too will they vary with chair yoga. And, just as yoga on the mat is more than asana, so too can be chair yoga.
History and breadth of chair yoga
Chair yoga was developed in 1982 by Lakshmi Voelker-Binder to accommodate one of her students who was unable to do floor poses due to arthritis. This student was only in her thirties. Lakshmi Voelker-Binder casts a wide net as to whom might benefit. On her teacher training website, she states that with chair yoga you can “bring all the amazing benefits of yoga to those who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to get down on the floor. (Get Fit Where You Sit). When you flesh out the list, you can see that chair yoga can make the many benefits of yoga assessable to seniors and the elderly, with no upper age limit; people with disabilities; otherwise fit people with injuries; long distance travelers on airplanes and trains; office workers; and anyone who wants to take a quick fitness break from computer work wherever they are.
A plethora of postures to choose from
Most of the poses you can do standing or on the mat can be done in a chair as an alternative. As you peruse the links at the bottom of this orientation, you will notice the variety of forward and side bends, twists, and stretches. Chair-bound students will do all their poses seated. Others can use the chair for balance or added support for poses such as Downward Facing Dog, and Warrior III. For those with some mobility and steadiness on their feet, the chair can help them practice Warrior I and II. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Equipment requirements are few. A chair that is not on wheels and thus will provide steadiness (wheel chairs are fine – in fact, chair yoga is ideally suited to those confined to a wheel chair), and if the student’s legs are short, blocks or books to raise the floor to meet their feet. A straight-backed armless chair is preferred, and a chair that has a level rather than curved back makes it more conducive for postures that involve outstretched arms using the chair for support. All this will be made clear in the photos and videos in the links below.
What about the other limbs of yoga?
You are in this training so you already know that yoga is far more than asana. In her fascinating doctoral thesis from 2015, (link below), Dr. Aileen J. McCabe-Maucher explores the benefits and feasibility of using yoga to “cultivate resiliency and enhance self-care” through the practice of yoga among social workers and other mental health professionals. Her focus is on the stress reduction aspect of yoga with the aim of reducing burnout among those working in high emotional stress positions. She compares the eight limbs of yoga with the Sanctuary Model, “an established and evidence-based organizational paradigm that is used to promote resiliency and prevent burnout among social service and mental health/health care professional in agencies worldwide,” and finds much overlap between the two systems. She also discusses the benefits of yoga, be it seated in a chair or lying on a mat, for clients and as well as for professionals in the workplace and the field. Integrating yoga into social work practice can help clients reduce the impact of trauma, including “race-based traumatic stress.”
Dr. McCabe-Maucher draws upon the work of Daniel Siegel, MD in discussing the importance of body awareness as a component of mindfulness. Meditation and breath practices, both integral components of yoga, can help a person improve emotional regulation. She cites several schools of psychotherapy that direct patients to focus on “the here and now.”
Chair yoga is yoga, adapted to make it available to more practitioners under more circumstances and can help the dedicated practitioner experience all the joys and benefits that yoga on the mat can.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chair_Yoga General overview
https://siminayoga.com/anychair-yoga-book/ Background information and a short demonstration video. (Note: the is not an endorsement of this teacher or her book, but her site is clear and has a nice demonstration).
https://www.verywellfit.com/chair-yoga-poses-3567189 10 Chair Yoga Poses for Home Practice Includes demonstrations
https://aaptiv.com/magazine/chair-yoga Good background information, including doing chair yoga in the office and on the plane. Also has links to two studies.
https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=edissertations_sp2 A CHAIR BASED YOGA WORKSHOP FOR SELF-CARE AND STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR SOCIAL WORKERS AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS. Doctoral dissertation in social work. Use of yoga to boost resilience and reduce burnout in social workers. Includes a comprehensive survey of styles and research, and a comprehensive bibliography as well.
Suggested book and DVD
“Chair Yoga: Sit, Stretch, and Strengthen Your Way to a Happier, Healthier You” by Kristin McGee
Lakshmi Voelker, credited with “creating” chair yoga has several DVDs