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*Today’s article was co-written by yogi and writer, Sara Popovic.
Looking for a gentle way to build your strength and flexibility?
That is what seated yoga poses can do for you.
Wait…great benefits AND you get to sit or lie on the floor??!?!
Whether done on the floor or the chair, these poses help to build your range of motion and prepare you for more advanced classes.
In this comprehensive guide, we will go through the theory and practice of seated yoga so you can start practicing it at home today.
We also give you a DETAILED simple seated and chair yoga flow with tons of modification ideas if you are needing to take it slow at the moment!
What is Seated Yoga?…
In the past, seated yoga poses were simply yoga poses that were done on the floor.
They are traditionally done after Sun Salutations and other standing positions.
Today, seated yoga also refers to doing yoga on a chair.
Chair yoga poses are a wonderful gentle way for those new to yoga and seniors to stretch and strengthen their body.
But DO NOT underestimate chair yoga, people!
You can still get an incredible stretch while sitting in your favorite dining room chair!
Let’s try to better understand these two varieties of seated yoga.
Interested in training to become a yoga teacher online? Check out our post on online yoga teacher training!
Standard Seated Yoga…
In the classic yoga practice, seated yoga refers to all asanas which are done on the floor.
These include standard seating positions such as the cross-legged pose, but also those on your knees as well as floor backbends.
I always think, “oh good, the easy seated poses!”…and then we do camel…
More gentle practices, like Hatha, Restorative and Yin yoga focus the majority of the practice on these postures.
Recently I wrote an extensive post on the super-relaxing Restorative yoga practice here with tons of free flows you can do today! Get it here.
Dynamic styles, like Ashtanga and Vinyasa incorporate a seated sequence before and after energizing standing positions and flows.
These higher intensity practices would be suited for someone who is looking to get more zen AND get fit, as well as athletes looking to use yoga as workout plus recovery.
Seated yoga poses are ideal for increasing awareness and working on your breathing.
They increase flexibility throughout your body and help to ease back and joint pain.
The traditional function of seated yoga poses is to prepare your body for long meditation in a single, still pose.
One pose held comfortably for a long period of time is the final goal of physical yoga practice according to tradition.
Chair yoga was first developed in 1982 by a teacher Lakshmi Voelker-Binder to make yoga accessible to many more people, despite physical limitations.
However, chair yoga has gained many followers, and it can benefit everyone, even experienced practitioners.
Most seated yoga poses are modified versions of standard yogic asanas, which also makes them a great method to mindfully build up to more advanced poses.
Teachers often incorporate breathing exercises into the practice, which can reduce anxiety and stress, create greater awareness, and facilitate meditation.
Benefits Of Seated Poses…
Although seated poses on the floor and the chair look different, they have a similar effect on your body and mind.
Most seated poses help to gently strengthen one part of your body while stretching the opposite area at the same time.
For example, a forward fold will activate your abdominal and quad muscles and stretch your back and your hamstrings.
This type of movement creates a healthy balance of strength and flexibility in your body.
That helps to increase your range of motion and boost your overall physical performance.
I told you that seated poses weren’t necessarily the easy road!
Seated poses also ease lower back pain, by reducing pressure and by incorporating bends and twists.
Since I don’t know anyone over the age of 40 that DOESN’T have lower back pain, I’m pretty sure we should ALL be doing this!
When we talk about the other, mental aspect of yoga, seated poses can reduce stress and relax your body and mind.
Being gentle, slow and incorporating deep breathing, seated yoga poses calm you down and clarify your thoughts.
With continuous practice, this increased mindfulness WILL bring your more happiness and a MUCH greater sense of well-being.
Who doesn’t want that??
Who Can Benefit?…
Everyone who wants to build flexibility in their body and greater awareness in their mind can benefit from seated yoga poses.
However, doing a solely seated floor or chair yoga routine is especially recommended to:
If you are only starting to do yoga seated yoga poses can build mobility that will support you in standing poses. Even more importantly, they build a greater body awareness making you practice standing poses more safely.
- Those with a condition, injury or disability
Anything that prevents you from fully benefiting from other types of yoga.
This practice slows down the process of both physical and brain aging as it helps to maintain your range of motion.
- People who spend a lot of time sitting
This may sound counterintuitive at first, but if you sit a lot, if you feel like you are tied to your desk chair at work or do a lot of flying for your job, incorporating chair yoga helps to alleviate pain, release muscles, and boosts focus.
If you’re not flexible enough to do some poses, or they hurt in any way, find an easier variety.
For example, if you struggle to keep your legs crossed on the floor, you can change the position by moving your feet more forward or modify it by placing a block or a blanket beneath your hips.
I am throwing some great ideas for a seated and a chair sequence at you next, but don’t worry if you can’t get into some of these positions.
Definitely don’t force them, as struggling will create more problems that it will solve!
Instead, explore what modification or alternative pose you can do, that feels great for your body AT THIS MOMENT.
Get To It, Already! Seated Sequences…
When we look at advanced yogis doing seated poses we can notice they are getting themselves into some pretty incredible wraps and twists!
Sure, they might be Instagram worthy, but there is no need to go as far as possible because you will absolutely get benefits from even the simplest looking poses (plus, no one is taking pictures of you, so don’t sweat it!)
Not sure if you want to invest in a block and strap, or maybe what they even are?? No fear!
Feel free to try just one, a few, or the entire sequence below for a great starting place!
- Staff Pose
The Staff Pose is used as a seated version of mountain pose. Both poses have the same function – to set up correct alignment for your practice.
Just like the Mountain, the Staff Pose looks simple, but there are many details you need to put to your attention to ensure proper alignment.
Start the Staff pose by sitting on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you and your feet flexed. Your hands should be straight by your side and firmly pressing to the floor to maintain a straight spine. However, this action shouldn’t raise your shoulders up.
If you struggle to keep your spine straight, elevate your hips on a block or a blanket.
- Seated Forward Fold
The seated forward fold stretches your whole back body – back muscles, glutes, calves and hamstrings.
You start from the staff pose and lift your arms towards the ceiling. Fold down, placing your arms on the shins or feet. With every inhale, lengthen your spine, and with every exhale fold deeper into the pose.
If you want a deeper release in your spine you can round your back and hold the pose passively. If you want to work on your posture and feel bigger stretch in your hips and legs, don’t go as deep and keep your spine straight, moving the belly towards the thighs.
- Reclined Pigeon (my faaaavorite!!)
The reclined pigeon is a gorgeous pose to stretch your outer hips.
From your staff pose, lie on your back. Bring your feet towards your glutes and bend your knees, so they face the ceiling.
Cross the left foot over your right knee, and activate the left thigh to push the knee outwards. Then bring your right knee towards your chest and hold on to the thigh or shin to allow your glute muscles to relax. If you struggle to reach the leg you can use a strap.
The bridge opens your chest and abdominal muscles, and also strengthens the back, hamstrings and the glutes.
Put your legs in the same position as with the last pose, with feet close to your glutes. Your arms should lie by your side. Breathe in and with the exhalation push the arms and feet firmly into the ground. Start bringing your hips upwards, followed by your lower and middle back. Gently lower down and repeat two more times.
To make this pose more passive, you can place a block under your lower back and hold it for longer.
- Spinal Twist
Complete your practice with a spinal twist which helps to strengthen your spine, and boosts circulation and digestion.
Standing in the initial position of the bridge pose, spread your hands wide to your side, creating a “T” shape. You can bend your elbows for more support.
Then slowly release your knees to the left. You are trying to reach the floor, but it’s more important to keep your right shoulder close to the ground. When you’re in position, look to the right. Hold for a couple of breaths, return to neutral, then repeat on the other side.
A Simple Chair Yoga Sequence
You don’t need any special chair for doing yoga, just make sure it is stable and firm.
If the chair is too high, place something under your feet for more sport.
Warm-up with a couple of neck and shoulder rolls to get you ready!
- Chair Mountain Pose
We always start yoga practice with a simple, grounding pose. These poses allow us to connect to the earth and our bodies, and to slowly begin awakening our spine.
Start by sitting on the edge of your chair. Work on straightening your spine and equally divide your weight through your buttocks. As you take your inhale, lift your hands up and stretch your body. Maintain a natural posture by moving your rib cage slightly inward and relaxing your shoulders away from the ears.
- Seated Forward Fold
Seated Forward Fold is a gorgeous pose to release your back and calm the digestive system. Except in this sequence, you can do the pose as a break when you’re sitting for long hours to avoid back pain.
Sitting in your mountain pose, take a deep inhale. Come into a forward bend over your legs with the exhalation. Release your hands towards the ground and allow your head to hang. Repeat the movement from an upward pose to the forward fold a couple of times, following the rhythm of your breath.
- Seated Extended Side Angle Pose
The Extended Side Angle Pose will help to strengthen and lengthen your arms and torso.
Start in your forward bend. Bring your left hand to the outside of your left foot. Open your chest to the right with the inhale stretching your arm towards the ceiling and trying to stack one shoulder over the other. Gaze at the fingertips and stay for a couple of breaths. Then repeat on the other side.
Place something under your hand if you struggle to reach your fingers towards the floor.
- Seated Eagle Pose
This yoga posture is a fantastic way to strengthen your shoulders and back, and to stretch your hips. It helps to release any tension in your shoulders and is one of the best poses you can add while sitting if you struggle with back pain and bad posture.
Begin by activating your abdominal muscles and roll your shoulders back. Reach your arms in front of you and place the left arm under the right elbow. Bend your elbows and try to rest the left fingers in your right arm. Lift your elbows higher and begin to cross your right leg over the left. If it’s available to you, you can wrap the right foot all around the left calf.
Make sure to modify the pose to your current needs and abilities to avoid injury. When you got in a position that gives you a stretch but isn’t painful, hold it for a couple more breaths.
- Seated Spinal Twist
Release everything you’ve just done in the seated twist. Like all twisted asanas, this pose will strengthen your core, release back pain and boost circulation and digestion.
Try not to use the chair for twisting deeper because forcing this pose can cause injury. If you want to deepen the stretch, simply hold the position for longer.
To enter the pose pull your belly button inwards and elongate your spine. Raise your arms to the sides.
With the next inhale, slowly and mindfully twist to your right and lower the arms, so that your right arm rests on the top of the backrest of your chair and your left hand sits by your side. Look over to your right. Stay there for 5 breaths, come back to the front and repeat on other side.
You have earned your Shavasana!
Take a few moments after your sequence to rest in the final pose of every yoga practice – Shavasana.
Yep. This is my FAVORITE part of the yoga practice. Every. Single. Time.
If on the floor, you can simply lie on your back allowing everything to completely relax and just SURRENDER.
If on the chair, sit upright and close your eyes.
Shavasana cools it down and gives you a moment to notice the changes in how you feel after the practice (which is usually spec-freaking-tacular).
Seated and Chair Yoga Videos…
Feel up to a little something more??
I have handpicked some free seated and chair yoga YouTube videos to offer you some longer practices.
15-Minutes: Chair yoga for the office
25-Minutes: Chair Yoga Sequnce
20-Minutes: Seated Practice for Plus Sized Yogis
12-Minutes: Yoga for People Who Use Wheelchairs
Take it ap a notch…
Convinced that you need to get more serious about adding seated yoga to your life?
Take it a step further with premium seated yoga classes.
YogaDownload offers a few practices from seasoned yogis!
Instructor Jeanne Dillon: “Jeanne Dillion, Yoga Therapist, Director of Yoga for Wellness, is a Certified Yoga Teacher through the Integrative Yoga Therapy program and a Certified iRest® Teacher through the Integrative Restoration Institute. Long-term health issues led Jeanne to yoga where she rediscovered her True Nature of joy and found tools for healing and living that profoundly enhanced her life.”
Instructor Nancy Nielsen: “Nancy Nielsen is an elite yoga instructor and she has been part of the Denver yoga community for over 17 years. Nancy is an avid meditator and has studied the tools of Neurosculpting® since 2010, receiving her certification as a Neurosculpting Facilitator in 2013. In addition to her studio yoga classes, Nancy works with professional athletes to improve their performance through the disciplines of yoga and meditation.”
We have learned what seated yoga is, who it benefits, AND how to do it! Seated yoga DOES make yoga more accessible for all, but it is beneficial for EVERYONE! I hope you find a seated yoga practice that works and resonates with you!
Thank you for reading, and take care!
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