Chair Yoga practice for the Home, Office or On the Go

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Hello, and Happy New Year to all!

Several yoga students and teachers have asked me for a “chair yoga practice guide” to stretch, align, and release muscle tension in the home, office, or anywhere we find ourselves sitting immobile for too long. The printable pages below describe a basic practice that requires only a chair and provides an integrated movement/breath practice suitable for virtually everyone. It can also be combined with physical therapy exercises when recovering from injury; as always, check with your health care provider if you have specific questions about any movements.

Additional thoughts regarding this practice – This practice (or sections of it) are terrific for musicians who spend hours practicing in a seated position. As a classical guitarist, I am constantly working to relax the muscle tension in the body (especially the back muscles) that are necessary for maintaining a proper playing position. Taking frequent and regular breaks and performing a few of of these movements has proved extremely helpful to release tension in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and hands that can easily build up during long practice sessions.

Some hints for successful daily home yoga practice session:

Practice every day – Try to make time to practice EVERY day. Take yoga classes when you can, but put aside time for a few yoga exercises daily! Even 5 or 10 minutes every day will have greater value than doing yoga only once a week. Practicing on your own allows you to discover what works for you and lets you breathe at your natural pace.

Create a practice spaceIt doesn’t have to be fancy. Find a place in your home where you can move safely and comfortably without bumping into walls or furniture. If you can set up near a mirror, you can see how your body is actually moving.

Listen to your body It’s important to distinguish between general muscular fatigue and joint pain. Resting when you’re tired is fine, but if it hurts, we’re doing it wrong!

Alternate between slowly repeated movements and gently held postures.

Breathe breathe smoothly and keep at it; this is the best advice I can offer. Become more aware of how you breathe when you’re tired, when you feel agitated, when you’re relaxed or energized.
Healthy breathing is essential to a healthy life. 

Move slowly pay attention to your body’s natural feelings and sensations.  Resist the urge to “rush.”  Consider where are you rushing to?

Bare feet are best If you’re practicing at home, set up on a solid floor and do your yoga without shoes and socks. Bare feet allow you to spread your toes, flex and strengthen your foot muscles. Personally, I find it easier to balance when I’m barefoot.

Steady your eyes Try to focus your gaze on a single point. It can be a spot on the wall or any neutral object. Resist the urge to fidget.

Pick your chair with care It is best to do a seated yoga practice on a sturdy chair without arms and with a reasonably firm and flat seat. Use a chair that supports stable and erect posture. Too much cushioning and you are likely to “slump”.

Return to neutral –  After each exercise return to your balanced position with your hands placed evenly on  your thighs, feet flat on the floor.

Let’s get started!

1. Finding your breath: 

Sit in your chair with as tall a posture as is comfortable, chin slightly bowed. Distribute your weight evenly from side to side and keep both feet flat on the floor as you breathe smoothly through the nose. Become aware of your posture. Try not to slouch the shoulders forward or collapse in your lower back. Take 5 to 15 slow, conscious breaths, listening to your breathing.

2. Loosen the shoulders:

Allow your arms to hang by your sides in a relaxed fashion. Gently roll your shoulders in a circular manner 5-8 times, then repeat in the opposite direction. Try to keep your arms, wrists and hands completely relaxed during this movement.

3. Wake up your hands and forearms:

Stretch your arms in front of you and interlace your fingers, all the way to the roots of the fingers. Squeeze one hand at a time, moving your wrists as little as possible.
Switch the interlace of your fingers and repeat.

4. Shoulder and arm flexibility #1:

•INHALE slowly sweep your arms upward, interlace your fingers, turn your palms toward the ceiling – stretch, keep your feet flat on the floor.
(Alternative: If interlaced fingers is painful to the wrists reach up through your fingertips)
•EXHALE, release your arms to your sides. Repeat 5-8 times.
On the last repetition, hold the posture for 3-5 smooth breaths.
Note: Try to alternate the interlace of the fingers each time.

5. Ankle flexibility and stability:

Lift and hold one knee (or under thigh) with both hands. Rotate ankle slowly in one direction 5-8 times, then switch the direction of the circles. Release leg and repeat on the other side.

6. Lower back stretching/hip flexibility:

Lift and hold one knee (or under thigh) with both hands, starting with arms straight.
•INHALE in position
•EXHALE hug your thigh toward your belly and your forehead toward your knee.
•INHALE extend arms and sit up straight, lift your chest, gaze forward. Repeat 5 times, then release leg.
Repeat sequence, holding other leg. Release and take 3-5 quiet breaths.
Note: As an alternative, if you are unable to lift your leg, open feet a bit wider and place both hands on one knee. On each EXHALE, bow and extend out over your thigh. INHALE as you come up.

7. Shoulder and arm flexibility #2:

•INHALE and extend arms upward, interlace your fingers, turn your palms toward the ceiling (remember your alternative from #4), keeping feet flat on the floor.
•EXHALE, bend your elbows to the sides and try to bring your hands behind your head.
•INHALE and extend arms upward again, stretching arms, shoulders and back muscles.
Repeat 3 to 5 times. On the last repetition, hold the posture for 3 to 5 smooth breaths.

8. Stretching the back of the legs:

Lift one leg and hold under thigh, starting with knee bent and relaxed.
•INHALE and extend your lower leg straight forward and try to flex your foot (press forward with your heel).
•EXHALE as you return to the starting position.
Repeat 5 times. On the last repetition, hold the posture for 3-5 smooth breaths.
Release leg and repeat on the other side.
Sit quietly for 3 to 5 breaths.

9. Shoulder and arm flexibility #3:

•INHALE and extend arms upward, stretching hands overhead (fingers may be interlaced and palms pressed away), keeping feet flat on the floor.
•EXHALE, bend your elbows and try to touch your shoulder blades with elbows up.
•INHALE and extend arms upward, stretching arms overhead.
Repeat 3 to 5 times. On the last repetition, hold the posture for 3 to 5 smooth breaths.

10.  Seated Cat stretching:

Sit up straight, both feet flat on floor, hips at least half-way forward in the chair.
Hold the sides of the seat or if possible the rails of the back of the chair.
•INHALE and lift chest and press your belly forward, gazing upward.
•EXHALE, pull your belly button toward the back of the chair and look toward your navel. Repeat 5 to 8 times, slowly and gently.

11. Basic spinal twist:

Extend the arms straight out to the sides, from your shoulders to your fingertips.
•INHALE while facing forward
•EXHALE as you slowly rotate your upper body (chest, arms, head and eyes) to the right.
•INHALE as you return to center and gaze forward.
•EXHALE as you slowly rotate your upper body (chest, arms, head and eyes) to the left. Repeat entire sequence 3-5 times.
For additional support and safety, engage your belly and pelvic muscles as you twist!

Time to stand up!

12. My absolute favorite lower back exercise:

Stand behind chair, feet hip-width apart, and hold your waist with your hands, elbows out to the sides.
(If there is any doubt about your balance, hold the back of the chair!) Leave 3 to 5 inches between your body and the chair.
Standing tall, draw your shoulders slightly back and let them drop away from your ears.
•INHALE in position
•EXHALE, bend at the waist halfway only, making your body look like a numeral ‘7.’
Try to keep your legs straight, without rounding the spine. Gaze straight down, not forward or backward.
•INHALE, firm your legs, and slowly come up to your full standing posture.
Repeat 5 to 8 times, slowly and gently. On the last repetition, hold the forward bend for 3 to 5 smooth breaths.

13. Cultivating better balance:

Stand behind and to the side of your chair, one hand on chair, other hand on your waist.
Foot next to chair remains on floor. If your balance feels unsteady, stand behind the chair and hold the back of the chair with both hands.
Bring your weight to the foot and leg next to the chair. Take a moment to find balance.
•INHALE and lift the other knee to raise the foot off the floor. Try not to bend forward!
•EXHALE, gently lowering foot to the floor.
Repeat 3 to 5 times. On the last repetition, hold up the foot and leg for 5 breaths.
Remember to keep your eyes open and focused on a single point in front of you or on the floor. Don’t fall!   : )

14. Relaxation

Sit in your chair in a comfortable position, distributing your weight evenly from side to side. Keep both feet flat on the floor, breathing smoothly through your nose.  Relax your arms on your lap and allow your eyes to close.
Take a big breath through your nose and release it through your mouth with a “haaaa sound. Repeat and make a nice gentle “sighing” sound.  Close and relax your mouth and jaw muscles. Soften your breathing but remain conscious of the sound of your breath.
Try to spend 3-5 minutes (or 20 breaths) relaxing quietly in this position.

5 Responses to "Chair Yoga practice for the Home, Office or On the Go"
  1. Mary Jane Crosson says:

    Terrific!! I’m thrilled to have this written form which makes daily routines at home ever so much easier! AND it is beautifully written and presented. Thanks so much! I have forwarded to my daughters and a few yoga friends as well.

  2. Tanya gil says:

    Happy New Year Jeff. I am filled with bliss to see you have this website up and running. Hope all is well. I miss your classes.

    • Jeff Zweig says:

      Great to hear from you Tanya! Hope all is well and miss practicing together too.
      Have a happy, healthy new year!

  3. Janice schnabel says:

    Thanks for posting these chair yoga poses. I am looking forward to practicing these. The instructions are very helpful.


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