This month we will continue our exploration of the many ways a sturdy folding chair can enrich and support the home yoga practice. In fact, many of us spend eight or more hours a day sitting in a chair for work. Why not take a yoga break using the following sequence to move the spine and organs, release tension, create ease in the breath and lift the lethargy?
This week we focus on movement of the shoulders and spine. Be sure to use a sturdy chair and if you want to practice the peak pose, Chair Urdhva Dhanurasana, you will need a yoga chair which has only a metal bar across the back so that the body can fit through the space between the seat and chair back. This posture could also be done on a low bench or ottoman.
Scapula Elevation & Depression
As you inhale, slide shoulder blades up the back and as you exhale, draw the shoulder blades down the back.
Benefits: Isolates the muscles that elevate (trapezius, levator scapulae) and lower the shoulder blades (serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi).
Scapula Protraction & Retraction
As you inhale draw the shoulder blades together towards the spine gently (protraction). As you exhale slide the shoulder blades away from the spine (retraction). It may be helpful to rotate the arms externally during protraction and internally during retraction.
Benefits: Isolates the muscles that protract (rhomboids) and retract the shoulder blades (serratus anterior).
Shoulder Circles in Chair
As you inhale draw shoulders up and back, and as you exhale draw shoulders down and forward slowly making a backwards circle.
Repeat 5 times with the breath.
Reverse the circle drawing shoulders back and up as you inhale, forward and down as you exhale.
Repeat 5 times with the breath.
End with shoulders drawing down the back and notice the spaciousness that is created around the neck.
Benefits: Opens breath in the upper chest and stretches the many muscles attached to the shoulder blades.
Anterior Urdhva Hastasana
Arms Forward and Overhead
Sit forward away from chair back and reach arms forward while keeping shoulders rooted in the shoulder sockets. Continue moving them over the head reaching from the back of the armpit into the pinkie fingers.
Benefits: Isolates the front of the deltoid and stretches around the shoulder blade
Arms Out and Overhead in Chair
Lateral Urdhva Hastasana
Sit forward away from chair back and begin with arms at the sides. Reach arms out laterally while keeping shoulders rooted in the shoulder sockets. Continue moving them up and over the head reaching from the back of the armpit into the pinkie fingers.
Benefits: Isolates the entire deltoid and stretches around the shoulder blade
Sit aganst chair back, internally rotate arms and engage triceps as you reach the arms back. Lift heart over the back of the chair and keep head neutral. Engage belly to help you return to the center. Repeat 3 times.
Benefits: Opens the heart, stretches biceps and chest.
Sit forward away from chair back and hold leg of chair with left hand. Reach right arm diagonally overhead as you press left hand into chair leg and open the chest to the rigth to look gently under the right arm. Keep the left hip grounded into the ciar. Hold for a few breaths, release on the exhale. Repeat 3 times to each side.
Benefits: Stretches the armpit chest, opens the ribs, lengthens the low waist, encourages deeper breathing.
Cow's Face Pose in Chair
Raise left arm overhead and press right arm behind. Bend both elbows and place flat hands along the center of the spine. Reach top elbow up and towards head, relax bottom shoulder. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release and change sides.
Benefits: Stretches triceps and rotator cuff.
Bhujanga's Twist in Chair
Sit away from chair back and raise arms overhead to lengthen spine. Twist belly, ribs and chest to the right as you bring the left hand to the outside of the right knee, the right hand reaches to the back of the chair. Turn torso to the right as you turn the head back to the left and slightly drop the chin. Hold 5-10 breaths, then change sides.
Benefits: Wrings out the spine and organs.
Noose Pose in Chair
Sit away from chair back. Lean forward reaching right elbow to the outside of the left knee as you turn the belly, ribs and shoulders to the left. Bring palms together into Anjali Mudra and press right elbow against left knee, left hand against right hand to turn the torso gently deeper. Turn head to the left and align from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Keep both hips grounded into the chair. Hold 5-10 breaths, then release and change sides.
Benefits: Wrings out the spine and organs, stretches around the shoulder blades and neck.
Intense Stretch of the East Side of the Body in Chair
Sit on edge of seat holding sides of seat with both hands. Press into arms as you lift the chest and swing pelvis forward to lift off chair. Lengthen tail towards back of knees, lift the heart and keep head neutral. Hold 5 breaths, then release.
Benefits: Strengths arms, shoulders and core, stretches front body.
Chair Setu Bandha
Bridge Pose in Chair
Sit on edge of chair seat with bolster between spine and chair back.
Variation I: Keep feet under knees and press hands into sides of chair seat, Lean back into bolster and swing hips forward. Make sure head is supported by bolster. Hold 5-10 breaths, then release.
Variation II: Press heels into fronts of chair legs to keep chair from tipping backwards. Press hands into sides of chair seat and swing hips forward leaning back against bolster. Try reaching one or both arms overhead if you feel stable.
Benefits: Strengthens quadriceps, core and stretches front body.
Camel Pose in Chair
Kneel in front of chair with calves under seat. Open heart as you lean back to rest forearms on seat and head on seat back. Hold 5-10 breaths, then engage belly to help you release back to center.
Benefits: Stretches front body, opens heart and throat.
Chair Urdhva Dhanurasana
Upward Facing Bow in Chair
Sit on a blanket backwards through the chair with legs through space of chair back. Place tailbone at back edge of chair and feet on bolster.
Variation I: Lie back over seat so that the bottom edges of the shoulder blades are at the front edge of chair seat. Use stacked blocks under the back of the head for support. Reach arms back over the head.
Variation II: Keep legs straight and reach arms inside the front legs and hold the outside of the back legs of chair.
Variation III: Straighten legs keeping feet on bolster and reach arms back over the head.
Hold for a minimum of 10 breaths then reach for the chair back and engage belly as you pull yourself upwards sliding the hips back into the seat. Relax forward over the chair back for a few moments before coming out of the chair.
Benefits: Opens entire front of the body in a supported way.
Forward Bend in Chair
Sit away from chair back with legs hips distance apart. Extend low belly towards knees until ribs come into contact with the thighs. Then round the upper spine and head forward reaching hands toward feet. Hold for 10 breaths, then engage belly as you walk hands back up to the thighs to release.
Benefits: Stretches the spinal muscles, calms the mind.
Bolster Instant Maui
Lie on floor with feet on edge of chair. Lift hips and place bolster under mid back, then lengthen legs into chair seat. Rest for 15 minutes
Benefits: Induces relaxation, opens the abdomen to the breath.
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.