Seated yoga poses are suitable for practitioners of all levels and help to tone the core as well as promote better posture. You can do them at the beginning of a yoga class to warm up the body, or at the end of the class to cool your body down.
While all yoga poses are good for improving general flexibility, seated yoga poses are especially beneficial for lower body opening. By sitting down, yogis benefit from better stability which facilitates the opening of the muscles in the legs (hamstrings, calves and quads), hips and abdominals.
Because seated yoga poses tend to be gentler than other categories of poses such as standing or balancing poses, these are suitable for seniors and beginners alike.
This post will cover the basic seated yoga poses that are most commonly practised in a yoga class and provides variations for gentler stretches. As usual, the Sanskrit names of the yoga poses are in parentheses
12 seated yoga poses to get you started
1. Easy pose [Sukhasana]
Easy Pose or Sukhasana is usually the starting point of many practices and is a basic seated yoga pose. This is done by sitting in a simple cross-legged position.
Although a very basic posture, Easy Pose is particularly good to practice if your hips are very tight. If you have a yoga block at hand, you can sit on the block so your hips are higher than your knees.
If you are always sitting on a chair, come down to the floor a few times a day and sit in Easy Pose. This can do wonders to your hips and encourage proper spinal alignment.
Hold for 5-10 breaths.
2. Easy Pose Side Bend Variation [Sukhasana]
Stretch the sides of the abdominals with a side stretch variation of Easy Pose.
- Extend your both hands towards the ceiling
- Lower the right hand and place it by your right body
- Bend towards the right, looking towards the extended left hand
- Open your chest to the ceiling and keep stretching across the entire left side body
- Root down through your sit bones
Hold for 3 breaths and switch sides, bending towards your left this time
Do 3 cycles of left and right side bends.
3. Thunderbolt pose [Vajrasana]
Thunderbolt pose helps to stretch the quad muscles of the thighs and the tops of the feet gently. It is a good alternative to cross-legged positions used for seated meditation, which may not be comfortable for some people.
- Come into a kneeling position with the tops of your feet flat on the mat
- Sit and rest your buttocks on your heels, touching the big toes together
- Relax your shoulders and allow your neck, head and spine to come into a neutral position
- Extend the crown of your head towards the ceiling
- Rest your hands on your thighs or come into prayer at heart centre with your hands
- Hold this pose for a few cycles of breath
- If your shoulders and chest are warmed up, you can place your hands in reverse prayer position behind your back
- If you are going to sit in this position for a longer period of time, place a meditation pillow between your bum and the ground to elevate your hips. This helps you to maintain spinal alignment for the posture.
4. Staff pose [Dandasana]
Staff pose helps to strengthen the back, abdominal muscles and hip flexors to help with improved posture over time.
- Sit on the mat with legs in front of you.
- Make sure to sit on your sitting bones and root them into the ground.
- Flex your feet actively, pressing your heels down and straightening your legs.
- Draw your knee muscles towards your hips.
- Place your palms beside your hips, pointing your fingers towards your feet. Press into your palms to help you sit up straight.
- Tuck in your chin slightly to lengthen your neck.
Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths.
- In case your palms do not press flat onto the ground, you can place a block below each palm so you can press yourself up to more comfortably.
- Be careful not to overextend your chest and arch your back. Instead, suck in your core and lengthen yourself upwards from your tailbone all the way through the crown of your head. Imagine a string pulling your head straight upwards towards the ceiling.
5. Seated forward fold [Paschimottanasana]
Seated forward fold stretches the entire back of the body, especially your hamstrings, calves, glutes and lower back.
- Starting in Staff Pose, extend your arms to the ceiling
- As you exhale, fold forward over your legs by rotating your pelvis forward
- Only come down as far as you can while ensuring your back remains flat.
- With each exhale, try to come down further without rounding your back
- If you are able to, grab the outer edge of your feet with your hands.
- If you are unable to touch your feet, you may wish to loop a strap or towel around your foot and use it to pull yourself deeper into the fold.
- For seniors, it might be best to simply rest your hands on your calves and keep this a gentle stretch
- Ensure that your spine is not rounded in this pose.
- It is highly important to relax your knees and thighs – do not try to force or overly pull your body to your legs. This can cause strains in the hamstrings and can be counterproductive.
6. Head to knee forward fold [Janu Sirsasana]
Head to knee forward fold is a great stretch for the hamstring of the extended leg as well as the hip of the bent leg. By working on each leg individually, you should be able to achieve a deeper stretch than you would with a forward fold with both legs.
- Sit with both legs in front of you
- Bend your right knee and place the sole of the right foot to the inner thigh of the left leg
- Lit your arms towards the ceiling and inhale
- While you exhale, extend your spine and bend forward. Try to reach your chest to your knee or forehead to your shin
- Hold your foot with your hands
- Stay in this pose for a few breaths
- Inhale to sit back up and switch the configuration of your legs for the other side.
- If you are unable to hold your extended foot with your hands, loop a strap or towel around your foot and use it to pull yourself deeper into the fold.
- For seniors, as with Seated Forward Fold, it might be best to simply rest your hands on your calves instead of forcing the forward fold
- Keep your back flat and focus on extending your spine while you bend forward. If this is too much, do not force yourself nor allow your spine to round
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7. Cobbler’s pose with or without forward fold [Baddha Konasana]
Cobbler’s pose, also known as Butterfly or Bound Angle pose, is a good stretch for the inner thighs and a hip opener
- Come into a sitting position with the soles of your feet pressed together in front of you
- Press the outer edges of your feet together and hold your feet
- Lengthen your spine start bending forward
- Ensure your spine is straight and not rounded while you bend forward
- Stay here for a few cycles of breath, deepening the forward fold with each exhalation
- If your knees are very high in this pose, place a block under each knee for better support
- For a deeper stretch, open your feet like a book with your hands while you fold forward. Try to touch the forehead or chin to the ground while keeping your sitting bones grounded
- Ensure that your back is not rounded; keep extending it through your forward fold
8. Seated Wide-Legged Straddle Pose [Upavistha Konasana]
Seated wide-legged straddle pose provides a good stretch for your hips and inner thighs. It is a good preparation pose for most of the seated twists, and the wide-leg poses.
- Come into a sitting position with your legs open wide at an angle of around 90 degrees
- Press your hands against the mat and extend even more – those who have the flexibility to do so may come into a middle split
- Keep your thighs and heels pressed against the mat
- Flex your feet, keeping your knees and toes pointing toward the ceiling
- Hold the pose for a few cycles of breath
- If you cannot sit comfortably on the mat, place a blanket, bolster or pillow below your hips to keep them raised.
- For a more challenging variation, bend forward from your pelvis. Increase the forward bend on each exhalation until you feel a comfortable stretch in the backs of your legs
- If you are unable to bend forward without rounding your back, stop and simply focus on creating length through your spine
9. Revolved Head to Knee Pose [Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana]
The revolved head to knee pose is highly beneficial for stretching out the side of the body, spine, hamstring and shoulders all at once.
As a spinal twist, this pose is believed to improve digestion, relieve headaches, calm the nerves and help with insomnia. It is a great stretch to perform after sitting for long periods of time or after a strenuous run.
- Start in seated wide-legged straddle pose (the previous pose)
- Bend your right knee and place the right foot close to the pelvic bone and inner left thigh
- Extend your right arms upwards and lean your upper body to the left as much as possible
- Hold the left inner foot with your right arm, bringing the back of your arm towards the inside of the left leg. You can press the arm into the leg for resistance as you twist
(Note: Your arm should be rotating inwards in order to be able to hold this position)
- Open your chest to the ceiling and look towards your right hand
- Keep your right biceps over the right ear, and your right arm straight as your stretch
- Hold for a few cycles of breath before changing to the other side
- If you are unable to hold your left foot, use a strap to assist you instead
- For more advanced yogis, you can try to grab your extended foot with both legs. Just make sure not to compromise on your twist or round your back. It is more important to keep your chest opened toward the ceiling than to hold your toes.
- Do not lift your bent knee as you bend left, try to imagine a heavy stone pressing your knee down. Keep both sitting bones grounded to the mat
- To prevent strain, you want your torso and head to be in a straight line without your head dropping down or your back rounding.
10. Half Lord of the Fishes [Ardha Matsyendrasana]
Half Lord of the Fishes or Ardha Matsyendrasana in Sanskrit is a seated twist post that opens the shoulders and chest and improves overall spinal health.
- From Staff Pose, walk your right palm one foot backwards
- Cross the right leg over the left, placing the right foot on the mat close to the left knee
- Bend in your left leg, with the left foot close to the buttocks
- Extend your left arm towards the ceiling and wrap it around your right knee, pulling your knee towards your chest
- Look over the right shoulder towards the back and lengthen through your spine
- Press into your right palms and your hips
Hold for a few cycles of breath.
- For more advanced students, you may like to extend your left leg forward instead of having it bent
- For a deeper twist, press your left elbow against the outside of the right knee
- Inhale to extend your spine, exhale to twist more
11. Cow face pose [Gomukhasana]
Cow Face Pose is a full body stretch which helps to open the hips, ankles, shoulders and chest. This is another highly beneficial pose for people who sit a lot or have bad postures – the chest and hip opening effects of the pose will counter often-seen back hunching slump most people adopt while sitting.
- Start in a comfortable cross-legged position and stack your right knee on top of your left. You may use your hands to manually adjust your legs
- Extend your left arm towards the ceiling and bend the elbow so that your left-hand touches the back of the neck or the shoulders
- Extend your right arm to the right side, bend the elbow and bring the right arm up to the centre of the back to meet your left hand
- Clasp your hands as they meet behind your back
- Draw both elbows towards the centre, pressing your head into your left arm
- Hold for a few cycles of breath before switching sides for both the legs and arms
- If you are unable to clasp your hands behind your back, you can hold your shirt or use a strap
- For a deeper hip opener, bring your feet further away from your body
- You may also come into a forward bend while keeping the spine long and hands joined. Just make sure you do not experience any discomfort
- Make sure to keep your spine aligned and not twist it to be able to clasp your hands
- Do not stick your ribs out while you clasp your hands
12. Half boat [Ardha Navasana] or boat pose [Navasana]
Boat pose is one of the best ways to help strengthen abdominal muscles. It is considered one of the must-practice poses if you want core strength to do other yoga poses including standing poses, arm balances and inversions.
Beginners typically get introduced to Half Boat Pose, the bent leg variation of the full posture. As the core strength increases, yogis can work towards the straight leg version and subsequently increase the duration held for this pose.
- Start in a seated position with knees bent in front of you and feet flat on the mat
- Lift your feet off the floor keeping your knees bent and bringing your shins parallel to the floor
- As your torso leans backwards naturally, keep it extended, activate your core so that you do not let the spine round
- Keep your shoulders drawn back and straighten your arms so that it is almost parallel to the floor
- This bent knee version is the Half Boat Pose
For the full expression of Boat Pose:
- If you are more experienced or want a more challenging posture, straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle while maintaining a straight back
- Keep your hands extended in front of you and your upper body to be as straight as possible, making a V-shape with your legs.
- Balance on your sitting bones
- Hold for at least 5-8 cycles of breaths
If you find it hard to balance on your sitting bones, try leaning drawing your tailbone in and leaning ever so slightly back so you sit on a fleshier part of your buttocks. This will require you to use more core strength to maintain your extended spine, but you will be able to find stability much easier
- If you find this pose too difficult, start by holding the backs of your thighs with your hands instead of having it extended. Your hands can also help pull you upwards to help you keep a straight spine
- For those
who want a challenge,
- lower both your legs and torso towards the mat but do not touch the mat. Return to full or half Boat pose. Repeat a few times.
- Instead of just extending your arms, hold on to your big toes with your hands. Keep shoulders away from your ears. Hold for a few breaths.
End with Shavasana
Release your hands and legs. Spread your legs mat-width apart, and your palms facing up
Close your eyes and breathe deeply
Stay here for as long as you need.
How do you feel after doing this sequence? Was there anything not in this post that you would like to write about or further explain?
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The YogaMad is founded by Candace, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.