By Linda Anastasia Ransom and Sharon Story
A note to our readers: This series is not necessarily designed to be done in a single session. In Healing Chair Yoga, we worked on balance for a full month of weekly classes. (This post reflects an amalgamation of those classes, including several poses that you must warm up for and work up to). One of the most important tenets of Healing Chair Yoga is that you must listen to your body and practice ahimsa (kindness, non-harming), and that includes not pushing yourself too far too fast. We are not here to change ourselves; we are here to meet ourselves where we are.
This winter in Healing Chair Yoga we worked on balance poses. What better time to focus on maintaining physical balance, when the ground is frozen and we are more at risk of slipping and sliding. We may be in balance one second and the next we are dancing on ice over a tricky and treacherous surface, making those many movements, small and large, necessary to keep us in balance and upright. You can work on balance poses any time of the day or year.
There is movement inherent in balance; it requires a constant give and take to retain posture and stability. Balance involves using both our front and back bodies, as well as the many small muscles throughout the body that keep us flexible and stable. Importantly, balance asks us to be in the now; when we are mindful about where we are stepping, we have a better chance of dancing over slippery spots. We come to balance in Tree Pose and we find we are not rigid and unmoving like a lamppost; rather, we are constantly in flux, bending and moving our many branches, finding stability and balance in movement.
Pranayama – Breath Work
We start by bringing the breath into balance. Samivriti is balanced breathing, in which the breath mirrors itself. We count on the inhale, to the natural length of the inhale, then pause slightly before the exhale, retaining the breath for a moment, before exhaling for the same count as the inhale, pausing slightly before inhaling again. By bringing the breath into balance, we calm the nervous system and bring attention to both the front and back body.
We did this exercise in our Feet Blog. Click here for full description and photos.
On Your Toes
Stand behind your chair and firmly hold onto the back of the chair as you stand in Tadasana. Inhale and come up on the tiptoes. Hold for three to four breaths, then exhale and drop the feet down, rocking back on the heels with the toes lifted. Hold here for three to four breaths. Repeat the flow several times, connecting your breath with the movements.
Wall Stretch for Balance
We typically carry much of our weight forward. This stretch allows us to more equally distribute the weight between front and back bodies.
Face the wall, toes about eight inches from the wall. Inhale and stretch the whole body up, stretching the arms up, shoulder width distance apart, fingertips but not palms touching the wall. (Picture a daddy long legs.) Come up on tiptoes, allowing the arms and body to extend even farther, lengthening. Send your breath into the back body. Slowly begin to move the arms down, fingertips moving along the wall, elbows bending, as you settle back down to the floor. Push the fingertips into the wall. This gentle push will move the body back over the heels, and you may feel a notable shift as your weight is redistributed back over the heels. Bring the hands down and perhaps close your eyes to feel this realignment.
Tree Pose (Vriksasana)
Stand tall in Tadasana, with the left side of the body facing the back of a chair, holding the backrest with the left hand if needed. Distribute your weight evenly through both feet (our previous ball works helps here) and draw the energy up from the earth. When you are ready, bring the right foot to the left ankle. You may keep the toes on the floor or you can raise them slightly. If you feel steady, raise the foot to just below or above the knee, or even to the inner thigh. Do not place the foot directly on the knee. If you feel balanced, let go of the chair and bring the hands into Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose) in front of the heart or above the head; otherwise, bring just the right arm upward while you continue hold the chair with the other hand. Hold this position for a few breaths at first, working up to holding for one minute. Repeat the other side.
A nice variation is to use the wall for balance by resting your back lightly against the wall.
Warrior III with Chair (Virabhadrasana III)
Stand behind the back of chair. Bring both hands to seat of the chair. Extend the left leg backward and upward as high as you are comfortable, allowing this action to move the torso forward until your body forms straight line. Keep the standing leg as straight as you can without locking your knee. If you are feeling balanced, you can extend the left arm forward by your ear. This will help lengthen the spine. Take as many breaths as you like, lengthening out from the tailbone through the top of the head and elongating the back by flexing. Gently lower the left hand to the chair and then the foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Half Moon Pose with Chair (Ardha Chandrasana)
Place the back of a chair against the wall. Have a block handy. Bring the right foot to the chair seat, knee bent to ninety degrees, toes pointing toward the wall. Check alignment. The left leg, foot, and toes are parallel to the front of the chair. Feel supported and grounded into the pose. Bring the right had to the wall. If needed use a block to help bring the wall closer to you. Feel length in the spine and back of the neck. Inhale and bring the left arm up, parallel to the floor. If you are feeling balanced and flexible, bring the hand straight up. Possibly rotate the pinky finger of the left hand in and extend that left arm over the head like a rainbow. To come out of the pose, turn the palm down to return the left arm to the side body. Drop the block under your right palm, and bring the right leg to the floor. Take a few breaths before turning to the opposite side of the chair. Repeat on the other side.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Place a block along the left side of the standing foot (flat side up). Stand in Tadasana behind your chair. Lengthen your spine. Stretch the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. On your exhale, bring the arms forward and cross your left elbow under your right elbow. You many intertwine the arms like the fibers of a rope, fingers pointing to the ceiling. Most important is cross arms to activate the left and right hemisphere of the brain. For the lower body, cross the right ankle over the left and rest the right foot or toes on the block you have placed there. If possible, begin to wrap the right foot behind the left calf. Once you have taken several deep breaths, unfold your arms and legs and come back to Tadasana for a couple of breaths. Repeat this pose with the right elbow under the left, and the left leg over the right.
For variation, you may use the wall or sit on a chair for supported Eagle Pose.
Heron Pose Variation (with Angel Wings)
Complete two additional rounds of Angel Wings, and on round three, come from circle sweep and bring the arms into cactus while you gently bend the knees. Hold here for two to three breaths. Continue to hold arms in cactus while you energetically shift your weight to the right leg and raise the left leg bringing the body into Heron Pose. Feel supported and firm in your foundation. Return the left leg to the floor. Flow into two more rounds of Angel Wings, and on round three again hold your arms in cactus, bend the knees, shift weight to the left leg, and bring up the right leg into Heron Pose. Do one more complete cycle on each side.
For variation, feel free to use the wall or a chair for support.
Quad Stretch with a Chair
This pose is a good warmup for Dancer Pose.
Stand in Mountain Pose. Hold the back of the chair with your left hand; if you need more support, face the wall and place your left hand on the wall. Feel steady. Slide the right hand down the right leg and grab onto the ankle with the hand. Or variation is to use a belt around your ankle. Bring the heel back toward the buttock until the knee is pointed down at the floor. Hold the stretch for ten to twenty seconds, come out slowly, and repeat on the other side.
For a variation, use a belt around the ankle (pictured in second photograph) rather than grabbing the ankle with your hand.
~ Namaste ~