Variable Balans Kneeling Chair Versus The Yoga Chair: Why Looks Can Be Deceptive

The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife is often copied and yet try as they may its imitators can’t even come close to replicating the quality of its stainless steel blade, which keeps its edge for years. Sure, it looks the same until you come to use it. As you will see in this article looks and function are two very different things.

What is the Variable Balans kneeling chair?

Variable Balans Kneeling Chair

The Variable Balans has a pedigree as long as your arm. It’s the original commercially produced wood knee chair. Designed by Peter Opsvik and launched in the late 1970s by Stokke and subsequently Varier. Its basic model is still produced to the same design and has sold in tens of thousands over the past 30+ years.

Its iconic design has been voted one of the 50 designs that changed the world by Germany’s H.O.M.E. Magazine.

What is the Yoga Chair?


Yoga Chair

The recently introduced Yoga chair is basically a carbon copy of the Variable Balans and initially at a quick glance looks identical to the real thing. It’s highly competitively priced and sells for just $99, a quarter of the cost of the Variable Balans.

Not surprisingly this generates a lot of interest because people feel they are getting a top design kneeling seat for a fraction of the cost. On closer inspection though, many of the similarities are skin deep.

What are the differences between the Variable Balans Chair and the Yoga Chair?
To start with, the most noticeable difference between the two is when you sit in them. The whole idea of the design of the Variable Balans is its ability to rock as you move on it. To achieve this the frame is made from top quality laminated Beech plywood. Its natural springiness creates the perfect tension in the frame to make moving and rocking easy and natural

By contrast the Yoga chair whilst also made of laminated wood is constructed from an inferior wood, which is brittle and feels dead and makes rocking and movement difficult.

The frame on the Balans is beautifully polished and lacquered to a very high standard. Unfortunately, the Yoga frame is poorly finished with lacquer runs and even areas with no finish at all.

Fabric and foams are high quality on the Variable Balans and neatly finished off, whereas the Yoga upholstery is poorly applied with details on corners that are frankly amateurish.

The Variable Balans is also available with a backrest, however there is no backrest option with the Yoga chair.

Finally, there is the acid test, what warranties do the products carry? The Variable Balans has a 7 year warranty however the Yoga chair has just 1 year.
This is very telling. Why? I call it the acid test because when you boil everything down it expresses the manufacturer’s confidence in its product.

On the one hand Varier is happy and confident to guarantee its seat for 7 years because they know the chances of returns will be slim to none. It has thousands of users with kneeling chairs they bought 20 or more years ago and still going strong.

With only 1 year’s warranty on a Yoga chair this is a big alarm bell, because it expresses little confidence in its quality by the supplier. Of course you may disagree with my warranty argument, so let’s look at what users of the 2 products have to say about them.

What do buyers of the Yoga chair say about it?
Buyers have left some pretty damning feedback on the quality of the chair and although there are some positive comments these are outweighed by the negative ones, here’s a selection.

  • “I had high hopes for this chair. Unfortunately, when something seems to good to be true, it probably is. First of all, the price point is great – but not for the quality… I should have known that you can't actually purchase a decently made wood product for $99. The chair was difficult to assemble, not because of design, but because of manufacture – none of the holes lined up and the materials were very poor. For the first few days I sat in the chair for a few hours, but soon after I realized that this is NOT an authentic kneeling chair, just a plain old poorly made copy. SAVE YOUR MONEY FOR THE REAL THING. ”
  • “Unfortunately the price of 99 is much too high for this product. I don't understand why the producer of this product did not spend another 10 bucks for two addition bracers below the seat and below the leg pads. Really simple. The current product has probably a value of 20$ so there would still be enough profit. Don^t buy this product if you are looking for reasonable quality. I bought some bracers in Home Depot to make the chair work and not fall apart.”
  • “I bought one of these chairs and it has been a disaster since I assembled it. The screws won't stay in place and the chair is falling apart. It's comfortable–I love the concept, but this model is a hunk of junk. I plan to fork out the money for one of the Norwegian built chairs. I had one of those for over 20 years and I wore out the upholstery. The frame was as solid as ever.”

And when you bear in mind many people will be commenting on their initial impressions before using it extensively, they don’t exactly inspire confidence do they?

What do buyers of the Variable Balans say about it?
Here are 3 comments from recent online buyers of the seat.

  • “After I first was not sure about kneeling position, I was shown that changing position is key and that kneeling is just one of many positions. I bought this chair with backrest and I'm now a fan and NOTHING would make me use an ordinary chair ever again!! I LOVE it and will be doing a piece in the womens magazine that I am working for singing its praises.”
  • “I purchased my Stokke's chair in 1986 while stationed in Germany. I just got it back from the upholstery shop. This 25 year old chair is still going strong with absolutely nothing wrong with it and this was the first time I've had to have it upholstered. I've found it to be the perfect chair to spend long hours at my computer while playing games without aches or pains. If you need to sit for hours give it a try and see if you don't agree.”
  • “I have tried a bunch of kneeling chairs and decided to purchase this one. I ordered sample colors and chose the Ferrari Red. It was easy to put together and arrived just a few days after I ordered. I'm about 5'8″ and I wasn't really sure about the size but this worked out great. My roommate is a little over 6′ and now we have to keep it at our living room desk because he keeps taking it out of my room.Overall I'm really happy with my purchase and would recommend this chair.”

25 Year Old Balans Knee Chair

And here’s a comment Varier received from a buyer who bought his Variable Balans in 1986 and still uses it daily.

“I purchased this in ’86! Use it all of the time, very comfortable, can spend hours working with no fatigue. Still has the same covers”

He even sent a picture of it, and it still looks great doesn't it?

Overall verdict
There is a reason for the huge price variation between these 2 products, which can be summed up in a single word. Quality.

Whilst a Yoga chair may be OK for very occasional use, if you plan to make frequent use of your kneeling chair go for the Swiss Army Knife version the Variable Balans. There’s no denying it’s not cheap, nonetheless when you consider it will easily last 20 years or more it represents a sound investment.


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3 Responses to “Variable Balans Kneeling Chair Versus The Yoga Chair: Why Looks Can Be Deceptive”

  1. We are authorized web dealers for Varier in the states. We have sold hundreds of the Variable along with many other Varier models.We bought a Yoga chair for testing.This is what we found.
    1. Very marginal quality in terms of the frame.Arrived with some rough edges.
    2. Poor foam quality
    3. Chair ‘racks’ a bit when used
    4. Knee pads are too far away from the seat. If you are under 6′ you will find this real uncomfortable

    We basically wasted the $99 for we should have known that at this price it would be a real compromise

  2. This is really a fantastic and accurate review and write up of these two products.

    We, too, are authorized dealers of Varier in the US and have found Varier durability and craftsmanship to be unparalleled to many other manufacturers.

    Thank you so much for pointing out what users of both the Variable Balans and the Yoga Chair already know: comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges.

    Lastly, your point about warranties is well taken. If you want to know whether a manufacturer stands behind its products, ask about the warranty.

  3. I think ultimately, the most important thing that you really want to look for in anything that you want to buy is the quality. when you are given two options, it is very important that you choose quality over price. Just as much as when you purchase a new furniture set, I would strongly suggest you contact a furniture assembly specialist to ensure quality and safety of the assembly. Nice article!

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