Yoga Questions: Why do we do so many chair poses, and why are they so hard?

My students are my best teachers, they ask the most insightful questions that force me to think about what I'm teaching and why it's important. Intention is everything, without a conscious intention behind the practice, we are subjected to the whims of the unconscious. 

Tiffany Nguyen asked me, "Why do we do so many chair poses, and why are they so hard?"

The first reason we teach chair poses are that they are fundamental poses that teach us strength, structure, and stability. These are fundamental skills in any yoga practice. Fundamentals are actually the hardest techniques to learn. Most students come to yoga wanting to stand on their head, and many of them lack the patience they will need to first learn to stand on their feet. Chair pose teaches those skills, and while you're patiently awaiting your teacher to release you to fold forward and experience the sweet liberation, you are forced to confront the way you react under stress. Can you breathe and be nice to yourself, even when life gets challenging? 

Adding stress is the second reason we practice chair pose. I imagine some of you might be confused by that response, as you came to yoga to relieve stress, not multiply it! The thought process behind this technique is counter-intuitive. If we want to relieve stress, we have to learn to live with it and breathe into it. Life will not relent. My own practice has taught me that, with growth, our responsibilities tend to get more complicated, not less; it is our ability to add technical skill that we learn how to manage stress and take on more. A tree that grows taller needs a bigger root system to sustain growth. The intensity of a chair pose not only helps up to deal with the mental stress of growing and expanding, it also creates physical stress on the bones, which actually strengthens our bones and legs, which are our body's own root system. 

This brings me to the third reason to do chair pose, and to do it A LOT! The more we do something, the more skillful we become in that technique. As we do chairs over and over, with patience, we start to see our structure change. Eventually the muscle realizes it can't do all the work, and we are forced to learn to work in the joint space. Joints are designed like a hinge, and if you can learn to fold and unfold the hip space in a chair pose, you will learn to open and close safely, opening up hundreds of new poses in your practice! 

Come to class, let's fold and unfold you like the little human origamis you are designed to be!