The Subtle & Profound Magic of Chair Yoga

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As yoga practitioners, we often look to the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as the primary text for the fundamental teachings and philosophy. But the section of the sutras that we rarely talk about is the third chapter, in which Patanjali details the magical powers that can be gained through our practice.

He warns that we shouldn’t be attached to these powers—yet he shares them nonetheless. Intensive meditation, or samyama, can produce these magical results, he explains. For example, meditating on a feather can enable us to levitate, meditating on the shape of someone’s physical form can allow us to read their mind, meditating on an elephant can lend us its strength, meditating on the sun provides knowledge of the entire solar system, meditating on our heart allows us to know our own mind, and much more.

Contemporary practitioners are probably less interested in levitation than longevity. But there is a magic here that hasn’t been thoroughly explored. The fact is, yoga was designed to offer us effective ways to work with our mind and direct our energy, or prana. It asks us to engage with the essential elements of life itself—energy and consciousness—rather than simply going through the motions.

Everyday Magic

It’s easy to forget about the magic around us. Our nervous system is designed to pay attention to what changes and mostly ignore what stays the same. We tend to overlook the everyday magic in each breath and every step. Yoga helps heighten our awareness and shift our perception so that we can perceive what’s special in the seemingly mundane.

Chair yoga has a mundane quality about it. Most of us can easily imagine ourselves practicing it. “I’ll just sit in this chair and do a little stretching and breathing.” It’s almost too simple.

But that’s where the magic exists—simply being open to the possibility. Once we start practicing, yoga takes care of the rest. We do some simple movements while connecting the breath to the body and all of a sudden we notice a sense of calm has come over us out of seeming nowhere. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, peace seems to appear from nothing.

The thing is, the rabbit was there all along, hidden inside the hat. Our peace is like that rabbit. It’s sometimes hidden from us, but it’s always there beneath the surface, waiting to be revealed.

What Makes Yoga…Yoga?

The challenge is, how can we find a yoga practice that effectively reminds us of that magic?

We often make yoga more complicated than necessary. The way we can turn any activity into yoga is by doing it with conscious awareness that cultivates an inward focus rather than an external focus. Try it now. Simply lengthening the spine on an inhalation or raising an arm with awareness of every sensation can cultivate the state of yoga.

When I’m training yoga teachers to teach chair yoga, I often ask them what the difference is between a chair yoga class and a chair exercise class. On the surface, they may appear to be the same. The answer is how and where we focus the mind.

The alchemy of yoga is the transformation that comes from changing our perspective. This can feel especially magical when we are stuck or unable to see a way out of a difficult situation. By focusing the mind, we gain access to the power of yoga in untold ways. We let go of the traditional asanas (poses) and focus on the more essential elements of practice. We can become conscious of the ways we move, the ways we breathe, the ways we feel, and the ways we act.

We then begin to make conscious choices where we may have previously engaged in a routine response. That’s when the magic happens–by harnessing the power of the mind through a focused practice. And it’s available to all of us.


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