Yoga is undoubtedly a wonderful way to improve your physical and mental health. Yoga can increase your flexibility, strengthen muscles, improve your overall sense of well-being, decrease anxiety and stress, help you increase your mind-body connection and kinesthetic awareness, improve balance and core strength, and boost your mood, among other valuable benefits.
However, not everyone has the mobility, balance, and strength necessary to roll out a yoga mat and move into and out of poses on the ground and/or standing, especially if you have an acute or chronic injury, physical impairment or disability, or are deconditioned or older.
The good news is that another positive attribute of yoga as an exercise modality is that the practice is very diverse, meaning that there are so many ways to practice yoga and a very rich and vast library of different poses (asanas) and ways to modify then to make yoga approachable and accessible to almost anyone.
Chair yoga for seniors or people with mobility impairments or injuries is one of the best ways to enjoy the benefits of yoga in a safe and manageable way. Chair yoga eliminates the need to stand up and balance or get up and down from the floor, but you can still strengthen muscles and connect with your body.
In this guide to chair yoga for seniors, we will discuss some of the benefits of chair yoga for seniors in general and share some of the best chair yoga poses that you can do at home to get started on your yoga journey.
We will look at:
- What Is Chair Yoga?
- Benefits of Chair Yoga
- How to Get Started With Chair Yoga
- 7 Best Chair Yoga Poses for Seniors
Let’s dive in!
What Is Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga is a unique subtype of yoga that involves performing yoga poses while sitting in a chair or standing up holding onto a chair for support.
Developed by Lakshmi Voelker in 1982, chair yoga has become a therapeutic movement practice targeted especially at seniors or older adults as a safer and more comfortable way to engage in yoga despite limited mobility, lower fitness levels, visual or balance impairments, and weakness.
Most chair yoga poses are standard yoga poses that have been modified to enable them to be performed seated or holding onto a chair as a prop.
For example, one of the popular restorative yoga poses is Cat/Cow, which normally involves getting down on the yoga mat on your hands and knees and then moving gently through spinal flexion and extension in an alternating fashion with your back horizontal.
This yoga pose can be modified for chair yoga, enabling seniors or others with mobility impairments to reap the benefits of the pose without needing to get down on all fours on the floor.
Instead, when you are doing chair yoga, you can move to the front edge of your chair and move through the same two poses, flexing and extending the spine, with the back vertical rather than horizontal.
Chair yoga may be offered in a group setting, such as at a yoga studio, senior center, or a rehabilitation facility, or you can do at-home chair yoga by following a video or self-directing your own chair yoga poses.
Benefits of Chair Yoga
There are many benefits of chair yoga for seniors, and although chair yoga is particularly popular among older adults do you to the increased level of safety it provides, chair yoga is also a great option for anyone with mobility challenges, those with injuries, people just getting started on their fitness journey, and anyone who is sitting at a desk most of the day who wants to add a few healthy yoga poses to their fitness routine.
Benefits of chair yoga include the following:
- Allowing people with mobility issues, poor balance, or muscular weakness to practice yoga in a safer manner
- Increasing flexibility
- Increasing circulation
- Improving posture
- Decreasing the impact on bones and joints
- Increasing core strength and control
- Increasing muscular strength in the arms, shoulders, and legs, depending on which poses are practiced
- Improving breathing mechanics
- Improving the mind-body connection and awareness of the body in space
- Developing independence and self-efficacy
- Boosting mood, self-esteem, and feelings of well-being
How to Get Started With Chair Yoga
Before you begin any new exercise program, it’s a good idea to consult your physician to get a medical clearance and discuss any potential concerns or necessary modifications, especially if you are over the age of 40 or have any pre-existing medical conditions.
Once you’ve received the go-ahead to start chair yoga, you’re good to go to a chair yoga class or try chair yoga at home.
If you’re going to a chair yoga class, they should have all the necessary equipment you’ll need, including the chair, so all you need is comfortable clothing, shoes or grippy socks to prevent falls, a water bottle to stay hydrated, and a towel in case you sweat or want extra cushioning.
If you want to do your own chair yoga at home, you’ll need the right equipment. The proper chair will reduce the risk of injuries and will help you maximize the benefits of the workout.
Use a stable, armless chair that doesn’t wobble, wheel, spin, or rock. Ensure your workout space is flat and level, so that the chair is completely flush with the ground and level.
You’ll want to set up the chair in an area where you have ample room to move around the chair and extend your limbs in all directions without hitting anything.
7 Best Chair Yoga Poses for Seniors
Many yoga poses can be modified for chair yoga, but these are some of the best chair yoga poses for seniors or beginners looking to get started with some basic poses.
#1: Chair Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose is one of the basic grounding poses in yoga, often used between other poses as a transition or resting pose.
It can be modified for chair yoga by sitting on your chair instead of standing. You’ll still engage your core, work on your posture, and connect with your breath.
- Sit with your sit bones on the edge of your chair, with your knees bent to 90 degrees directly over your ankles and feet flat on the floor with your toes pointing forward. Your thighs should be parallel and hip-width apart.
- Sit up tall with your chest up, shoulders back, and gaze forward.
- Inhale, engaging your core by drawing your belly button into your spine and extending your spine, envisioning a string from the top of your head pulling you up towards the ceiling to lengthen your spine.
- Exhale, rooting down into your sit bones and feeling grounded and connected to the chair.
- Continue inhaling and exhaling in this manner for 10-20 full breaths.
#2: Chair Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
This is a great chair yoga pose for seniors or those with low back pain or stiffness or poor posture because it lengthens and stretches the spine.
- Sit up tall, core engaged, shoulders back, and chest up, with your sit bones on the edge of your chair, with your knees bent to 90 degrees directly over your ankles and feet flat on the floor with your toes pointing forward. Your thighs should be parallel and hip-width apart with your hands resting on top of them.
- Inhale, moving into the cow position by arching your spine as you roll your shoulders down and back.
- Exhale, transitioning into the cat position by rounding your spine, bringing your shoulders forward, and lowering your chin towards your chest.
- Alternate between the two poses for ten breaths.
#3: Chair Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This is a good chair yoga pose if you have tight hips and glutes.
- Sit up tall with your core engaged.
- Lift and bend your right leg so that your right ankle rests atop your left thigh with your right knee out to the side and right shin parallel to the front edge of the seat of your chair.
- To deepen the pose, you can hinge at the hips into a Forward Bend.
- Repeat with the other leg.
#4: Chair Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana)
This pose can stretch your low back and shoulders as well as your hamstrings, depending on your flexibility.
- From Seated Mountain Pose, exhale and hinge at your hips to come into a forward bend over your legs.
- Reach your hands to rest on the floor or your ankles, wherever you feel a good stretch, letting your head fall into your lap.
- Inhale, moving back up to an upright seated position and raising your arms up overhead.
- Move between the forward fold and upright sitting posture for 10 breaths.
#5: Chair Spinal Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This chair yoga pose is helpful if your upper or lower back is tight, but if you have spinal stenosis, disc herniations, or osteoporosis of the spine, you should skip this pose.
- Sit with good posture on the edge of your chair with your core engaged.
- Inhale, lengthening your spine.
- Exhale, twisting your torso to the left, sweeping your arms to the left; reaching towards the back of the chair.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Alternate sides for ten breaths.
#6: Chair Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
This pose mobilizes your spine, improves posture and core strength, and can strengthen your obliques, shoulders, abs, and back.
- Begin in the Seated Forward Fold, but place the fingertips on your left hand to the outside of your left foot, using a block if you cannot reach the floor.
- Inhale, twisting your torso to the right. Raise your right arm and gaze towards the ceiling, opening up your chest.
- Hold for several full breaths.
- When you are ready, lower back into the Forward Fold on an exhale.
- Repeat on the other side.
#7: Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana I)
This pose normally involves standing up and engaging your quads, glutes, and hamstrings to drop into a lunge, but you can modify the pose for chair yoga and still reap the shoulder-strengthening benefits without needing to stand up and balance. You’ll also stretch your hip flexors.
- Sit sideways on the chair so that you’re facing right and the back of the chair is along the right side of your body.
- Plant your right foot on the floor.
- Gently bring your left leg off the chair and swing it back behind you so that your leg is extended and your front foot is parallel to the seat of the chair.
- Inhale, engaging your core to bring your arms overhead and place your hands together.
- Hold for five breaths and then switch sides.
For more chair yoga poses, check out this yoga video for an entire chair yoga workout for seniors and beginners.