Practicing chair pose usually elicits a strong reaction, most likely because it can be mentally difficult and physically taxing. It engages muscles in the whole body and quickly brings your attention to the present moment as you feel the heat being generated in the muscles. Regardless of its reputation, it has lots of benefits both on and off the mat.
To come into the pose, start by standing tall on your mat. Sweep the hands up over head and simultaneously bend your knees and send your sitz bones back as if you were going to sit in an invisible chair. Once in the pose, lift and open your chest and draw your shoulder blades down the back. Gently draw your abdominal muscles up and back (as if you were going to zip up a tight pair of pants) and reach your tailbone downward. Let your attention come to your feet letting the weight come back into the heels. Then, actively press them into the mat firming up your legs and creating a stable base. Take 5 long, extended deep breaths. To come out of the pose, build strength from your feet, by rooting the feet into the earth engaging the thigh muscles and pressing your way back up to standing.
Note that there are many variations for your arms. You can explore reaching the fingertips in front of you or bringing the hands to prayer position in front of the heart. You can also bring the arms out to the side with your forearms/fingers pointing to the sky in cactus arms as well. In all cases, work towards opening the chest and looking up to engage the muscles in the back and keeping a long strong spine.
You should skip this pose if you have major knee or ankle problems, pain or recent surgery.
In trauma informed yoga, chair pose is often used as a grounding pose if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or triggered in anyway. By feeling your feet on the earth while engaging the large muscles of the legs, your mind is brought quickly to the present moment making it very grounding. This is a quick and effective way to regulate feelings of anxiety or disassociation, should they occur while practicing yoga or in daily life.
From a physical stand point, chair pose stabilizes the ankle, knee and hip joints by strengthening the small muscles that attach to the joints. It also strengthens the large muscles of the quadriceps and the gluteal muscles. Additionally, it opens the chest and shoulders and creates strength in the back, while also building core strength.
On an emotional level, chair pose can help you move into your power center and prepare you for action. Not only are you building a strong foundation to propel you forward, but you are building strength in the mind. To feel strong physically translates to more stamina to move through the difficult emotions, thoughts and experiences. Think: I’ve got this! I am strong! I am powerful!