Three Ways to Practice Forward Bends with a Chair

Forward Folds in yoga with the help of a chair.

It is common to feel stuck or frustrated in your forward folds regardless of how many years you’ve practiced yoga. But noticing an ingrained pattern may be an invitation to try something new. This is where folding chairs come into play. A folding chair can change the way you approach forward bends, and even shift how you experience them. Often, deeper isn’t better, but the opportunity to move inward and connect intimately with your body and mind. Let’s explore three ways to enhance your forward bends with a chair.

How to Practice Forward Bends with a Chair

Finding Hip Flexion with Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)

Parsvottanasana an asymmetrical forward fold using a chair.Parsvottanasana with a folding chair is one of my favorite poses. This standing forward bend is asymmetrical, which can be a gentler way to initiate a forward bend practice. This variation of forward bends with a chair provides sensory feedback to direct where to initiate the hip flexion (bending at the hips). If you find it challenging to distinguish hip flexion and spinal flexion, this variation of Parsvottanasana will be helpful.

  1. Start standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). With your chair folded, place your folding chair on your mat. Make sure the feet of the chair are on the mat. The back of the chair seat should be facing away from your legs.
  2. Hold onto the top of the chair back with both hands. Bend your knees and step your right foot straight back so that your feet are hip-width apart from left to right.
  3. The distance between your feet from front to back can vary. Separate your feet so that the top of the chair aligns under the front hip point. If the chair is very low, you can place blocks under the chair legs and against a wall to create a taller chair.
  4. Bend your front knee and press the chair into the top of the thigh.
  5. Hinge at your hip, keeping your back long and noticing if the thigh tries to push forward into the chair.
  6. Stay here, or walk your hands down the sides of the chair and allow your spine to round.
  7. Remain here for a few breaths before coming up and trying your second side.

Sit-To-Stand Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend Pose (Prasarita Padottanasana)

a seated version of Prasarita Padottanasana with the help of a chair and blocks.Prasarita Padottanasana is a symmetrical and standing forward bend. In this variation, you’ll start seated to focus on the quality of your forward bend before coming up to your feet. It can be interesting to experience forward bends with a chair in this dual pose. You may want a pair of blocks as well for this variation.

  1. Open your chair up on your mat with all the legs of the chair on the mat.
  2. Sit on the chair and open your feet wider than the chair seat with your knees bent. Have your blocks on the floor and in front of the chair.
  3. Rock your pelvis forward and back and observe how your sitting bones slide back when you tip your pelvis forward and glide toward the front edge of the chair seat when you move the pelvis backward.
  4. Bend forward and place your hands on the blocks or floor. Feel the fold at your hip joints and the firm press of your feet against the ground.A standing version of the symmetrical pose Prasarita Padottanasana.
  5. Before standing up, notice what needs to happen to lift your buttocks away from the floor to feel secure while standing in this forward bend.
  6. As you lift your hips away from the chair seat, try to keep your knees where they are (i.e., not bending more and not pushing back toward the chair seat. Think of lifting your hips straight up to straighten the legs any amount.
  7. When your hips lift, your knees will straighten, but the intention of allowing your hips to straighten your legs is a vastly different internal feeling than straightening the legs from your knees.
  8. Repeat this several times, exploring the transitions of the pose from the seat and in a standing position. Come back down to sit on the chair. Then close your eyes and internalize this experience.

Supported Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend Pose (Upavista Konasana)

Restorative Upavistha Konasana using a chair and bolster for support.We can often feel stranded in a seated forward bend. Adding a chair to Upavista Konasana can help create more clarity and support for your body. You may want a blanket or bolster in addition to the chair.

  1. Keep the chair in the same position. Sit on the floor, facing the chair seat with your legs extended outward and on either side of the chair..
  2. Sit on your bolster or blanket so that your pelvis sits atop the prop and has room to bend forward.
  3. If this pelvic position is challenging, bend your knees with the heels on the floor and toes up. Keep your knees bent to gain more access to your hip flexion.
  4. Slide the chair into a place where you can firmly press your hands into the chair seat. Elongate your spine as you press your hands into the chair.
  5. Hinge forward at your hip joints, keeping in mind the experiences from the previous two variations.
  6. Use the chair to support your head, chest, or arms after folding forward.
  7. After a few breaths, elongate your spine, and press your hands into the chair. See if there is room to hinge at your hips a bit more, and then support your body where it is needed.
  8. Rest here for a few breaths, then slowly make your way up. Use your hands to draw your legs closer together, and reflect on this seated experience.

Forward Bends with a Chair Can Renew Your Yoga Practice

Forward bends are not necessarily beginner-friendly poses or an invariable state where you can either bend forward easily or not. Practicing forward bends with a chair can help create a new internal experience and spark something new.

Allison Ray Jeraci, E-RYT 500, RPYT, is a vinyasa-based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy, and creative propping with a mindful approach.  In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY, empowering mothers-to-be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on Instagram and www.allisonrayjeraci.com.

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