Many people assume that they could never practice yoga because it requires so much flexibility. The truth is, inflexibility is actually one of the best reasons to do yoga.
Traditional yoga can be more challenging for people who suffer joint stiffness due to osteoarthritis or inactivity-the stretching as well as getting up and down from the floor, where some yoga poses are performed, can be difficult. But there is an alternative.
I've created a series of yoga exercises designed to be performed while seated in a chair. These poses are accessible for people with physical handicaps, such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Chair yoga also can be done at your desk, or while traveling on a plane or a train.
The following series of exercises require little space and no equipment other than a firm, steady chair. When combined with cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking, and strength training, such as weight-lifting, chair yoga helps create a well-balanced exercise program. All inhalations and exhalations for these exercises should be done through the nose for a count of five.
For maximum benefits, practice the following exercises daily…
- Breathing for relaxation. Deep breathing brings extra oxygen into the lungs and bloodstream, both relaxing and energizing the body, and calming the mind.
*Check with your doctor before starting this—or any—exercise program.
What to do: Sit up straight. Place your right hand over your heart and your left hand over your stomach. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply. Exhale, then breathe in again, while focusing on lifting your chest and expanding your ribs. Inhale, then exhale while maintaining a straight spine. Repeat five to 10 times.
- Butterfly curls. These stretch the back of the neck, the spine, rib cage and arms.
What to do: Sitting toward the front of your chair, straighten your back and clasp your hands behind your head. Breathe in deeply and lengthen your spine while pulling your elbows back and letting your rib cage expand. Keeping your back flat, exhale and curl your head forward, pulling your elbows gently toward each other. Take a few deep breaths, lifting your chest toward your chin as you inhale and dropping your chin toward your chest as you exhale. Repeat five times.
- Windmill. This relaxes the shoulders, neck and arms.
What to do: Sitting up straight, inhale as you raise your right arm overhead. Bend your right elbow so that it points upward and your fingers touch your upper spine or neck. Exhale, then inhale again.
Next, stretch your left arm out to your left side and bend your elbow, bringing the back of your left hand to your spine. Exhale, pressing your hands gently toward each other while keeping your back and shoulder blades flat. Inhale, lifting your chest and gently pressing your hands toward each other as you exhale. If you like, you can hold a belt or strap between your hands. Repeat three to five times.
- Expand your heart. This pose relaxes the back, shoulders and chest, and aids breathing by creating space in the rib cage for the lungs to expand.
What to do: Sitting toward the front of your chair, clasp your hands behind you at the waist. With your elbows bent, press your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest. Inhale, drawing your elbows toward each other. Lengthen your spine as you inhale and lift your ribs away from your hips. Exhale as you press your knuckles down toward the chair seat. Repeat three to five times, taking long, deep breaths.
- Seated push-ups. This exercise strengthens the arms, back and shoulders.
What to do: Sit near the front of your chair and put your hands on the front corners of the
seat. Inhaling deeply, with your elbows in toward your sides, straighten your elbows and lift yourself off the seat of the chair. Keep your legs and shoulders relaxed and avoid pushing with your feet. Exhale as you slowly lower yourself. Repeat at least five times.
- Spinal twist. This stretches the rib cage and spine and eases back strain. It also aids digestion by massaging the stomach and intestines.
What to do: Sitting up straight, cross your right leg over your left and place your left hand on the inside of your left knee. Inhale deeply as you twist to the right, pulling your right elbow and shoulder around toward the back of the chair. Keeping your back straight, take three to five deep breaths as you hold the pose. Lengthen your spine by lifting through the top of your head with each inhalation, and twist a bit farther to the right with each exhalation. Return to center, then repeat on the opposite side.
- Cervical stretch. This pose stretches and relaxes the arms, wrists, hands, shoulders, back and chest. It counteracts the effects of typing and eases headaches due to shoulder tension.
What to do: Sitting near the front of your chair, inhale deeply and raise your arms over
head. Interlace your fingers, palms facing the ceiling. Exhale, pressing through the heels of your hands. Inhale again, tucking your chin in toward your throat. While holding this position, exhale and let your chin drop toward your chest. Breathe deeply three to five times, feeling
the stretch down to your shoulder blades with each exhalation.
- Hamstring stretch. This stretches the backs of the thighs, releases low-back tension, strengthens the back and abdomen, and improves digestion.
What to do: Sitting toward the front of your chair, place both feet flat on the floor. While keeping your back flat and chest lifted, clasp your left knee just below the kneecap with both hands and pull your thigh toward your rib cage. Hold for three to five breaths. Switch legs and repeat.