Can Chair Yoga Help With Back Pain?
I struggled with chronic back pain for a span of 7 years, and now yoga is one of the key elements of preventing pain. For some people, going to a yoga class is too much. Senior citizens, the obese, people with neurological issues, and those with low flexibility and/or strength are good candidates for chair yoga, which are yoga postures done in a chair. Chair yoga is also a great way to sneak in some stretching and strengthening at work without calling attention to yourself.
In addition to helping with back pain, doing yoga poses in a chair may also develop core strength, reduce joint pain, increase balance, and reduce stress. Many people get addicted to yoga because of the many benefits they receive from their practice.
What Kind of Chair Do You Need?
You don't need a special chair to do chair yoga poses. Make sure whatever chair you use is stable, so don't do any postures on a chair with wheels or one with a slippery seat.
You may want to place the chair on a yoga mat, or some non-slip surface, so your feet don't move when practicing.
Before you begin any exercise program, it's best to talk to your doctor about what you want to do. They may have specific recommendations about what movements you should or shouldn't do for your body.
Next it's a good idea to find a yoga teacher who can help you with your chair yoga practice. Many yoga instructors know the anatomy well, and they can recommend specific poses for your situation, as well as make sure you're doing the postures correctly.
The purpose of chair yoga is that you can get the benefits of yoga postures gradually and without straining. It's best to start very slow and in a very limited range of motion, giving yourself time to increase your strength and flexibility.
If you're looking for more of a challenge, or if you do chair yoga for some time and you're read to graduate to a more intense practice, check out our best yoga poses for back pain.
Chair Cat-Cow – Chakravakasana
This is a popular pose that stretches the spine forwards and backwards. It’s great for people who are looking down at their phones throughout their day, and for people with poor posture. It’s commonly done in the beginning of a yoga routine to help warm up the muscles along the spine.
Begin by putting your feet on the floor with your hands on top of your knees. Inhale stick your chest out (this part is cow). When you exhale, stretch your spine in the opposite direction, dropping your chin to your chest (this part is cat). Repeat this entire cycle at least 3 times.
Chair Chair Pose – Utkatasana
This posture is called chair pose because when doing it from standing, it looks like you’re sitting down into a chair. The traditional chair pose strengthens the legs, ankles, feet, the core, and lower back. It also strengthens the shoulders and upper back.
Start by sitting upright in your chair with your feet flat on the floor, and your back at 90° angle to the floor. Exhale, and lean forward so that your shoulders are about halfway across your thighs. Next inhale and raise your arms over your head with your palms facing together about shoulder width apart. Hold this pose for a few breaths.
If you want to make this pose a little easier on your lower back, don’t lean as far forward.
Chair Forward Bend – Uttanasana
This pose can be done after chair pose and is a gentle stretch for the lower back. It’s also a very relaxing pose.
To do it in a chair, put your hands at your hips and bend at your waist, keeping your spine straight. Let your hands reach towards the floor, and let your head drop. You can stay in this pose for a couple of breaths or as long as a minute.
Chair Upward Salute – Urdha Hastasana
This pose strengthens and stretches the sides of the body and strengthens the core.
Start by sitting up straight and pressing your palms together. Reach your palms up towards the ceiling while relaxing your your shoulders and back and engaging your buttocks and core. Exhale and start to arch to your right while continuing to reach up. Another variation is to grab your left wrist with your right hand before you lean to the right. Hold the posture for 2 to 5 breaths.
To get out of the arch to the right, inhale and return to center. Then repeat on your left.
Chair Single-leg Stretch – Janu Sirasana
This posture will stretch your hamstring muscles and calves.
Start by sitting near the end of your seat, but not so far that you feel like you’re going to fall off. Sit up straight, stretch your right leg straight and point your right toes toward the ceiling. Place your left foot flat on the floor so your left knee is bent at a 45° angle. Place both hands on your leg, inhale and make sure your spine is straight, and as you exhale, slowly slide your hands down your leg. Keep your spine straight and bend at your hips, resisting the temptation to drop your head to your leg. Do this for 5 breaths and as breathe, slowly slide deeper into the stretch. When you get out of the pose, inhale and slowly rise up, then switch sides.
Chair Pigeon – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
This pose is a hip opener that will also stretch your glutes, but is slightly more difficult as it requires a little bit of strength and flexibility to get into.
Sit up straight in a chair and pull your right ankle so it's on top of your left knee. To increase the stretch, lean forward so your stomach drops down to wards your legs, keeping your spine straight. Don't drop your head down as you lean forward, bending your spine. Hold for 15 seconds to one minute per side.
There are many twisting poses in yoga that stretch the muscles around the spine, as well as helping keeping your spinal discs healthy.
Start by sitting sideways on a chair with the back of the chair at your right side. Exhale, reach back with your right hand to push against the back of the chair while your left palm touches the outside of your right knee. Hold the pose for a few breaths. Rotate 180° so the back of the chair is now on your left side, exhale, and twist to your left. Hold for a few breaths; repeat 5 times each side.
If you're flexible, you can also start with the back of the chair behind you and do the same twists.
Chair Triangles – Trikonasana
The triangle pose will strengthen your core, shoulders, and back, and this chair variation will give a slight stretch to the groin.
Start by sitting up straight and placing your feet far apart so they're outside of the chair legs, and point your feet outwards. Inhale and lift your arms so they're parallel to the floor. On your next inhalation, reach your right hand down towards the floor so your right forearm is touching your right inner thigh and your left arm up towards the ceiling while you look up towards the ceiling. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Chair Downward Dog – Adho Mukha Svasana
This posture is one of the most common poses you'll find in a yoga class. It stretches and strengthens the shoulders, core, lower back, upper and lower legs, ankles, and feet.
There are two different ways you can do this pose with a chair. You can place your hands on the seat of the chair or on top of the back. If you use the back of the chair, make sure the chair is stable enough that when you put weight on it, it doesn't move. If putting your hands on the seat of the chair takes too much flexibility, you can use a counter top or table.
Start by standing upright, inhaling, and lifting your hands over your head. Exhale and place your hands on the back of the chair, seat, or some immovable object. Bend your knees if you need to. Slowly walk your legs back so that you can feel a stretch in your shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. Hold the posture for 3 to 5 breaths. To get out of it, slowly walk your feet forward and when you're close enough, inhale and slowly lift your torso back up to the original position, raising your arms over your head.
If your posture is even a little bit bent, your neck will have to do more work by carrying your head, which is relatively heavy.
To stretch your neck, sit straight in a chair and reach your right hand over your head until its touching your left ear. Gently pull with your right hand so your right ear goes toward your right shoulder, and hold for 3 to 5 breaths. Then repeat on your left.
How to Finish Your Practice
At the end of your session, take a few minutes to breathe deeply into your lower stomach, close your eyes, and relax. One of the benefits of chair yoga is stress release, and deep breathing can help you relax even more after practice. If your back pain involves a lot of tension in your back, deep breathing can help you release some of that tension.
Remember that it may take time to get results from your practice. The good thing about doing yoga poses in a chair is that these aren't vigorous poses, and if you feel you're able, you can do these poses every day. You should start to feel a little stronger and more flexible after a few weeks of practice. If you want more of a challenge, check out our best yoga poses for back pain that don't use a chair, and are much more difficult. But keep in mind that if you have had bad posture and bad movement patterns for many years, you won't be able to reverse these habits in a few sessions. Take your time, enjoy your practice, and let us know if you have any comments or questions.