Welcome to our ‘How to Yoga’ prop series! In this series of posts, we’ll be going through some of the different types of props you might be able to use in your yoga practice, and ways to use them. This isn’t by any means a definitive guide, because your prop use is only limited by your imagination! Everyone will find different things helpful for their practice, so take these ideas as inspiration to get creative in your own body.
And remember, under no circumstances does using props make your yoga ‘less’ than a yoga practice without props. They’re not aides or training wheels, they’re tools for you to explore. People at every stage of their yoga journey can use props to help support or extend their practice, and everyone deserves to do yoga that feels comfortable in their body.
In my humble opinion, a chair is the number one way to make yoga more accessible!
Of course, everyone has heard of ‘chair yoga’, but there are SO many ways to use a chair to suit people with all sorts of practices. In this post, we’re going to break down my top 5 ways to add to your yoga with a chair!
The best thing about using a chair is that everyone has one. But of course, some chairs might be better than others for the type of yoga you’re doing.
For example, practitioners of Iyengar yoga tend to prefer a specific type of chair that is designed for that practice, and they sometimes come with special attachments to support in even more ways. These chairs can be great, but unfortunately expensive, so they’re definitely not a necessary purchase for your chair yoga practice!
For most yoga with a chair, you’re probably best off looking for something simple and sturdy with no arm rests. In all the pictures I’m using some dining room chairs that we scored second hand from an op-shop! But of course, you can use whatever you have, whether that’s an office chair, a couch, or even the side of your bed. What you’re looking to gain from the prop will guide what you need to use.
If you’re interested in a whole class that explores yoga with a chair, we have TWO! Click here to look at our online yoga series, where we have a seated chair yoga practice (where we stay seated through the poses), and a dynamic chair yoga practice (where we use the chair to support some standing poses). You can stream these videos from our website, or if you’re old-school, you can purchase the video on a USB or DVD.
But for now, let's look at our top 5 ways to use a chair in your yoga practice!
1. Bring the floor to you
Bringing your body up and down from the floor can be the most challenging part of yoga for some people. Especially in poses like lunges and warriors, it can put strain on your knees, arms, and midsection, and just feel a little crowded with all your limbs trying to fit into the one place! The beauty of the chair is giving yourself the gift of space. By bringing your arms to a chair rather than the floor, your lower body has a good half a meter more room to be able to align your body in a steadier, more comfortable pose.
This way of using a chair really comes in handy when we’re doing our sun salutations! You can do a whole sun salutation sequence by bringing your hands to the chair rather than the floor. You can watch our free video class from International Yoga day for an example of how we adapted our sun salutations three different ways.
Check out the pictures below for some more examples of how we might bring the floor up using a chair in downward dog, lunge, and triangle.
2. Weight bearing
Of course, what comes to mind for most people when they think of ‘chair yoga’ is seated chair yoga. This is a great way of making poses accessible for people who aren’t able to do them standing, or who are wanting some more support through the practice. It might even be for people who work at a desk job and need a quick yoga break through the day!
Remember, I’d much rather people take a variation that allows them to be steady and aligned, instead of straining or pushing to stay in a difficult pose, and chairs are great for that! You can still get your body into the shape without the weight-bearing component, and get all the other benefits from the practice, like mobility, movement, and settling the mind.
Most poses can be adapted to a seated version, including sun salutations! Below we have three of my favourite seated poses- extended mountain, warrior two, and goddess twist. Be sure to check out our video series for more!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- using a prop for a balance pose ISN’T cheating! Balance poses can be really challenging, and if you’re having trouble staying steady, you might not be getting the benefits of the pose.
Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with wobbling, in fact I encourage it, because that’s your body’s way of learning how to do it! But using a prop can really help you focus on your alignment, build up the strength to be able to hold the pose on your own, work on body awareness and positioning, and boost your confidence. All of those things are adding to your practice, not taking away from it.
Having a chair on standby or as your main source of balance is a great choice for standing poses, especially if you’re just starting out, trying a new pose for the first time, or have any issues with balance. You can see how we do that below in standing twist, warrior three, and tree pose.
As we’ve mentioned a couple of times already, the real benefit of the chair is its height and stability. That makes it a great tool for elevating parts of your body in poses that involve inversion or closing your body.
In the pictures below, we have three examples. The first is a simple position with legs up on the chair, and I love this as a closing savasana position. The elevation in the legs gets the blood circulating in a different way and has a really calming effect. To make this a more active pose, you could push into the chair with your feet to lift your hips into a supported shoulder stand.
The second picture, Puppy Pose (featuring an actual puppy), and the third, forwards fold, show how we can add space to a pose. Where you’d usually have your arms on the floor or your legs, bringing them up to the chair allows you to actually lengthen through your spine and open your shoulders, rather than reaching or hanging in an uncomfortable position.
5. Supported back bends
If your asana practice is feeling strong and you’re ready for some more physically advanced poses, a chair can be really helpful, particularly for working on back bending poses.
I must stress with these poses that you should only do them under the guidance of a yoga teacher, and if you’re at a point in your practice where you can do them safely.
The benefit of the chair here is getting gravity to work for you, not against you. Back bending poses tend to require a fair bit of strength and flexibility, and sometimes they’re difficult to break down into smaller steps.
You can see a couple of examples in the pictures, where we start with using the chair to lean back over, using gravity to get your body into the position, while relying on the stability of the chair to stop you from falling. Then you can work towards something like wheel pose, which is a back bend on your hands and feet, where starting from the chair requires less strength to push up to. Flipped up the other way, you can also use the chair in headstand, forearm stand, and handstand poses for back bends in balances like you can see here in my supported scorpion pose.
6. And we have a sneaky sixth way to use a chair!
At the moment I'm working on building handstand strength, and one great way to do that is by using a chair to lift your legs. This can help you get your weight over your shoulders by raising your hips, which you just can't get from the floor! You could also use this to work on headstands and forearm stands in the same way, or maybe even to build strength for your downward dog.
What's your favourite way to use a chair? Let me know in the comments!