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My Favorite Exercises for When You Can't Visit the Gym, Part 1: Chair Pose

July, 2020

This is the first post in our series on home exercise during shelter-in. For Part 2 on Toning the Gluteus Medius, click here!

Making the most of shelter-in by practicing chair pose Gokhale-style in my backyard garden.

Whether you are on the road, in a campground, or just stuck at home during quarantine, you can always exercise. In the daily lead-up to our ongoing Posture 1-2-3 Challenge for alumni subscribers, I often turn to dance as a way to process whatever baggage might have set foot in my psyche that particular morning, and also to get the group moving and warmed up for the main program. I’ve been dancing since I was a young child, so I have a very strong bias for dance as a way of exercising, but I also like to change it up with other types of exercise. It turns out that we have a lot of options, even when we can’t access the gym.

First up is Chair Pose, from yoga. Chair Pose (Utkatasana in Sanskrit) is a great example of an at-home, equipment-free exercise which can strengthen a variety of muscles in very little time. You don’t have to spend forever and a day in Chair Pose to reap its benefits. This makes it a perfect fit for our busy lives.

In the image above, Cecily's behind is well behind, and her J-spine visible — both good details from a Gokhale Method perspective. The overlaid graphic conveys her Gokhale SpineTracker™ readings. Note on foot placement: in the Gokhale Method, we teach placing the feet about hip width apart and facing slightly outwards as a way of optimally supporting primal leg architecture.

Chair pose with a Gokhale Method filter:

  1. Prepare your lower body. Start with kidney bean-shaped feet, and do a little squat, to let gravity assist in settling your pelvis between your legs. Then come back up, but not to a parked position (that is, avoid locking your hips forward and knees backward). A parked position allows the muscles to “check out” (that’s why we find ourselves drifting to this position repeatedly!), but is damaging to the joints. Rather than parking in your joints, get your body into a “ready position:” that is, a position with a little spring in it that is easy on the joints and also enables you to move on a dime.
  2. Prepare your upper body. Use the rib anchor technique, with your shoulders rolled and the back of the neck tall. Now we’re ready to begin with Chair Pose.
  3. Bending the knees slowly, go down-down-down, keeping the knees from crossing over the toes. Yes, this detail makes it harder, and you may have to grip on the floor with your feet.  This is good for your feet! The main reason for this is to minimize stress to the knees and maximize challenge to various leg muscles.
  4. Add in the inner corset. If you are able, raise your arms ahead of you or, even better, up above your head. In this case, be super-attentive to ramping up your rib anchor to not allow your back to sway. Now, you just stay there. It’s challenging, and that’s the point. Visit your boundaries, but stay on the healthy side of them.

Let’s review: Chair Pose actively recruits your inner corset. The action of raising the arms above the head can be used to recruit the inner corset especially strongly. If you were to look at your belly (in a mirror) while in Chair Pose, you may come out looking a bit like a greyhound with a slenderized, sleeker abdomen below your full ribcage. To finish, return to a ready position with a little spring in it (again, not parked).

This practitioner demonstrates the “greyhound look” of an activated inner corset. Note on foot placement: In the Gokhale Method, we teach placing the feet about hip width apart and facing slightly outwards as a way of optimally supporting primal leg architecture. Image courtesy Elly Fairytale on Pexels.

I’ll be describing other favorite exercises in future blog posts — in the meantime, try “sitting” it out in Chair Pose during work breaks and as part of your exercise regimen. Consider setting your timer to go off every 20 minutes to remind you to do Chair Pose (or some other future pose) for about a minute. In this way you will make rapid progress in tone, form, and your experience of life! I look forward to teaching you Gokhale Yoga 101 and Strengthening Exercises - The Gokhale Way. Let’s make the most of our ongoing situation!

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Yes agreed, a great pose!  Perhaps we could do it justice by calling it properly?  The word "UTKATA" DOES NOT EVEN REMOTELY RELATE TO THE WORD "CHAIR" ! Utkataasana translates as "fierce" or "powerful" posture.  Thank you from me and other sanskrit/yoga nerds!

Wow, this pose really helped me understand how to strongly activate my inner corset. I never liked doing this pose before reading this post. Brilliant!