Chair Yoga Exercises For Beginners And Seniors
Like the idea of yoga, but are worried that inexperience, balance, or mobility issues mean it’s not for you? Here, PureGym Paisley based PT and Yoga Instructor Steph Green explains why chair yoga is a great way to get the benefits of yoga, particularly for seniors and beginners.
What Is Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga is a modified form of yoga that involves practicing asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathing exercises) while seated on a chair, or using the chair for support. It is designed to make yoga accessible to individuals with limited mobility or those who have difficulty standing for extended periods.
What Are The Benefits Of Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga has the same physical and mental benefits as yoga, with the added advantage of being accessible for anyone who is unable to stand for long periods of time. It is a gentle practice that is suitable for beginners, seniors, and those with disabilities or limited mobility.
Some of the benefits of practicing chair yoga poses include:
Improved flexibility and reduced stiffness. Chair yoga helps to stretch the muscles and increase flexibility, reduce stiffness in the joints, and improve overall mobility.
Enhanced strength and stability. While yoga is often thought to just stretch the muscles, a lot of poses help to build strength and stability by maintaining alignment against the resistance of gravity and bodyweight.
Better posture and alignment. Chair yoga helps to improve core strength and stretch the posterior chain, including the muscles in the back and shoulders. It also helps to raise awareness of alignment. Over time, this can help to improve posture and reduce strain on the spine and hips.
Reduced stress and anxiety. Yoga practice involves breathwork and meditation which can positively benefit stress and anxiety levels. Bringing these elements into your everyday life can also help to reduce your response to everyday stress and build your mental resilience.
Enhanced circulation. While chair yoga is unlikely to count as high intensity cardio, the different poses can help to increase circulation which is good for cardio health.
Chair yoga can be a pathway into other types of yoga, but equally can be practiced as your sole form of yoga indefinitely.
Why Is Chair Yoga Beneficial For Seniors?
Chair yoga can be practiced by anyone, but one of the reasons chair yoga for seniors is so beneficial because it allows them to get the benefits of yoga in a safe way.
As we get older, we are more likely to experience poor balance, limited mobility, and reduced strength. Diving headfirst into more intense styles of yoga without a good foundation of strength and balance can increase the risk of injury and falls.
Practicing poses with the aid of a chair reduces this risk and makes yoga more accessible, allowing that strength and stability to be built up. Some people may find they can switch to other types of yoga after practicing senior chair yoga, while others may prefer to continue with chair yoga.
Chair Yoga For Beginners?
All forms of yoga can be good for beginners, but some styles are more challenging than others. Chair yoga can be easily modified to suit all levels of experience, so can help beginners to build the strength, stability, and flexibility to practice standing poses with more ease.
11 Chair Yoga Exercises To Try
All you need to get started with chair yoga is a chair. You do not need to buy a specialised yoga chair, but ideally your chair should not have wheels and your feet should reach the floor when seated. If your feet do not reach the floor, you can put blocks or a folded yoga mat under your feet to give yourself a firm foundation.
You can perform the following chair yoga poses as a sequence or choose a few to string together into a flow that suits your available time and ability.
Chair Cat-Cow Stretch – Bitilasana Marjaryasana
Strengthens: Back, core
Stretches: Neck, shoulders, back, hips, abdomen, chest
- Sit on a chair with the spine long and both feet on the floor. Place your hands on your knees or the tops of your thighs.
- On an inhale, arch your spine and roll your shoulders down and back, bringing your shoulder blades onto your back. This is cow position.
- On an exhale, round your spine and drop your chin to your chest, letting the shoulder and head come forward. This is cat position.
- Continue moving between cow on the inhalations and cat on the exhalations for five breaths.
Chair Raised Hands Pose - Urdhva Hastasana
Strengthens: Triceps, shoulders, core
Stretches: Shoulders, neck, chest
- On an inhalation, raise your arms toward the ceiling.
- Maintain good upper body posture with the shoulders relaxed and rib cage sitting naturally over the hips.
- Anchor your sit bones in your chair seat and reach up from there.
Chair Forward Bend – Uttanasana
Strengthens: Hip flexors, shoulders
Stretches: Back, hamstrings, neck
- On an exhalation, bend forward over the legs so that your chest lies on the thighs if possible. Let the hands rest on the floor if they reach it. Let the head hang heavy.
- On an inhalation, raise the arms back up over the head. Repeat this movement between a raised arms position and a forward fold several times, moving with the breath.
Chair Extended Side Angle - Utthita Parsvakonasana
Strengthens: Back, shoulders, neck
Stretches: Chest, core, shoulders, hips
- After your final forward bend, stay folded. Bring your left fingertips to the floor on the outside of your left foot. If your left hand doesn't come easily to the floor, place a block under it or bring it to your left knee instead and twist from there.
- Open your chest as you twist to the right on an inhale, bringing your right arm and gaze up at the ceiling. This is your chair version of extended side angle pose. Hold here for several breaths. Bring the right arm down on an exhale.
- Do the same position with the right arm down and the left arm up.
Chair Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Stretches: Glutes, hip flexors, lower back
- Come back up to sit. Bring your right ankle to rest on your left thigh, keeping the knee in line with your ankle as much as possible. Hold this chair pigeon for three to five breaths.
- You may forward bend to intensify the stretch if you like.
- Repeat with the left leg.
Chair Eagle – Garudasana
Strengthens: Core, legs
Stretches: Shoulders, back, legs
- Cross your right thigh over your left thigh for eagle pose. If you can, wrap the right foot all the way around the left calf.
- Cross your left arm over the right one at the elbow. Bend the elbows and bring your palms to touch.
- Lift the elbows while dropping the shoulders away from the ears. Hold three to five breaths.
- Repeat on the other side.
Chair Spinal Twist - Ardha Matsyendrasana
Stretches: Back, core, shoulders, glutes
- Come to sit sideways on the chair, facing to the left. Twist your torso toward the left, holding onto the back of the chair, for a spinal twist.
- Lengthen your spine on each inhale and twist on each exhale for five breaths.
- Move your legs around to the right side of the chair and repeat the twist to the right side.
Chair Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I
Strengthens: Shoulders, arms, legs, glutes, core
Stretches: Hips, chest, back
- Now keep the right leg in position over the side of the chair while you swing the left leg behind.
- Plant the sole of the left foot on the floor roughly parallel to the seat of the chair and straighten the left leg, so you are standing but supported by the chair.
- Keep your torso facing over the right leg as you raise your arms up to the ceiling on a inhale coming to warrior 1. Hold for three breaths.
Chair Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II
Strengthens: Legs, glutes, shoulders, core
Stretches: Hips, shoulders, chest
- On an exhale, open up the arms with the right arm coming forward and the left arm going back.
- Draw the left hip back and turn the torso to the left, so that it is aligned with the front of the chair.
- Gaze out over the right fingertips and hold warrior II for three breaths.
Chair Reverse Warrior - Viparita Virabhadrasana
Strengthens: Shoulders, arms, legs, glutes, core
Stretches: Hips, chest, back, sides
- Let the left arm come down the left leg and lift the right arm up to the ceiling on an inhale for reverse warrior. Hold for three breaths.
- Bring both legs to the front of the chair before coming to sit sideways on the chair facing left and going through the series of three warrior poses on the left side.
Final Relaxation: Chair Savasana
Take a few minutes to sit with your eyes closed and hands in your lap at the end of your practice. This seated savasana will help your body absorb all the good effects of the poses you have done and transition you into the rest of your day.
Remember to maintain a comfortable and steady pace while performing these exercises, and always listen to your body. If you experience any discomfort or pain, adjust the movements accordingly. When starting a new exercise programme like chair yoga, we advise speaking with a healthcare professional first, especially if you have any pre-existing health concerns.
Want to supplement your yoga practice with strength training? Find your nearest gym here.