Chair yoga helps you get the benefits of yoga sitting down

Chair Yoga for Seniors: 11 Chair Yoga Positions Everyone Can Do

By: Renee Kwok

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

If you thought exercise was reserved for the young, strong or mobile, we'd like to introduce you to an underrated piece of "fitness equipment" you undoubtedly already own: your chair. Whether you prefer low-mobility options, or are simply seeking a gentle way to incorporate movement into your day, chair yoga offers a solution.

In chair yoga, sitting down is the perfect way to capture the relaxation and health benefits of this form of exercise, especially if you are interested in lower back comfort and flexibility. And as you get more adept at these moves, you might find that more challenging types of movement become more obtainable.

What is chair yoga?

This type of exercise is exactly what it sounds like: A gentle form of yoga that is designed to be practiced either seated on a chair or while using a chair for support, without the need to get on and off the ground. It is an excellent type of yoga class for seniors with limited mobility or other age related factors who may not be comfortable in a traditional yoga class.

I personally started practicing yoga in this form when I was 8 years old, waking up to Lilia's Yoga and You on PBS Saturday mornings before cartoons come on, just for fun. In retrospect, maybe I was always destined to be a yoga instructor, and that PBS show was the start of my training.

Fast forward to the present: now that both of my parents are seniors in their 70s and 80s, I look forward to sharing this full yoga routine that they can do in its entirety.

11 chair yoga positions

Chair yoga shares many of the benefits of yoga in other forms, including support for healthy stress management, functional fitness and overall quality of life.

To start this workout, sit in a sturdy chair that will not slide. Get your breathwork flowing with a 4-count deep breath in and a 6-count exhale. You'll want to keep this mindful breathing going as you move through these seated strengthening and stretching exercises.

Once you've got a nice flow rolling, I have compiled a list of my go-to yoga poses:

1. Neck stretches

Inhale, sit upright with both feet on the ground and place your right hand down by your side. Lower your left ear to the left shoulder to stretch the right side of the neck. Take 5-7 comforting breaths, then switch sides.

2. Seated heart and shoulder opening

Interlace fingers and place both palms at the base of your head. Spread elbows outward as your chest arches upward and then lightly lean head back into hands. Go slow and try to feel the space around your chest expand. Do this for 5 rounds of breath.

3. Calf raises

Sit with both feet on the ground. Inhale and lift both heels up, then exhale and drop both heels down; repeat for five 5 reps. Second, inhale and lift toes with the heel on the ground. Exhale and lower toes and soles of the feet down. This strengthens the calves and increases circulation. Then lift the right foot up and rotate the ankle in a circular motion. Repeat with the left foot.

4. Warrior 2

Begin by sitting upright close to the right-front edge of the seat. Bend the left knee and walk that foot to the left side of the chair. Extend the right leg straight out to the right side of the chair. Extend both arms at shoulder height. Then move on to step 5.

5. Extended side angle

Start in Warrior 2 position. Bend left elbow and place onto left knee then inhale to reach right arm straight up toward the sky. Exhale to continue reaching arm to the left and lean your body over the left knee creating a comfortable, full-body stretch along the right side. Stay in position and use 5 deep breaths to relax and deepen into the pose to support flexibility. Then move on to step 6.

6. Reverse warrior

Return to Warrior 2 pose, with left knee bent and right leg extended straight out to the side. Reach your left arm up over your head to lift and lengthen the left side of the body and place your right hand onto right leg. Inch your right hand down that leg to stretch the left side of the body. Stay in position and use 5 deep breaths to relax and deepen into the pose. Then repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 on the opposite side.

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7. Chair pose lunges

To set up for this pose, start by standing in front of the chair. Extend both arms straight up alongside your ears or rest your hands on your lap. Slowly start to sit your bottom down on the chair, but stop halfway. Hold the pose for a few breaths, and be sure to start the pose over if you sit down too soon. This pose will strengthen your core and legs to improve balance.

8. Seated forward fold

First, scoot your bottom to the back end of the chair and sit upright. Inhale as you lengthen your torso taller, then exhale to lean over thighs. Keep your back and spine flat, without rounding the shoulders, to protect your lower back in this stretch. Hold this stretching exercise for a few deep breaths.

9. Balancing tree

Stand up behind the chair and put one hand on the back of the chair. Place sole of left foot inside of the right leg at the ankle, or move your foot up higher up the calf or thigh for more of a challenge as you get stronger. Now try to remove your hand from the chair for as long as you can while staying balanced. Hold for 5 rounds of breath, then switch sides.

10. Seated pigeon

Sit with your spine tall and feet grounded. Inhale and lengthen spine upward. Exhale, lift right knee and place the ankle over your left knee, which looks like the number 4. Stay in this pose for five breaths, then repeat on the other side.

11. Seated twist

Sit with spine tall and feet grounded. Place right hand on the outside of the left knee. Take a deep breath, then exhale and gently press on the left knee and turn your chest to the left side until you feel a nice stretch. Wrap your left arm on the back of the chair to hold the twist over several deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Does chair yoga support healthy weight loss?

Chair yoga is an easy and supported way to promote balance, strength, flexibility and a positive mood, especially for those who might be intimidated or physically challenged by other forms of yoga. But even if you practice chair yoga regularly, it isn't designed as a heart-pumping workout, which limits its use as a weight loss tool. However, chair yoga would be a good first step toward the more intense cardio or strengthening workouts that are typical for weight loss journeys.

How many days a week should you do chair yoga?

Experts recommend that we all get some form of physical activity every day, but for some, fitting a workout into daily life isn't possible. A healthy lifestyle includes at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity over several days. Multiple studies have analyzed the benefits of yoga; participants exercised as frequently as every day or as infrequently as twice-weekly sessions for 20 to 60 minutes at a time. Even twice-weekly sessions have been shown to improve mood, cognition, joint comfort and physical functioning.

Why is chair yoga good for seniors?

Other benefits of yoga have been well-documented, even for seniors with limited mobility. Research has found chair-based exercise like yoga supports cognitive function, quality of life and improved functional fitness. A meta-analysis of yoga studies also found support for muscle strength, balance and flexibility in seniors, along with a sense of well-being. Other studies regular practice of yoga can have a calming effect on the nervous system and help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

The ease of chair yoga may help seniors to incorporate it into a daily routine, since it can be practiced comfortably while seated on a chair for support, without the need for a yoga mat or experience. The use of a chair helps to support your lower back and joint health while offering a gentle, effective way to promote physical and mental health. By incorporating simple poses and mindful breathing techniques, chair yoga helps to promote relaxation and healthy stress management, which contributes to quality of life, especially for those who don't move as much as they'd like.

Incorporating just 20 minutes of chair yoga into your daily routine can make a significant difference in how you feel physically and mentally. Whether it's a quick stretch break at work, a morning pick-me-up, or a relaxing session before bed, chair yoga offers a versatile and accessible way to nurture your body and mind throughout the day.

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About the Author: Renee Kwok is yoga instructor who has taught various yoga styles and levels for more than 13 years. Her passion is showing others how to achieve clear mindset, vitality and wellness by connecting the mind and body. When she’s not teaching yoga, she offers Reiki energy therapy and intentional journaling, and she continues to explore healthy alternatives to nourish the body and mind as we age gracefully.


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