Pause. Breathe. Repeat.
Whether you're injured, lack mobility or find yourself stuck in an office chair, there will be times you’re not able to practice yoga in the traditional sense—on a mat, in various postures that involve standing or lying down. Thankfully, yoga can be practiced anywhere—even at the office!
With chair yoga, you receive all of the health benefits of yoga—muscle and bone mass, balance, relaxation and mind-body-spirit awareness—all while sitting at your desk or at home in your favorite chair. Chair yoga does not follow any specific school of yoga; rather, it borrows and modifies postures from all different branches. Even if you are not very flexible, you can still receive numerous benefits from each posture. Ready to begin? Try the following sequence—it only takes a few minutes!
To start, find a chair that’s solid and sturdy with a straight back. Begin with a short meditation to help relax the mind and prepare your body for relaxation. Sit still in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Engage your core, rooting your tailbone into the chair then take a deep inhale while lifting your heart.
Exhale your shoulders down away from your ears. Inhale the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the point between the eyebrows, the center of will and spiritual perception. Continue to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, filling up the lungs with an equal count. Check in with how you’re feeling, then let the cares of the world melt away. Set an intention for your practice.
1. Lotus Preparation (Padmasana). Lotus is the traditional seat for meditation. You can just sit comfortably in your desk chair, with your neck and spine straight and erect, to begin to calm your brain. Place your hands palms up, with the thumbs and first fingers touching. If practical in an office setting, practice crossing your legs to build up the Lotus position. This will help free your spine from the stress of sitting at your desk all day. Traditional Sanskrit texts say that “Padmasana”, or Lotus pose can destroy all disease. Note: Lotus is a two-sided pose, so be sure to practice both leg crosses. Practice gently, finding your edge without pushing yourself to the point of pain. Listen to your body.
2. Eagle Arms (Garudasana). Sit erect and place arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Cross your arms so that the right arm is above the left. Interlock your arms and press your palms together with the tips of your fingers pointed upwards. Feel yourself contracting. This pose strengthens triceps, shoulders, and back muscles. It’s also a good preventative measure against carpal tunnel syndrome. To get a similar stretch through the legs, simply cross and interlock them with one foot behind the other.
3. Knee Squeeze. Sitting upright in your chair, inhale and hug both hands around the front of your left knee, pulling it to your chest, holding in the breath for a beat. On an exhale, lower your head to your knee, holding it there for a few seconds and you breathe in and out. Release slowly on an exhale. Repeat on the right side. This pose relaxes the lower back and improves digestion and respiration.
4. Mountain Pose (Tadasana). This is a common standing pose that you can also modify for sitting. Sitting erect, clasp your hands on an inhale then exhale your arms forward. On an inhale, turn the palms away from your body and exhale raising the arms until your palms face the ceiling. Inhale, stretching upward and feeling yourself growing taller. To go deeper in this posture, bend your arms to each side. This pose reduces the stress in your head, neck and shoulders, while lengthening your sides.
5. Twist. Twists are great for maintaining a healthy spine, for strengthening abdominals and obliques and for detoxifying the organs. Place your palms on the arm of your chair and inhale. On an exhale, turn your chest and abdomen to the right, moving your left shoulder forward and your right shoulder back. Imagine the twist starting from the bottom of your spine. Inhale to expand your chest fully and exhale to twist deeper, gently wringing out your organs. Repeat on the other side.
6. Lunge (Anjaneyasana). Place your hands on your chair. Inhale and step your right foot up onto the chair with your knee over your ankle. Exhale your left foot back, sinking into a low lunge. Hold for several breaths. This is a great stretch for the hamstrings and it strengthens the glutes and psoas muscle groups. Repeat on the other side.
7. Thread the Needle. Sit in your chair and cross your right leg over your left knee. Flex both feet and lift them off the floor. “Thread the needle” by clasping your hands around your left leg, just under your knee. This posture stretches hip rotators, outer thighs, and relieves tension in the lower back. Be sure to reverse sides.
8. Scale Pose. Place your palms on the arms of your chair and cross your legs at the ankles. Exhale, contract your abdominal muscles, and lift your buttocks and legs away from the floor. Hold yourself suspended for five to eight full breaths. Lower yourself, change the cross of your legs, and repeat the motion. If you can’t lift yourself, start with your buttocks and add the feet as you build strength. This posture strengthens your arms, lower abs and core, the foundation for every yoga pose.
9. Forward Fold (Uttanasana). Forward folds help ease tension in the upper back and neck. Inhale deeply, then exhale out as you bend forward. Let your head and arms hang heavy over your knees. Relax into the position, holding for several deep, cleansing breaths. Inhale as you slowly and carefully come back up to a seated position.
10. Restorative Pose (Balasana). In yoga, for every action there is an equal reaction, so restorative poses are essential for completing your practice. For this post, be sure your desk is clear. Inhale, then cross your arms and place them on the surface in front of you. Exhale to rest your head on your crossed arms. This is the seated alternative for child’s pose. Let go of everything and just breathe, relaxing completely to finish your practice.
Using the breath and mind body spirit awareness, adjust any of the poses as needed to make them work for you. As with all forms of exercise, check with your doctor before starting any new fitness practice, especially if you have health issues. And never push your body beyond the point of pain. With a commitment to regular practice of just 5 minutes a day, your flexibility, strength and overall wellbeing are sure to increase.