Chair yoga is a simple and effective way to add physical activity to your day. You can do it anywhere — as long as you have a chair!
In the video below, learn simple and gentle yoga poses that you can do at your desk or workstation during the day to relieve stress and re-energize yourself. The video will give you the tools to keep yourself energized all day.
Watch the video below or read the transcript that follows.
About the Instructor: Geri Ann Higgins, an employee at the UVM Medical Center, has enjoyed practicing yoga for many years. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance and teaches locally. Trained by John McConnell at the UVM Yoga School, Geri Ann teaches Hatha Yoga and leads a Group Meditation with Singing Bowls. Along with positive energy, Geri Ann loves to share ways to help reduce stress, increase vitality and better understand and respect how your unique body works best.
I’m Geri-Ann Higgins, and I’m a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance and an employee at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Today, it’s my pleasure to lead you through a yoga routine, a chair yoga routine that you can do anywhere. All you need is a chair, preferably one that’s sturdy and that doesn’t have arms. If yours has arms that’s okay, it just means you’ll have less range of motion, but don’t worry about that.
My goal for you today, and the goal of this whole campaign is for you to get one small thing that you can add to your day to reduce stress and, or boost your energy, so let’s get started.
What we’re going to start with today is breath work. In yoga, breath work is called “pranayama.” What pranayama translates to is breath control or breath extension, so now you know what pranayama is if you didn’t. I’m probably going to spend the most time on this particular technique, because I think it’s the most important. Using our breath is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s accessible to us always, and it can really make a difference in just a few minutes.
Learn the 4-7-8 Technique
Today, we’re going to be doing the “4-7-8” technique. If you go online, you can find all kinds of tutorials on how to do that. I’m going to share it with you, it was pioneered by Dr. Andrew Weil. I use it, it has been effective for me in times of stress, and also through health challenges. I’m really excited for you to understand how to do it correctly.
What you need remember is the numbers four, seven and eight. I’m going to explain it first, and then I’m going to lead you through it. The four is four silent inhalations with your mouth closed, and I will count for you. The seven is the count that you’re going to hold your breath. Eight is the count that you are going to exhale audibly.
What you’re going to do when you’re breathing in and when you’re holding is your mouth will be shut, but you will have your tongue behind the two front teeth on your gum ridge. The reason you do that is it sends a signal to your diaphragm to allow more oxygen in. It also frees up the back of your throat so there’s more air flow.
The tricky part is it’s going to feel a little awkward because during the exhale, your mouth is going to look like you’re going to whistle, but, of course, your tongue’s in a different place, so you’re going to exhale like this. Feels a little weird but there’s a purpose for it and believe you me, you’ll benefit, so let’s do it. All right, here we go. Get yourself situated.
Your balls of your feet are on the floor, they’re nice and rooted. Your spine is tall, your shoulders are over your hips. Your chin is lifted, your heart is lifted, your ears are back over your shoulders. You can close your eyes if you want or you can watch me as I lead you. Place the tongue behind the two front teeth on that gum line and here we go.
You’re going to inhale. Two, three, four. Hold. Two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Inhale. Two, three, four. Hold. Two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Inhale. Two, three, four. Hold. Two, three four, five, six, seven. Exhale. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Last one. Inhale. Two, three, four. Hold. Two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Return to normal breathing.
Check in to see how you feel. You might feel a little lightheaded and that’s normal. That means you did it correctly, and it will go away. Don’t worry, our next move’s going to bring some oxygen back in, and get you a little bit more revitalized. Just check and see how you feel. You should be feeling a little Zen, a little buzz, you’re feeling pretty good. Just know with the “4-7-8” breath you can do that anytime, up to four rounds and that can relax you.
Everyone has different lung capacity. If you need to shorten it to “3-5-6” or something, go right ahead, it’s all about the ratio of the numbers. Now we’re going to energize, do some things to energize.
Chair Yoga for Your Whole Body
I want you to take your hands to either side of the chair with your thumbs out to the side and we’re going to inhale as we raise our arms overhead. Then we’re going to exhale down to the floor. Inhale, and exhale out the mouth down to the floor. Last time. In through the nose, and exhale out through the mouth.
We’ve got a little bit more energy. That’s called the “sun breath arms.” If you do sun salutations, you’ll recognize those arms, you do those when you’re standing.
Chair Yoga for Your Neck
We’re moving on to the neck. Oh my goodness, so much stress is in the neck, right? I’m going to give you a tip on how to help that out.
Make sure you’re rooted in your seat. Take your right hand and place it on the side of your chair. Make sure that your head is really tall on top of your spine. You’re going to lift up as if you have a string, and so you’re really, really high up here, and then you’re going to gently bring your left ear to your left shoulder.
Then you’re going to take your left arm and you’re going to gently place it around, on the side of your head and you’re going to just kind of pull it. You’re going to feel this here, so don’t pull it too much, just rest it there let’s say. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Inhale, exhale. You never want to pull on your neck. Inhale, and exhale.
We’re going to do three more, so now if you’re okay with this, you can gaze underneath your armpit and you’ll feel another stretch on the back side of your neck. Otherwise, stay to the camera if this hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, then go down and gaze there. We’re going to do three more. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Last one. Inhale and exhale.
If you’re looking underneath your armpit, you’re going to turn your head so it’s facing me. You’re going to gently take your hand off, reach your temple and just gently push it up.
We’re heading to the other side. Other hand rooting you down, you’re standing really tall, tall spine, chin up. You’re going to lift up out of the top of your head and just go down to the right side. Then you’re going to lift up the other arm, and you’re going to just gently rest it. Just resting it gives you enough pressure.
Three times here. Exhale, inhale. Exhale, inhale. Exhale. You’re going to stay right here if you want, or you can gaze underneath the armpit and we’ll do three more. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale and exhale. If you’re gazing under your armpit, you’re going to come and look at me. Then you’re going to gently take that hand off, and come up to your temple, and you’re going to push your head up.
That should have relieved a little bit of tension in your neck. Now, we’re going to continue to energize and clear your minds. This next move’s going to be great if you have a staff meeting or something that you need to really just cutaway cloudy thought for.
Learn the Side Twist
It’s the side twist. I want your hips facing me, tall spine. You always put your naval to your spine, so you’re holding your bellybutton into your spine, and that protects your lower back. We are going to twist to your left, and we are going to twist from the waist up, not the pelvis. Twisting from the waist up protects our lower back.
Sit tall, hold that belly button in, lift up, and then you are going to gently twist to the left. You’re going to take your back arm and place it on the back part of your chair. The front arm will go either on top of your thigh or close to your body. Everyone has different length arms. Your chin is parallel to the floor. Again, you’re twisting from the waist up.
Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Last time. Through the nose, and exhale. Then we’re going to inhale and come to the front. We’re going to exhale and go to the other side.
Continue to grab the back of the chair, and then you’ve placed your other arm on your thigh or close to your torso. Your chin is parallel, you’re twisting from the waist up. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale and exhale. Then inhale, come center, and exhale. Maintain your position.
Twists are great for mental clarity, and they’re also great for stimulating and aiding in digestion, so it’s great to do before lunch or after a meal. Sometimes it seems awkward that you would do that if you were feeling full, but it definitely would make you feel better so that’s good.
Learn “Eagle Arms”
I’m going to show you another stress busting arm move, since we’re still on arms here, we haven’t gone too, too far down. You’re going to reach your arms out to the side, and we’re going to do what they call “eagle arms.” I will show you a modification if you can’t do this.
What you’re going to do is you’re going to spin your one arm underneath the other upper arm, and then you’re going to try to bring your upper arms together You can bring the back of your hands together or you can bring your hands together. This is stretching your neck and your shoulders and your upper back. It’s great if you’re sitting a lot, this is a great release. It’s good for stress and it’s good for your body. We’re just going to circle our arms three times.
Oh wait, so a modification, if that’s not happening for you, is just to grab onto your shoulders, that’s your modification. I’ll show the modification, and you can do this if you’re in the other eagle pose, is you just circle three times.
If you’re near a desk and you’re really stressed out and you need to release, something you can do is you can bring your eagle arms or bring your shoulder arms to the desk and place the palm of your hand on your forehead and then your middle finger is going toward the middle of your head. You just breath in three times like that, and that is a great stress buster.
We’re going to release these arms, we’re going to go to other side so you’re balanced. It’s important to be balanced, especially in yoga, right? Here we go, and we’re going to the other side. Again, if this is not happening for you just go here, all right? Leave your ego at the door. I always tell people that when they come to yoga. Ego does not work in yoga class, be here now.
We’re going to do our rotations. One, two … Kind of “I Dream of Jeannie” … Three. I’m dating myself. Then you can place your hand, again, this another way for you to remember how to do this when you’re at your desk. Then we’re going to release and come out. Drop your hands.
Working Your Abs
Now we’re going to work our abs, and you can do this in a staff meeting too if you want, no one knows you’re working your abs. Working the abs is really great because it’s great for the lower back health, and we’re all about the back. A happy spine is a happy life.
All right, so what we’re going to do is we’re sitting tall on our sit bones, tall spine. You’re going to bring your naval to your spine, so hold that belly in. Then you’re going to flex your right foot. This is flexing, this is pointing. This is flexing, this is pointing. You’re going to flex. All right. You’re going to hold on to the sides of the chair, hold that belly in. Then you’re going to lift your leg with a flexed foot until you feel your lower belly engage.
You shouldn’t go up too high. If you bring it up to here, that’s your ego. Don’t do that, you’re going to hurt yourself. It’s just going to come up, and then down. Exhale as you go up, inhale as you go down. Exhale as you go up, inhale as you go down. Then last time. Down and we’ll go to the other side. Exhale as you go up, and down, exhale down, exhale down. All right, and we’re good there, just worked your abs. You can do that for as many reps as you want.
Chair Yoga for Your Hips and Thighs
Now we’re going to move to release the outer thigh and the outer hip area. Oh my goodness, if you sit at a desk, you need this exercise. It’s called the “Figure 4.” All right, so what you’re going to do, stay rooted, stay seated.
You’re going to hold your belly in, and then you’re going to reach down and grab the ankle of your right foot. You’re going to bring your leg up to rest on top of your other leg. The foot is flexed to protect the knee. There’s a lot of sensation here. This could just be where you stay here and you breathe in through your nose, and you exhale through your mouth.
Otherwise, you can grab on to the chair if you want to deepen it. You can hinge like this with a flat spine. You’re going to breathe in, and exhale. Breathe in and exhale. One more time, and exhale. Now if you can go more deep, you can just kind of curl over here, otherwise stay where you are with this or the hinge. If you can, try and do this, and you do that for three.
Now we’ve got about two more inhale, exhale, and inhale, and exhale. Grab on to the chair if you were leaning over. Hold the naval to the spine and then you’re just going to hinge up, the heart to the ceiling. You can physically take your ankle and place your foot down.
We’re headed to the other side. Belly in, grab that other ankle, place it on top of your knee, flexed foot. Remember the difference between flexed and pointed, protects the knee. You can either go like this … Notice, our hips go on different angles. One might be up here, and one down there. We’re all so different, and yoga really makes you aware of your individual body, and how it all fits together, and how you can work with it. It’s really good.
You can either stay here, or you can hold on to the chair, hold your belly in. You can hinge forward or if you want to continue deepening, you can go all the way down right away. Wherever you are, all right, yoga meets you where you are. You’re going to breathe in through the nose, and then exhale through the mouth. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, and exhale.
We’ve got two more, so if you can go to that deeper position, you can try. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, and exhale. From wherever you are, grab on to that chair, hold the belly in. Then lift your heart with a straight spine. Grab your ankle and place it down at the floor.
We are just about out of time. I want to thank you for tuning in today, and for being so open to adding one small thing into your life. I will show you, since it looks like we have a little bit of time, I can show you a little variation of the Figure 4 if you’re standing on your chair. Also, if you have questions, just put them in the comment section and we’ll answer them afterwards.
The Figure 4 Move
Here is just a version of a Figure 4, which we just did. I’m going to move the chair here so I’m here. You’re holding it like this, and you’re standing. You can lift your ankle, and then you can sit down like this. If you need more support, you can use both hands on the chair. That is just another variation that you can try. Let me see, I had so much planned. I cut a couple things.
Here’s another great thing, a side stretch. You can raise your arms up overhead, and you can grab on to your wrist. Hold your belly in, and you can reach up to the sky. Then you can use your other bicep as a pillow. This opens up the whole side body. Inhale long, exhale. Keep both butt cheeks on the floor. Last time. Then we’re going to inhale. Rise up to the top. Then we’re going to switch hands.
Then I think we’re just about at time. Inhale tall. Exhale using your bicep as your pillow. Inhale, exhale, and inhale, and exhale. Then inhale up to the ceiling. Then slowly exhale and come to center.
I’m going to place my hands in Anjali Mudra, which is known as prayer position in yoga, and I’m going to end by saying, “Namaste.” Namaste translates to, “I bow to you.” Thank you for tuning in and namaste.