Chair yoga is a gentle form of yoga: usually either sitting down or standing up next to a chair, using the chair for support as you would with other chair based exercises.
To help you find out more about chair yoga, we've rounded up the benefits and the top positions to try to get started with expert tips and advice from Kristina Rihanoff, professional dancer and choreographer on Strictly Come Dancing. Kristina is also a certified yoga instructor at Soo Yoga.
What is chair yoga?
Lakshmi Voelker-Binder is credited with creating chair yoga back in 1982 when one of her thirty-something students had a flair-up of her arthritis and could no longer get down on the floor to practice yoga. After practising for several months, she was able to start doing mat yoga again, always keeping her chair nearby. Today training in chair yoga is widely available; there is even an International Chair Yoga Association based in the United States.
With her own mum's needs in mind, Kristina undertook training so she could bring chair yoga classes to her wellbeing centre SooYoga.
"It was both inspiring and eye-opening and I realised that there was so much to this form of yoga than I had initially thought. Many people don’t realise that chair yoga offers all the health benefits of a normal yoga practice; it tones muscles, helps with flexibility, reduces stress levels, enhances sleep and gives an overall sense of well-being," says Kristina.
What are the benefits?
• Gently building up physical strength
• Helping focus and concentration
• Boosts mood
• Reduce stress
• Encourages sleep
• Relieves anxiety
Who should do chair yoga?
While chair yoga is great for the elderly, Kristina realised during her training that classes "would be helpful to people with MS, Fibromyalgia, weight issues, in post-operative recovery, as well as women in the late stages of pregnancy."
Chair yoga poses
Fancy giving chair yoga a try? Follow Kristina's typical class routine below.
Like any other yoga class, chair yoga begins with breathwork to settle the mind and body. Four to six rounds of deep breaths through the nostrils which help you oxygenate the bloodstream, open up the lungs to full capacity and calm down the parasympathetic system. Breathwork allows you to take the class in a more relaxed and mindful state.
We progress with back bends like seated half moon, backbends and forward bends.
Backbends are followed by seated chair poses with hands stretched into the ceiling into slow ragdoll with hands falling down to legs and slowly stretching back to an upright position.
Once the warmup is done, we progress into warriors and cress and lunges poses. If you have little mobility it’s best to keep seated, but this also can be done behind the chair holding on to the back for balance. Pretty much all warrior poses can be adjusted.
If the client is able to stand and hold on to the back of the chair, try downward facing dog by holding on the back of the chair and stretching the tailbone away from the crown. This has an amazing opening for the back muscles, gets rid of lower back pain and also opens up the hamstrings.
After warriors and lunges sequences, we progress in stretching with belts as they provide great assistance with poses like the standing bow tree pose.
I like to use blocks to help people with the supine twist at the end of class.
Finish with five to 10 minutes of meditation and mindfulness to rebalance and restore energy.
Image credit: Igor Cuprins