From Yoga Pose DIY

Chair Yoga to Open Your Chest and Shoulders

Chair Yoga Chest and Shoulders

The chest and shoulders enable a sense of freedom and creativity throughout daily activities when they are in balance. They allow us to reach out to the world around us and connect with others. Unfortunately, most Westerners suffer from an excess of tension in this region due to our fast paced, high-stress lifestyles.

This has left many of us feeling alone, uninspired, and overwhelmed by the demands of daily life. Luckily, there are ways to restore balance to the chest and shoulders so that you can breathe freely and embrace life again.

When the burdens of life pile up on the shoulders, this can literally weigh us down and restrict our movement. The muscles at the back of the neck tend to hold onto stress and anxiety. On top of this, most of us have our heads pointing down toward screens, books, and projects we’re working on for a substantial portion of the day.

The neck and shoulders round forward as we do this, forcing the muscles in the back of the neck to overcompensate by tensing up even more. Poor postural habits coupled with stress can accumulate quickly in the neck and shoulders, resulting in the all too common “text neck,” neck and shoulder aches, headaches, fatigue, and overwhelm.

This is almost always accompanied by a sunken chest and hunched upper back. It’s is a subconscious way of protecting the physical and spiritual heart center. Unfortunately, a sunken chest also constricts breathing which in turn lowers the amount of oxygen that reaches the blood. Reversing these effects with “heart opening” yoga poses will increase your energy and your lung capacity.

With your juices flowing freely, you’ll be much better equipped to take on whatever life throws at you and grow stronger in the process. In Hatha Yoga, we work from the outside in and nothing works in isolation from the whole. You may be surprised by the profound effect that chest and shoulder openers have on your energy levels, your emotions, and your ability to manage stress.

Opening the chest and shoulders is a powerful way to remedy this.There are many wonderful yoga poses which do the trick, but here I’ve included the top four ways that you can use a chair to help you reset your posture and restore balance to this important region of the body. The chair makes the poses more accessible to beginners and people with limited mobility, but advanced practitioners will also benefit from the extra support.

Try it Yourself! 

In all of the poses pictured below, the back of the chair is braced against the wall. It is possible to do everything without support from the wall if all four legs of the chair are on a sticky mat, but I find that the wall definitely lends the most sturdiness.

Downward Facing Dog gets a boost from the seat of a chair. This reduces the pressure on the wrists and shoulders so that you can focus on releasing tension instead of feeling like you are going to collapse. I have included a video demonstration of this from my instagram feed.

HalfForwardFold - JPEG1. Stand about two feet away from the chair with your feet positioned hip distance apart. Ground through your feet into the floor as you inhale and reach your hands up over your head.

2. Exhale, bending over at the hips (not from the waist), bringing hands down until they land on the seat of the chair and your torso is parallel with the floor in half forward fold.

  • To avoid confusion: In the video, I exhaled all the way into full Forward Fold, then inhaled back up to Half Forward Fold.
    • There should be a right angle between your legs and torso, and the back should be completely flat.
    • If the hamstrings are tight and the spine starts to round out behind you, bend the knees.

DownwardFacingDog - JPEG3. Inhale and look up, bending both knees.

4. Exhale, stepping the feet back to Downward Facing Dog. IMPORTANT: Keep the knees bent at first, pressing your booty up and backward while keeping your back flat.

5. Smooth and steady breathing as you line up your ears with the insides of the arms or allow the chin to come down toward the chest if this is comfortable for your neck.

6. Exhale and press the backs of the legs straight back as you lower the heels toward the floor, only going as far as you comfortably can.

  • Try “walking the dog” or “peddling the feet” by bending one knee as you straighten the opposite leg and then switching sides as though peddling a bike. This really helps to loosen things up and gives it IT Bands a better stretch.

To come out of the pose, inhale and look up as you step the feet back to starting position, returning to half forward fold. Exhale and deepen the fold by lowering your head toward the seat of the chair, then inhale up to standing.

ExtendedPuppy - JPEG

Half Feathered Peacock is a fairly advanced posture, but when you rest your knees on the floor and place your elbows on the seat of a chair, you can enjoy all the benefits of the full posture in a much more accessible format. Cushion your knees with a folded up blanket or yoga mat.

1. Begin on hands and knees in front of the chair, hands are about six inches away from the front chair legs.

2. Place elbows on the seat of the chair one at a time and bring hands into prayer. Hug your shoulder blades to the back ribs and keep them hugging in the whole way through.

3. Point the sitting bones straight out behind you as you lengthen through the back and breathe in.

4. Exhale as you lower your head until the ears are lined up with the inner arms. If you are comfortable going further, you can lower the head and look between your knees.

  • Experiment with arching the chest toward the floor to create a backbend and deepen the stretch.

To come out, inhale and look up. Make sure the shoulder blades are still hugging the backs of the ribs. Place one hand at a time onto the floor and come back to all ours.

Supported Fish Pose Matsyasana Fish Pose can be very taxing on the neck, but with the right support it can open the hearts-pace in a way that is pleasant and relaxing. It energizes the physical and spiritual heart while refreshing the mind and calming the nerves.

Usually I support Fish Pose with a bolster under the back, as I demonstrated in an earlier post entitled, “Resting Fish Pose, a Mini Vacation,” which you can read  HERE . This time, we will sit in front of a chair and arch back over the edge of the seat instead of laying down with the back arched over a bolster.

1. Sit with your back to the chair about a half a foot away from the edge of the seat, feet on the floor about hip distance apart.

2. Engage your core as you inhale and sit up tall, then exhale and lean backwards until your back is resting against the edge of the seat.

3. Inhale and arch through the chest as you raise the arms overhead until the hands meet in prayer. Rest your fingertips on the wall.

To come out, inhale the arms away from the wall as you sit up.

Camel Pose Ustrasana Camel Pose is wonderfully expansive and liberating for both the chest and shoulders. The full expression (with hands resting on the heels) is fairly advanced and can injure the lower back if it is forced. We usually modify Camel by placing the palms of the hands on the lower back instead of bringing them down to the heels.

Sometimes it is possible to reach blocks that have been placed next to the heels, but even that is still pretty advanced. With a chair you needn’t go that far, but you’re still benefiting from the leverage you get when your hands are anchored to something, which allows you to get more lift through the chest instead of compressing through the lower back.

1. Cushion your knees with a folded up mat or folded blanket. Kneel in front of the chair with your ankles more or less in line with the front legs of the chair.

2. Place the palms of the hands onto either side of the seat of the chair with the fingertips pointing back.

3. Press the hips forward.

4. Inhale and lift straight up through the sternum.

5. Simultaneously press forward through the hips and upward through the sternum (center of chest), especially emphasizing the lift through the chest.

6. Slowly lower the head back as far as you comfortably can without straining the neck.

To come out, bend at the knees, sitting your booty back and down as you slowly lift the head up, and then release the hands and sit on your heels. If you have trouble sitting on your heels, stack two yoga blocks between your ankles before you begin.

Fly Free! 

You can try one or all of the poses in the order I have listed or in whichever sequence feels best for you. Neck stretches will complement all of these poses perfectly, so feel free to mix them in at your discretion. Now that you are armed with some powerful tools and techniques, you are ready to move forward into this week with a little arsenal of secret weapons.

Anytime you feel the weight of the world piling up on your shoulders, remember that you don’t have to store it in your body. Breathe it out as you move through some blissful yoga poses and throw in some of these indispensable heart openers.

Fly free and know that love will be the wind beneath your wings. Until next time, wishing you a fantastic week.      Can you believe that Christmas is just around the corner?!?!    All my love and 1000 angel hugs to you xoxo








Welcome to Part 2 of “How to Build the Perfect Yoga Pose.”

In Part 1, we covered how to build the perfect yoga pose on a physical level. This month, we will delve deeper into the mind and learn my 5-Step formula for building the perfect yoga pose on a mental level.

In The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, yoga is defined as follows:

“Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.

Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.” 1

By cultivating a yogic state of mind, we facilitate the journey inward towards our true nature. From here, it is possible to hear the voice of spirit and be guided from within. This inner guidance system is attuned to the energy of harmony, peace, and happiness. Contrary to what many Westerners mistakenly believe, yoga is not a series of exotic poses. It is a state of being that results from a calm, relaxed mind. If any exercise is approached with the intention to tap into this peaceful state of mind, it is transformed into a yoga pose. In this sense, anything that is done with mindfulness is a yoga pose.

Let’s dive in and see how it’s done.



1. Be at ease and enjoy yourself.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that a yoga pose should be pleasant and easy.2 If you think enlightenment can be found by touching your forehead to your knees, you’re in for a rude awakening. This is the mindset that results in injury and ultimately, more suffering. A yoga pose is perfected when it unfolds in its own time and is enjoyed for its own sake, not to meet a particular goal. Release any attachment you may have to reaching a destination and just enjoy the journey.

Eg., “Reach toward your toes as far as you comfortably can and melt into it.”

2. Turn your awareness inward.

Notice how you feel. Practice listening deeply to your body and thoughts. Withdrawing your senses and turning your attention inward is the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). As you hold the pose, remember to breathe and be with the pose in the present moment. Listen to your body and be in constant dialogue with the signals it is relaying. Be in dynamic conversation with your body as you fine tune the pose in this beautiful stillness you’ve created. 

Eg., “Notice how you feel. Are your shoulders tensing up? Release them. Are you holding your breath? Allow the breath to flow and deepen.”

3. Concentrate

After turning your awareness inward, you may notice distracting thoughts creeping in, making it difficult to deepen your awareness any further. To help with stilling the mind, it is essential to practice Dharana (pointed concentration), the seventh limb of yoga. The object of focus can be thought of as a rope that guides you more deeply into yourself. If your mind wonders, you can always come back to your focal point. Traditionally, objects of focus have included mantras, deities, breathing techniques, and spiritual concepts. In yoga poses, the objects of focus are generally to do with the breath and the alignment of the body.

Eg., “As distractions arise, allow them to pass as you return to your breath.”


3. Find your balance.

Bring harmony to the yin/yang components of the pose by energizing the active muscles (the prime movers) and softening the more passive muscles (antagonist muscles). Balance your will to succeed with a willingness to surrender. There will always be some effort involved in a yoga pose but it must be balanced by a relaxed state of mind that is open and receptive to what the body, the heart, and the song of your spirit have to offer.

Eg., “As you bend forward into a forward fold, energize your feet, kneecaps, and thighs while relaxing the backs of the legs. If you experience any pain or discomfort, back off.”

4. Connect the dots.

Integrate all the elements, draw everything in, bring it all together and you will have a magnificent yoga pose. This is the binding element that bridges mind, body, and spirit. Envision yourself in the pose – steady, graceful, and at peace. Fully embody the essence of the pose. Eric Schiffman expressed it beautifully when he said to “fill out the shape of what you now are.”

Eg., “In mountain pose, the feet are grounding into the earth and a sense of effortless stability is felt. In simply standing tall, we embody the majestic spirit of the mountains.”



That sums up the mental aspects of a yoga pose. As you learn to harness the mind and let go of thoughts, you will gain a deep understanding of your true nature.

Next time, we’ll explore the spiritual dynamics of yoga poses and learn how to use the spiritual aspect of a yoga pose to supercharge your conductivity to grace. Many people begin a yoga practice to recieve its physical and mental health benefits, then become hooked on the practice after spontaneously experiencing the spiritual benefits. This is thanks to all the generous, caring yoga teachers who “sneak vitamins into the ice cream” as my teacher, Eoin Finn happily confesses to doing.

The spirit world is a vast field of divine intelligence that is flowing through all beings at all times. You could also call it inner knowing, heart intelligence, or wisdom. In the illusory material world, we often block this flow because it appears to defy logic when viewed through our limited human perception. When we are receptive to this stream, we allow it to inform our thoughts, words, and actions. From here, everything we do becomes a meditative art form. Everything we do becomes yoga.




Until next time, Peace & Blessings.

1 From The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Verse 1.2 – 1.3, translated by Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2003).
2 From The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Verse 2.46


This is a four part series of five-step instructions for creating the perfect yoga pose on every level; Part 1 – the body, Part 2 – the mind, Part 3 – the spirit, and Part 4 – integration.  Each level is broken down into five core principles, or “steps” to achieving harmony on that level within the pose. At the end, we’ll tie it all together in an integrated summary – the ultimate 5-Steps to building the perfect pose on every level.

The body is a great place to start because it is the easiest thing to focus on for most people, especially in the beginning. Once you have reigned in the body, it will cooperate with you more and you will have an easier time quieting your mind and connecting to your spirit. In fact, yoga poses were invented for this express purpose in the first place.



1. Breathe life into the pose.
Be conscious of the breath as you move into, hold, and release a pose. Be aware of the breath and return to it every time you think of it. Let it be your guide, informing the pace and intensity of your practice. Any time your breathing becomes labored, slow down or rest in a restorative pose.

E.g., “Inhale, stand tall as you ground through the feet. Exhale, dive down into a forward fold.”

2. Ground down.
A pose is only as strong as its foundation. In grounding down, we grow roots into the earth and draw on the power of Mother Nature to support us. We lay a solid foundation from the ground up. From here, we can build the pose. You must always ground down in order to build up.

E.g., ”Stand evenly, pressing all four corners of the feet and the tips of the toes into the floor.”

3. Float up.
As you ground down through whatever part of your body is in contact with the ground, you gain lift and lightness through the rest of the body. Feel this lightness lifting you. In standing poses, the top of the head floats up toward the ceiling. Backbends and twists invite us to open the heart and expand ourselves in all directions as we maintain space in between each vertebrae of the spine. Forward folds and Savasana allow us to surrender while maintaining length and room for energy to flow.

E.g., “As you continue to ground down through the feet in Mountain Pose, feel the arches of the feet lifting and the crown of the head floating up toward the ceiling.”

4. Complete the circuit of energy.
Gather all the components, integrate, and add the finishing touches. Make sure you’re activating all the lines of energy. Fill out the shape of the posture and become that shape more fully. With practice, you will master what Dr. Ray Long calls a “bandha,” or lock. Traditionally, specific bandhas are done at the root, abdomen, and throat to more effectively channel prana, the life force. Dr. Long suggests that a bandha can happen when the whole body awakens and unifies, resulting in a graceful, beautiful yoga pose. It could be thought of as a whole-body bandha. [1]

E.g., “In Tree Pose, ground down through the standing foot as the crown of the head floats up. Actively press your other foot into the inner thigh of the standing leg and vice versa. Press evenly through all four corners of each foot to activate pada bandha in the feet. Activate your Mula Bandha at the perineum and notice the extra lift and firming of the whole torso.”

5. Hold, breathe, and adjust as needed.
Continue to hold and breathe. Now you can begin to fine tune the pose, making the minor adjustments that seem so small yet can make such a big difference. As you relax into the pose, make sure your breathing is easy and steady, your facial expression is peaceful, and you are in optimal alignment. It might be that rotating the chest, lifting through the heart, or moving a hip slightly forward could trigger a moment of pure bliss for you.

E.g., “Still in tree pose, keep both hips facing forward and send the bent knee backward.”


So there it is, the magical formula. I’m sure there are as many formulas that would work just as well or better. As my teacher, Eoin Finn so aptly stated,

“In the end, we’re only just swapping recipes.”

As you uncover more and more layers to yourself, you will peel the veils of consciousness away until you have uncovered the pure spirit of your inner being. This time, we were introduced to the 5-Step formula for our bodies to experience the perfect yoga pose on a physical level. Next time, we will explore bringing mental awareness and balance to every yoga pose. In the third issue of this series, we will weave in the spiritual aspect of the pose. In the fourth and final issues, we’ll sum everything up and look at the big picture.

Once we practice bringing everything together, mastery of the pose and of the self is the natural, poetic result.

Peace Blessings,





1. Dr. Ray Long has his own perfect yoga pose formula, which he calls the Bandha Yoga Codex. It inspired me to try coming up with my own perfect recipe.