7 Chair Pose Variations to Make the Yoga Move Work For Your Body and Needs

Whether you're dealing with tight hips and shoulders or are craving a feel-good spinal stretch, there's a chair pose variation that will give you exactly what your body needs.

MTM: Chair Pose Variations
Photography by Jena Cumbo.

Welcome to Modify This Move, the ongoing series where you'll find everything you need to amend a standard exercise to meet your goals, your body, and your mood. Each story breaks down how to perform a foundational fitness move, then offers various modifications based on your current fitness or energy level, present or prior injuries, or the muscles you want to target most. So check your ego at that door and ensure every workout meets you where you're at today.

Imagine a typical yoga class, and long, soothing stretches that calm your body and make you oh-so sleepy will likely be the first to come to mind. But the practice doesn't have to be focused on deep relaxation. In fact, with the right postures, yoga can leave your muscles shaking. Case in point: the chair pose. 

“The chair posture is about building strength overall,” says Valerie Verdier, a yoga instructor in New York City and lululemon ambassador. “You're engaging the quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, inner and outer thighs, belly, arms, and spine.” Translation: You’ll get in a full-body workout just by incorporating the chair pose into your practice. 

Thanks to that head-to-toe challenge, the traditional chair pose may not be the best option for new practitioners or folks with joint tightness— but that doesn’t mean you have to skip the move entirely. In fact, there are plenty of tweaks you can make to the posture so it works for your body, needs, and abilities. For instance, if you’re dealing with tight shoulders or hips, you can add in a prop or adjust your stance to encourage that tension to release. Beginners and individuals struggling with their balance can try a chair pose variation that provides additional stability. And folks ready to take their practice up a notch can use leveled-up variations that incorporate spinal twists. Essentially, you should feel comfortable and confident modifying or progressing the chair pose so it meets you where you’re at today. 

Ready to dip your toes into the chair pose? Follow the instructions below to nail down the basic chair pose, then watch as Verdier demonstrates how to adjust the exercise with seven different chair pose variations that can work for all abilities and fitness goals.

How to Do the Chair Pose

A. Stand with feet and legs together and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Simultaneously, raise arms up toward the ceiling as far as shoulder mobility allows. Biceps should be next to ears and palms facing one another.

C. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core.

7 Chair Pose Variations

If you test out the classic chair pose and it doesn’t feel right for your body or mind, don’t fret. You can use a variation to get all the strength-building benefits of the posture without feeling uncomfortable or experiencing aches and pains. Here, you'll find chair pose variations that scale the exercise up or down, including options that help ease tightness in the hips, shoulders, and feet. Plus, Verdier demonstrates chair pose variations that activate the inner thighs and stretch out the spine. 

No matter which option you choose, continue checking in with your body as you perform the posture and test out a different variation if it doesn't feel right. Throughout each chair pose variation, try your best to keep your knees from collapsing inward or rotating out, and avoid rounding or excessively arching your back, which can cause discomfort, advises Verdier.

Chair Pose Variation to Scale Down: Chair Pose Against a Wall

New practitioners and folks who struggle to maintain their balance may benefit from performing their chair pose up against a wall for additional stability, says Verdier. “[The wall] gives you support, so if you have any discomfort in the knees or lower back, leaning on the wall can also take a little bit of the load off,” she explains. “It can help you keep the spine elevated and long too.” Raising your arms just to your shoulders, rather than completely overhead, can also be beneficial if you have limited shoulder mobility.

A. Stand with back of body a few inches away from a wall, feet hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable and allowing butt to rest against the wall. Simultaneously, raise arms up to shoulder height in front of body, palms facing the floor.

C. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core.

Chair Pose Variation to Level Up: Revolved Chair Pose

This chair pose variation involves bringing your hands into a prayer position and rotating your trunk to one side, a progression that helps build strength and flexibility in the thoracic spine, says Verdier. “[The posture] also forces you to work on your core, from the inner thigh to the pelvic floor, all the way to the belly,” she says. “To keep this posture alive, you need stability of the core. [Without it], the knee and sacrum will sometimes become askew, and then the whole posture goes sideways.”

A. Stand with feet and legs together and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Simultaneously, raise arms up toward the ceiling as far as shoulder mobility allows. Biceps should be next to ears and palms facing one another.

C. Keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding, lower arms down in front of chest with palms pressed together and elbows pointing out to the sides.

D. Then, sink butt lower to the floor and twist trunk to the left, placing right elbow on outside of left knee. Gaze toward the left and keep palms pressed together and elbows stacked. Hold this position.

Chair Pose Variation to Stretch Spine: Modified Revolved Chair Pose

If you want to try the aforementioned chair pose progression but aren’t quite flexible enough, this variation is a great starting point. “The hand on the outside of the knee kind of still gives you the twist, but it creates a layer of accessibility,” says Verdier. "Having the block will help activate and strengthen the inner thighs and core while providing stability for the pelvis and spine." This variation is also useful if your personal anatomy, whether it be your chest or belly, makes it difficult to place your elbow against your knee during the classic revolved chair pose, she adds.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, a yoga block between knees, and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Simultaneously, raise arms in front of chest and gently press palms together. Keep chest lifted and prevent back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core.

C. Release hands, twist torso to the left, and extend and lower right arm in front of body, placing right forearm on outside of left knee. Simultaneously, reach left arm back behind body and place left hand on left side of lower back.

D. Gaze toward the left and hold this position.

Chair Pose Variation for Tight Hips: One-Legged Chair Pose

Not so up-to-date with yoga terminology? Think of this chair pose variation as a standing figure-four stretch. “It’s going to stretch the outer side of the leg that's on top [aka the hip abductors], and it’s also going to be a balancing pose,” says Verdier. As you hold the posture, remember to keep your standing ankle strong so you don’t topple over, she suggests. 

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands resting on hips.

B. Engage core, then bend right knee slightly and shift weight into right foot. Slowly lift left foot off the ground and place left ankle just above knee on right leg. Keep left foot flexed, sole facing the right side of the room.

C. Bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core.

Chair Pose Variation for Tight Shoulders: Chair Pose with Chest Opener

Pulling a shoulder strap behind your back as you sink into your chair pose can help open the front of your torso, even if you don’t have enough mobility to interlace your fingers, says Verdier. Simply put, it’s a feel-good posture after a long day of sitting hunched over your desk. 

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a yoga strap with both hands behind back and palms facing the wall behind body. Hands should be in line with shoulders.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Simultaneously, raise arms up toward the ceiling behind body as far as shoulder mobility allows. Actively pull the yoga strap apart with both hands.

C. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core.

Chair Pose Variation to Stretch Feet: Elevated Chair Pose

Lifting your heels off the floor during your chair pose not only helps you flow into a runner’s lunge, but it also helps strengthen the ankle and calves, improve your balance, and open the bottom of your feet and toe flexors (e.g. digiti minimi, digitorum brevis), says Verdier. If you have tight calves or Achilles tendons, though, perform the posture with a rolled yoga mat under your heel, which reduces the pressure on the back of the ankle and provides additional support, she suggests.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then lift heels off the ground while raising arms up to shoulder height in front of body, palms facing the floor.

C. Keeping heels raised and core engaged, bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable.

D. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core. 

Chair Pose Variation to Target Inner Thighs: Chair Pose with a Block

To light up your inner thighs, place a block between your legs and squeeze it with all your strength as you perform the chair pose. This variation will also help you engage your core, which, BTW, isn’t just your abdominal muscles, says Verdier; it actually includes muscles throughout your entire trunk, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, a yoga block between knees, and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, then bend knees and sink hips down and back as if sitting in a chair, lowering as close to the floor as is comfortable. Simultaneously, raise arms up toward the ceiling as far as shoulder mobility allows. Biceps should be next to ears and palms facing one another.

C. Hold this position, keeping chest lifted and preventing back from rounding by squeezing shoulder blades together and engaging core. Actively squeeze the yoga block with thighs.

Credits

Photography and art Jena Cumbo

Model and fitness expert Valerie Verdier

Activewear lululemon

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