by Julie Eisenberg
What happens if Easy Pose isn’t easy for you? Easy Pose, or Sukhasana, is a posture practiced seated cross-legged on the floor or on a yoga mat. Yogic breathing exercises, kriyas, and meditations are often suggested in Easy Pose. For many, sitting on a meditation cushion or blanket helps to straighten the spine and find a comfortable seat. But some people struggle to sit in a cross-legged position, even with a cushion. For these practitioners, chair yoga opens the door to an equally beautiful and transformational experience.
Sitting cross-legged requires flexibility in the back of the thighs, back of the pelvis, and inner thighs, as well as external rotation of the hip joints. It can take many months of practice to develop this flexibility. Since everyone has a different anatomical structure in their hips, it’s possible that sitting cross-legged may never happen. People with limited mobility may have trouble getting down onto the floor and back up. People recovering from injuries to the knees or hips may not be able to flex them appropriately to sit on the floor. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible for someone to straighten their spine while seated cross-legged.
If this is the case for you or for your students, find a chair. The chair should be firm, allowing your back to be straight, and your feet should be on the floor or supported on a book or cushion. The chair can be placed on the side or back of the classroom, so it doesn’t block other students’ view of the teacher. From the chair, you can adapt and modify almost all seated postures. When the practice calls for standing postures, you can use the chair to help balance and stabilize yourself.
To begin to adapt your seated practice to a chair, sit down firmly, and begin to lengthen the spinal column. Keep the shoulders neutral, balanced directly over the hips. The abdominal muscles are engaged, and the limbs are relaxed. The top of the head moves upward, and the back of the neck is long. Gently apply your neck lock, or jalandhar bandha.
From here, you can begin to gently move the body. Warm up for your deeper practice with slow rotations of the spine and seated cat-cows. You can open the lungs and shoulders by sweeping the arms up overhead, and gently twist the spine by using the back of the chair as support. Alternately lift the legs, warming up the thighs, knees, and ankles. Fold forward, moving the abdomen toward the tops of the thighs.
Remember that practicing chair yoga does not mean you are glued to the chair. If your legs are stable, come up to stand, and use the back of the chair for support. Having your chair at your side will help remove the fear of falling while balancing and will give you leverage to deepen your stretches. Yoga postures, such as downward facing dog (Kundalini Triangle), can be modified by placing the hands on the back or the seat of the chair and walking the legs back to stretch the spine. Then walk yourself forward toward the back of the chair, and lengthen the spine to arch upwards for a cobra.
Some poses that are normally done standing may be better handled seated in chair yoga. For example, if you have an injury to the knee, use the seat of your chair to support your front thigh as you come into lunges such as Archer pose or Warrior 2. Squatting postures, such as Kundalini crow pose, may be modified by taking the legs out to the sides of the chair and powerfully pushing the feet into the floor.
There are a number of yoga poses that simply won’t work in a chair. If a kriya calls for stretch pose, sit tall in your chair, engage your abdominal muscles, and begin to visualize yourself doing the posture. Your body will still receive some of the benefits!
Kundalini Yoga also offers many kriyas that are done seated and are perfectly suited for people with limited mobility or flexibility to modify in chairs.
Many yoga students find that meditation is more comfortable while seated in a chair. You might want to try working with a meditation mala, to keep your focus while you meditate, or use essential oils to relax the body and mind as you settle into your chair.
It’s important to remember that the physical aspects of yoga aren’t as important as meditation, mantra, and breath. Physical limitations may challenge you to tap into some creative solutions, and working with a chair offers endless possibilities. In fact, after a short time, you will probably find that your chair is your most valuable yoga prop!