You may have heard a phrase from a classic yogic text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, that “asanas,” or our yoga postures, are meant to be “steady, comfortable seats.” There’s lots of ways to interpret that, but one rather literal way is playing with an actual chair in your asana practice, and finding ways to experience steadiness and comfort.
“Chair yoga” is often used as a prop that makes movement more accessible by helping folks access certain body positions more easily. It can be used to offload body weight, and decrease range of motion, primarily. In this way, it’s used to make poses more passive. I explored a different approach in a session of my “One Prop, Many Possibilities!” classes in my virtual studio. Here, the chair was our main tool in creating a progressive sequence that moved toward inversions and backbends. In many cases, the chair was used as a tool to make the work we did more active.
Throughout the class, we used the chair to redefine what a “seat” means in our practice—and we barely sat down at all.
Okay, find a steady (and strong) comfortable seat. Here are a few moves we explored:
1. Increasing load—here the chair becomes external load, like a weight. Holding the chair in a supine position, we moved our arms overhead to challenge the shoulders and core.
2. Increase range of motion and change joint angles—placing the feet on the chair for backbends like bridge pose and upward-facing bow changes how much the hips need to move to get into the position. It also changes which muscle groups need to be more active for the shape. In this case, the hamstrings are more active, whereas in regular bridge, the quads do more of the bridging.
3. Targeting specific joint positions and actions—like positioning the shoulders over the wrists for handstands. It’s difficult to work on loading the shoulders with body weight in the overhead position without going fully upside down in handstand. However, when we add a chair to our practice, suddenly we can work to load our shoulders more in the particular joint position, without the challenge of having our entire bodyweight supported by our shoulders.
4. It wasn’t all active! Here we use the chair as a supportive prop for decreasing range of motion and increasing passivity—like as support for the upper trunk and arms in this wonderful side body stretch, parivritta janu sirsasana.
When you think outside the box—with props, sequencing, and more!—your body and your brain will gain more ways of experiencing the world, whether you’re seated, standing, or anything in between.