Chair Surya Namaskar

“Since my illness, I’m not able to get down to the floor to do my Surya Namaskar practice. When you come to India next week can you show me yoga poses to get back to my previous level of fitness?” This was my mother’s query approximately 10 years ago. This gave me an opportunity to explore asanas in a chair in preparation for the trip. I discovered that many asanas could be performed using a chair – seated and standing including Surya Namaskar.  Now, chair yoga has its own certification requirements!

Chair as a Yoga Prop

Back then, Iyengar yoga had already popularized the use of chairs and other props in creative ways allowing a student to learn alignment correctly and go deeper into poses safely. Chair is considered a prop in yoga-asana practice.

Using props during yogaasana practice is becoming necessary for alignment and safe transitions as the students are coming into class with poor flexibility, injuries or stiff joints. Some, unable to bend but push to stay in certain poses for longer, may be compromising their safety and setting themselves up for injuries. And those who are older and/or recovering from surgery or illnesses feel depressed that they can’t go back to their exercise routines especially if they were active before their illness. Here, props can help.

Of course, the ego will not allow the use of yoga props at first. Try considering a prop as a supportive companion; it provides a way to ease into yogaasana or exercising –again. You can always discontinue their use once the body regains its health and you are able to come into the asana with steadiness and comfort.

Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is becoming increasingly popular and has found its way into senior citizen centers and skilled nursing facilities. It is also safe to practice chair yoga during pregnancy. A complete yoga class starting with warm-ups, strengthening asanas, poses, and cool down can be designed using a chair as a prop. The class may end with breathing practices and short meditation making it a fulfilling practice.

Surya Namaskar, salutations to the sun using a chair is an invigorating practice even if it did not originate in the Himalayas. A valid question – can Sun Salutations really be performed using a chair? Absolutely!

Chair Surya Namaskar 

Thanks to the internet you may already be aware of different versions of Surya Namaskar that are being performed using a chair. But finding one that mimicked the traditional sun salutation with mantras was difficult. With a few modifications and test practices, the following two sets were born that have proved to be effective with family and friends alike.

Here are two versions of Surya Namaskar with twelve asanas and manthras using a chair. Please try them out on yourself, your family or friends and let me know if they were beneficial.

Seated-Chair Surya Namaskar

This is a version you can use if you feel weak following an illness or surgery, have poor balance and are not ready to be on your feet.

The names of asanas and corresponding manthras are tabled below.

Asana Manthra
Sama Sthitihi (Even Standing)
1.    Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) OM Mitraaya Namaha
2.    Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Hand) OM Ravayay Namaha
3.    Hasta Padasana (Forward Fold) OM Suryaya Namaha
4.    Parshva Vakrasana (R ForwardTwist) OM Bhanavay Namaha
5.    Hasta Padasana (Forward Fold) OM Khagaya Namaha
6.    Sama Konasana (Right Angle Pose) OM Pushnay Namaha
7.    Naagasana (Serpent Pose) OM Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha
8.    Sama Konasana (Right Angle Pose) OM Marichayay Namaha
9.    Parshva Vakrasana (L ForwardTwist) OM Adityaya Namaha
10. Hasta Padasana (Forward Fold) OM Savitray Namaha
11. Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Hand) OM Arkaaya Namaha
12. Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) OM Bhaskaraya Namaha
Sama Sthitihi (Even Standing)
  1. Roll out your yoga mat. Find a comfortable chair and place it on the mat.
  2. Sit towards the center of the chair, placing your feet firmly on the mat. Use blocks under your feet if your are not able to place them flat on the mat.
  3. Use the Divine Light Prayer by Swami Sivananda Radha to set an intention for your practice.
  4. Watch the following video to familiarize yourself with the names of asanas.

Then, follow the video, begin the practice of Surya Namaskar seated in your chair. Start with one or two rounds. Assess your body and breath before adding more rounds.

Of course the ego can make things difficult by saying “this is not the real Surya Namaskar “, trying to dissuade you from adopting this modified version of the traditional one. The idea is to awaken your will (Tapas) to bring movement back and honor the body through Ahimsa, non-harming. This is only a start. The body and mind will tell you when you are ready to resume original practices safely.

The breathing requirements in chair sun salutations are simple. Inhale as you lift your arms up and when you come up opening your chest. Exhale as you fold forward and your chest narrows. You may make the movements slower and breathe more often – especially if you feel like you are running out of breath. It is, however, best to learn from an experienced yoga instructor who can add transition poses or make modifications appropriate for you.

Once you have memorized the names of the asanas and the sequence, you can add reverence to the practice with the Japa  mantras. 

Here is a video of the seated version of Surya Namaskar with manthras.

Standing-Chair Surya Namaskar

When you are stronger, able to stand for longer periods of time and perform alternating bending and twisting movements without losing your balance, then try the Standing-Chair Surya Namaskar. 

Here is a table with the names of asanas and corresponding manthras.

Asana Manthra
Sama Sthitihi (Even Standing)
1.    Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) OM Mitraaya Namaha
2.    Hasta Uttanasana (Raised Hand) OM Ravayay Namaha
3.    Sama Konaasana (Walk Back R Angle) OM Suryaya Namaha
4.    Veera Bhadrasana (Warrior – R Leg) OM Bhanavay Namaha
5.    Hasta Padaasana (Forward FoldRH) OM Khagaya Namaha
6.    Sama Konasana (Right Angle Pose) OM Pushnay Namaha
7.    Suraasana (Snake Pose) OM Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha
8.    Sama Konaasana (Right Angle Pose) OM Marichayay Namaha
9.    Veera Bhadrasana (Warrior -L Leg) OM Adityaya Namaha
10.  Hasta Padaasana (Forward Fold -LH) OM Savitray Namaha
11.  Hasta Uttanasana (Walk Forward) OM Arkaaya Namaha
12.  Pranamasana (Prayer Pose) OM Bhaskaraya Namaha
Sama Sthitihi (Even Standing)

NOTE: One hand can always hold the chair if necessary.

  1. Place the chair at the top of the mat for this Surya Namaskar. You will avoid slipping and it will give you enough space to move your feet backward during the practice.
  2. Watch the following video of StandingChair Surya Namaskar to learn the names of the asanas and the movements in this version.

Then, following along with the video, begin your practice. Remember you can always remain reaching distance from the chair so you can hold onto it whenever you need to, even if the video doesn’t show it.

Again, once you have memorized the names of the asanas and the sequence, you can add reverence to the practice with the Japa mantras.

NOTE: In this version, additional movements are seen in the video but not clearly designated as poses. For example #11, you will walk forward first and then come into raised hand  pose # 2. These movements help you to safely transition into the poses in the sequence. The idea was to keep the number of asanas to twelve so that the traditional Japa Manthras may be adapted into the sequence.

Here is a video of the StandingChair Surya Namaskar with manthras.

Other Asanas

If after following a recent health crisis, you began your practice with seated sun salutations and have graduated to a standing version, you are on your way to regaining your health. Congratulations on your commitment to your practice.

There are other asanas, poses that can be done using a chair – seated and standing, that are effective in strengthening and lengthening the muscles. You can explore other resources – books, online videos or DVD’s to develop a routine – especially if you need it only for a short period of time. Of course, finding a yoga instructor to guide you safely through chair yoga and take you to next level of practice is the best.

I can’t tell you how pleased and grateful my mother was that she could actually do the Surya Namaskar and many other asanas in a chair and quickly worked her way back to her old fitness routine. And each time she had a health setback (which we all will probably succumb to due to aging, disease or injuries) she went back to using the chair to safely modify her exercise routines. In fact, we made a few video recordings last summer during her visit to New Jersey to help her remember the movements and alignment. I’m delighted to see her continue to use these asanas safely to keep up her fitness level as she ages. It is giving her the chance to be active and freedom participate in many religious and social activities of her liking.

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