My first book, A Chair for Yoga, was first published in a limited Hebrew edition in 2012. This edition quickly sold out and people began urging me to translate it to English. After some hesitation, I wrote a slightly extended English version, which I showed to my Guruji, B.K.S. Iyengar. Guruji gave me valuable comments and suggestions. With this feedback, I published the book in 2013. As Guruji’s predicted (see his letter in Appendix A), the book was very well received by teachers and practitioners of yoga around the world.
I was very happy to know that many practitioners found this book useful, and I was deeply moved by the amount of positive feedback I received from all corners of the world. The book has circulated widely all over Europe, America, Asia, Australia, and to some countries in Africa. It was translated into eight other languages (including Spanish, Russian, Korean, and Chinese).
It really fills my heart with joy to know that my modest work has touched so many people. I became a kind of “chair expert,” and some even began calling me “the chairman.” Naturally, I continued to experiment and explore different ways of practicing with the chair and found many useful new Variations. I tested these Variations in my teaching, both in my center and in workshops I was fortunate enough to conduct around the globe. Friends and colleagues contributed many new ideas, and I felt that the new material had grown into a new, extended book; hence, The Extended Chair for Yoga.
Although this book is based on A Chair for Yoga, it is entirely new. I have edited the entire text, added many new Variations and sequences, revised and took new photos, and organized the material in a more accessible way. I’ve also given special attention to aging and disabled people who need the chair as a practice aid. In some sections, the Variations are grouped by chair usages, rather than by āsanas. For example, I have grouped together several āsanas from the same family, which share the same usage of the chair. This makes the presentation more concise and efficient. For each Variation, I have added a list of props needed (omitting the sticky mat and of course the chair – as their usage is assumed), as well as a benefits section, explaining the special benefits of using the chair for that Variation. I have also included nine practice sequences for students of all levels, from elderly people with movement or balance limitations to advanced yoga teachers.
I hope this new, expanded book will help practitioners deepen their practice and find more joy in it, and will serve as inspiration to further explore the āsanas!
Eyal Shifroni, Feb. 2020
 I use Variations with capitalized ‘V’ for variations presented here, to differentiate them from regular asana variations.
B.K.S. Iyengar developed a range of equipment and accessories that enable every person to improve his or her āsana practice and benefit from it. The main purposes of these “props” is to help practitioners to:
- Perform āsanas that are difficult to perform independently with greater ease;
- Achieve and maintain correct alignment;
- Remain longer and relax in challenging āsanas, in order to attain their full benefit;
- Study and investigate the āsanas in greater depth.
This guide focuses on one prop: the chair! The chair is indeed a very useful prop, which is both widely available and very effective as an aid for all types of āsanas. As you will see in this book, there are many, many ways to use this one simple prop. Often, chairs can replace specialized expensive props. For example, many Iyengar Yoga centers have a “horse” prop, or trestle – which is a large and bulky piece of equipment. It’s not feasible to have such specialized and expensive props for every student in a class. Chairs can serve as a good substitute, and yoga centers usually have enough chairs to provide one for each student. Here is an example of using a chair instead of a trestle for Utthita Trikoṇāsana.
Yoga chairs are affordable for any practitioner to have at home for his or her self-practice. Moreover, chairs are not made just for yoga; they are everywhere and can be used to do simple yoga poses at home, in the office, and even in airplanes and trains.
This book covers many uses of chairs for diverse groups of people.
Advanced practitioners can use the chair to explore the āsanas to a greater depth. Performance of each āsana involves doing intricate actions which the practitioner has to understand and implement with his or her body. Often, using a prop helps us to understand the action and to feel the effects of it. Once the effects are felt, one can attempt to recreate them without the aid of the prop.
Many āsanas are physically challenging and difficult to perform without props, especially for beginner students. The chair can help to build the required strength and flexibility gradually. For example, beginners are often asked to do Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (downward-facing dog pose). However, many simply don’t have the strength and/or flexibility to perform it, even roughly. Elevating the hands on a chair (see photo on page XXX) reduces the load on the arms and helps to activate the legs, thus allowing beginners to do this pose, even when the independent performance of it is out of their reach.
There are two groups of people for whom props, and especially chairs, are very important, if not essential. These are people with disabilities and aging people. For these people, it is especially important to move their bodies and to learn to breathe with awareness. In Iyengar Yoga therapy classes, people with all kind of injuries, diseases, and disabilities practice yoga with the aid of props. The chair is an important prop in making this possible. For example, B.K.S. Iyengar once helped a woman with amputated leg to practice standing poses by using a chair.
The chair is extremely valuable for aging people. We are all aging, and sooner or later our bodies will deteriorate, and we’ll become weaker. Yet aging people can continue to practice with the aid of the chair, which allows for many types of āsana, such as twists and backbends, to be performed even when the body is aging. Even when walking and standing are challenges, the support of the chair allows for variations of standing āsanas. In the last chapter of this book I present two sequences especially designed for aging people.
Chairs also allow all practitioners to remain longer in advanced and difficult āsanas that would otherwise be impossible, or would require great effort. They allow us to remain in these āsanas without effort and to relax deeply. For example, Viparita Daṇḍāsana is a challenging backbend (see photo on page XXX) which requires great strength and flexibility, but can be done, with the support of the chair, by almost anyone.
Moreover, all people can use chairs (not necessarily yoga-chairs) to repose and stretch during work – simple twists and stretches can be done on regular chairs. Some of the Variations in this book can be done on many types of chair, thus enabling anyone to do a short practice in the midst of a long working day – to refresh and return to work with better focus and clarity. For some examples on how a regular chair can be used at home or at the office, see sequence 3 in Chapter 12.
Remember however, that while props are an important feature of Iyengar Yoga, they should not be confused with its essence. Props are a means to achieve specific end – such as alignment, stability, precision, and extending the duration of remaining in āsanas. While I write about props, I do not recommend becoming dependent on props. In fact, I practice often at the beach, where I take with me only a towel and a belt, and use the sand as a prop. Props should be employed with discretion in pursuit of a more mature and mindful āsana practice. If you practice attentively, you will feel what kind of prop you need and will know how to use it.