By Heidi Nechtman, Pretzel Kids teacher
Chair yoga is truly yoga for EVERY CHILD. Wait!
Before you think that this article applies just to kids with special needs, you’ll want to think again.
For starters, chair yoga is for kids with small spaces to practice (yoga in the classroom!), kids who have challenges with their balance, children who can balance all the time, preschoolers on a long car trip, teens who may tire easily, and youngsters who need a quick brain break.
It’s also for kids living in a wheelchair, children with low muscle tone, teenagers home sick in bed, toddlers new to yoga, and tweens with joint issues. Let’s add to that: Kids who live in an upstairs apartment and children who need a calming pose before going to sleep. And, we’re just getting started!
While chair yoga may have started as a way to make yoga more inclusive, as you can see, it’s really a perfect way to adapt yoga for many situations – for everyone, including kids.
Read on to learn more about chair yoga poses for kids, as well as get ideas for incorporating chair yoga into everyday life at home and at school!
What is Chair Yoga?
Chairs have been used as props in yoga for hundreds of years. However, modern chair yoga was developed in the 1980’s when one of Lakshmi Voelker’s students developed arthritis, which limited her ability to get up and down off the floor.
Most traditional postures can be adapted for a chair. And, while chair yoga can be gentle, it does not have to be. Chair yoga, like all types of yoga yoga, can be as gentle or strong as your practice demands. It can also be active or calm. Chair yoga can be a full class practice or it can be a quick way to re-center or re-energize your child.
Think about it this way: Chair yoga has the same components as any other yoga class: pranayama (breath control), stretching, strengthening, balancing, and calming.
For you, just balancing in traditional yoga poses may take all your focus. So, the chair assists by reducing the amount of gravity to contend with.
In other cases, a physical condition may make it difficult for you to go from the floor to standing poses. A chair gives you a way to do the same floor poses on an elevated platform. In other words, it levels the yoga mat and makes all of the other aspects of yoga more accessible.
In all of these cases, using the chair opens up a whole new world of poses for kids!
Chair Yoga at School
Some students have small spaces to use for their yoga practice, or they may need to do yoga at a desk or tiny homeschool area.
Yoga is a great tool to use in schools, at home while studying, or as a way to calm kids before bed. In all of these situations, chair yoga is an alternative to making space to pull out a mat and potentially create a major distraction.
Plus, just a few poses in a chair can quickly change the situation from frustration to calm.
Chair Yoga Exercises
When I teach a balancing pose in any kids class, I encourage the kids to move to a wall, chair or desk.
They are ALL learning balance. Proprioception, the sense that contributes to balance, continues to mature into adolescence. So, if a chair can encourage them to try balancing longer, they give their proprioceptive system more time to learn.
Balance is important for kids in all aspects of their lives – so much so that I encourage them all to use props to give them confidence.
Here are two chair yoga poses for kids you can use with your child or your students.
For this pose, a chair is used to steady your balance. The ankle, foot and leg are still learning proprioception and you feel an expansion and grounding through the foot.
To do tree pose, stand next to your chair. If your child cannot stand by a chair, they can follow these same cues lying on the floor with the foot pressing into the wall or sitting in a chair with the bent knee ankle resting on the opposite knee. Regardless of which variation you choose, children will still achieve the same expansion and grounding sensations.
If at a chair, hold onto the chair with one hand, shift your weight and press down with one foot. Hold the muscles in the standing leg very strong and lift up your chest like a tall tree. Bend the knee of the leg you are not standing on, place the sole of your foot on the opposite ankle, inner thigh or calf. Balance there for a few breaths and then switch legs.
Start seated in a chair. Then, hold onto the sides of the chair and lift your legs up so that only your seat is touching the chair. Lift your chest and arms up – if you can! .
Chair Yoga for Kids
The benefits of chair yoga for kids go beyond helping with balance.
Using a chair helps kids who are new to yoga focus on what each pose has to offer.
In essence, the benefits of yoga poses for kids are the same as they are for adults. Many poses strengthen the core and limbs. Other poses stretch the limbs and help the joints. Some poses, such as twists, forward folds and savasana provide a sense of calm.
Kids will gain strength, flexibility, concentration and better sleep!
Desk Yoga Poses
For those who practice yoga while studying at school or as a brain break, there are many poses that can be done at a desk at school or at home. Here are a couple to start with:
Sit up tall on your chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Wrap the right leg over and around the left leg (or just squeeze your thighs, knees, calves and ankles tight together). Raise your arms out in front of you, and then wrap the right arm under and around the left arm (or give yourself a big hug). Squeeze your legs and arms tight together. Release, switch sides and repeat the steps.
Downward Facing Dog Pose
This pose can be done sitting or standing.
From a seated position at school or at a desk at home, sit up tall with your feet flat on the floor and lift up your chest. Push the chair back from the desk, so that your arms can extend straight forward. Place your palms on the outer edges of the desk. Push down through the palms and feet and straighten the spine. Look down at your desk.
From a standing position, face the desk or chair. Place your hands flat on the front of the desk and slowly step back so that your arms are stretched out straight. Straighten your spine, ensure your legs are hip-width apart, and look down.
Chair Yoga Class Routines
It is best to have a routine when teaching yoga. Pretzel Kids classes, for example, follow the same rhythm in every class, giving kids structure and a routine they can look forward to.
For instance, each Pretzel Kids class includes: centering, breathwork, warm-up stretches, yoga poses or yoga games for kids, a cool down, and finally, resting pose (savasana). If you regularly teach chair yoga to kids, or ANY type of children’s yoga, the Pretzel Kids method can help you successfully plan your classes.
Here is a great sample routine for a kids yoga class you can teach to children in a chair.
It’s always a good idea to begin class with a breathing technique. This will help your students focus and center themselves. This article is a good guide for breathing techniques for kids.
One popular breathing technique is moving with the breath. To do this, sit up tall, drop your hands to your sides with your palms facing out. On the inhale, bring your palms together above your head. On the exhale, drop your hands back down and bring them together to your heart center.
Stand in mountain pose and begin lifting your knees up and down as high as you can. This high-knees warm up can get the kids energized and ready for their poses.
3. Strengthen and Stretch
Warrior I is a great option in a chair. To do this, sit on a chair, turn your whole body sideways with the front leg off the center of the side of the chair, with your knee bent and your foot flat on the floor. Extend your back leg along the front of the chair and straight behind you, angling your foot slightly outward. Try to place your back foot flat on the floor. Bring your arms straight up toward the sky, and lift up your chest. Repeat this on the other side.
4. Calming Pose
Child’s Pose is a favorite calming pose, which can be done in a chair. To do this, sit back on your chair, slowly bend your upper body to rest on your thighs, rest your arms down towards the floor, and take a few deep breaths.
Bet you didn’t know you can do savasana in a chair at a desk! It’s also a great option for kids in school. To do this, rest your arms and head on the desk in front of you. Take a deep breath in and sign out any tension. Remain resting quietly for several breaths.
Stretching Yoga Poses
If you are looking for a great stretch for kids, try Warrior III in a chair! Most kids are already pretty flexible, so this pose adds strengthening and balance to an amazing backline stretch. What’s more, without a chair, this is a pretty advanced pose that might be hard for many kids. The chair helps them access all aspects of this pose and feel a sense of accomplishment.
To start, step an arm’s length away from the chair. Move one foot slightly in front of the other. Lift your back foot up so just your toes are touching the floor, and shift your weight to the front foot. With your arms straight out in front of you, hold the back of your chair. Then raise your back leg up and extend it back, flexing your foot and pushing through your heel. Lean your torso forward. Switch sides and repeat the steps.
Easy Stretches for Kids
For a fun, easy stretch for kids, try cobbler’s pose on a chair!
To start, sit in a chair. Bring your legs up on the front of the chair, with the soles of feet together. Sit up very tall. Move your knees up and down and pretend you are a butterfly!
Yoga Arm Stretches
You can even teach toddlers to do chair yoga too! Here is an easy stretch for the littlest ones:
Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Reach your arms up high overhead, with palms together. Tilt the upper body to one side, lifting the fingers up to the ceiling. Come back to the center. Repeat on the other side.
You can find more yoga poses for toddlers here.
Seated Chair Exercises
For a fully seated stretch, try pigeon pose. This can even be done while doing homework or watching TV!
To do this, sit tall with your feet flat on the ground. Bend your right leg and place the right ankle on the left knee. Keep sitting up very tall and stay in this position for a while. Switch sides and repeat the steps.
Chair Yoga for Beginners
As you’ve learned here, chair yoga for kids is a great way to introduce children to yoga and set them up for success.
Plus, these chair yoga poses for kids – with loads of ideas for incorporating yoga at school or wherever you have a small space – will hopefully encourage you to teach yoga anywhere and everywhere!
Are you ready to become a yoga teacher? We thought so! ?
About Heidi: Heidi Nechtman is a Pretzel Kids teacher in Tempe, Arizona. She’s passionate about sharing yoga with those that may not have access to it. Kids are one of those groups! She teaches littles, tweens and teens mindfulness and yoga at their level — and with lots of fun. You can learn more about Heidi here.