Chair Yoga for Seniors: Tips for a Healthy Practice

An older man practicing a spinal twist while seated on a chair, demonstrating how to do chair yoga for seniors

Looking for ways to keep yourself, your loved one, or your client or patient healthy as they age? You’re right to consider chair yoga for seniors. It offers older folks a gentle yet effective way to stay active, while also promoting good mental and emotional health.

I’m Brandt Passalacqua, the Co-Founder, Director, and Lead Teacher of Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy. I’ve worked with seniors in my own yoga therapy practice, and I’ve also mentored many students as they provide yoga therapy to older populations. Keep reading for my insights on the benefits of chair yoga for seniors, how to get started, what an example chair yoga sequence for seniors could look like, and more.

Table of Contents:

What Is Chair Yoga for Seniors?

Chair yoga is a gentle form of yoga that can be performed while seated in a chair. Made to be safer and more accessible, you can use chair yoga exercises for seniors regardless of their mobility levels. This allows people to gain the benefits of yoga as they age and may no longer be able to perform floor-based yoga poses.

What Are the Benefits of Chair Yoga for Seniors?

An older man uses a chair for balance and support while stretching, showing that chair yoga is good for weight loss and mobility

There are many benefits of chair yoga for seniors, including its accessibility, safety, ability to be practiced almost anywhere, easily adjusted skill level, and conduciveness to breaks and rest. In addition to its physical benefits, chair yoga can improve mental and emotional health as well. In fact, chair yoga is every bit as effective as non-seated yoga!

It’s Accessible

One of the major benefits of chair yoga is that it makes yoga accessible to a wider audience. Standard yoga poses are adapted to be done while seated in chair, making it more accessible to people with:

  • Limited mobility
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Balance issues

It’s Easier to Stay Safe

When you’re not on your feet and focused on balancing, you can pay more attention to your body and other aspects of your posture. Similarly, you can be more careful with any forward bends or twists while seated. This makes it easier to take care of your lower back and stay safe while practicing yoga.

You Can Do It Anywhere

In general, yoga is easy to practice almost anywhere. It requires little space and equipment, with most people using only a yoga mat and perhaps some yoga blocks.

With chair yoga, all you really need is a chair! You don’t need a yoga mat, and you only need blocks if you require additional support for certain poses. This makes it easy to practice at home, at work, or while traveling.

Its Difficulty Is Easily Adjusted

Yoga techniques can be modified to accommodate different needs and skill levels. Start with easier adaptations of yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation exercises. Once you feel comfortable, you can adjust these practices to be more difficult without needing additional weights, equipment, or classes to do so.

You Can Take Breaks or Rest

When it comes to chair yoga exercises for seniors, taking care of your body is paramount. It’s important to listen to your body and take breaks as needed when exercising.

Chair yoga is especially well-suited for this. As you practice yoga, you become more aware of your body and how it’s feeling. Since you’re already seated, it’s especially easy to stop to take a break or rest. This allows seniors to develop a routine that is safe and moves at their pace, especially if they have certain health considerations or lower endurance levels to take into account.

It’s Just as Effective

Although it is often gentler, chair yoga is just as effective as yoga performed while standing. You can still target any muscle group in the body while seated. You can still work on balance, flexibility, and strength. You also still have access to a range of techniques besides asanas (yoga poses), including breathing techniques and meditation. The only difference is that it is more accessible.

There Are Physical, Mental, and Emotional Benefits

When you think about exercising, you’re usually only expecting to improve your physical health. But with yoga, there are also mental and emotional health benefits.

  • Physical benefits include increased strength, flexibility, and balance. Over time, you might also notice you feel less joint pain and are sleeping better. All of these make chair yoga for seniors a great way to maintain independence and daily functioning.
  • Mental benefits include decreased stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies have shown that yoga can effectively treat these mental health conditions, which tend to be common among senior citizens.
  • Emotional benefits include developing emotional resilience and finding peace with where you’re at in life. These are especially important for us as we age and encounter a new phase of life with its own unique qualities and challenges.

How to Get Started with Chair Yoga

An older man stretching one side with his arm over his head as one of several chair yoga exercises for seniors

If you’re sold on the benefits of chair yoga for seniors, the next step is learning how to get started. I recommend consulting with a doctor first, then deciding if you’d like to work with a yoga therapist, take a group class, or simply practice at home. Keep in mind risks that are common among seniors so you can safely navigate them, and customize your yoga practice according to your goals, abilities, and conditions. Finally, you can take steps to practice yoga in a comfortable environment and while wearing appropriate attire.

Consult with a Doctor First

Before starting a new exercise routine, it’s a good idea to run it by your doctor. When you reach a certain age, this becomes even more important, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or concerns that could affect your ability to practice yoga safely. Ask your doctor:

  • Is it safe for me to practice chair yoga?
  • Are there any precautions I should take?
  • Are there any yoga poses, breathing techniques, or meditation practices that I should avoid? Any that I can modify to be safe for me?

Yoga Therapy, Yoga Classes, or At-Home Practice

Once you’re cleared to begin using chair yoga exercises for seniors, the question becomes where you will practice. What you decide will depend on your preferences, goals, and needs.

  • Yoga Therapy: A yoga therapist is best suited for seniors who want to treat specific health conditions or concerns with yoga, such as back pain, joint pain, arthritis, stress, anxiety, depression, or any other physical or mental condition. You’ll work one-on-one with a professional who is trained to apply yoga techniques therapeutically and tailor them to your unique body and mind.
  • Yoga Classes: A yoga class is best suited for seniors who want a knowledgeable instructor’s guidance on yoga techniques and the opportunity to socialize in a group of people. Just make sure you know your limitations and can modify the practices as needed. Yoga teachers are limited in their ability to individualize practices for their students, so be prepared to make any adaptations you need yourself.
  • At-Home Practice: At-home practice is best suited for seniors who feel confident doing yoga and prefer moving at their own pace in their own environment. You may use tutorials you find online, on DVD, or on TV to guide your practice. But be sure that these materials are reputable and safe for you. If you need more guidance at first but still want to practice at home, there are group classes and individual yoga therapy sessions conducted online to get you started. Once you know the ropes, you can switch to practicing on your own if you prefer.

Common Risks and How to Navigate Them Safely

Generally, chair yoga is a low-risk activity. But there are still some potential safety concerns to keep in mind, such as slipping, overstretching, or improper posture. Know common risks and how to practice yoga safely, including:

  • Using a chair that is sturdy and does not have wheels to avoid slipping
  • Moving gradually and gently to avoid overextension or injury
  • Listening to your body so you don’t accidentally overstretch or push yourself too hard
  • Checking your form to make sure you have proper alignment, which will give you the greatest benefit and help avoid injury

Customize Chair Yoga to Individual Abilities and Conditions

Customization is key in chair yoga for seniors, as it allows you to adapt your practice to fit your unique abilities and health condition. Seniors in particular should modify poses to accommodate their comfort levels and physical limitations. This could mean:

  • Shortening the duration of a pose, breathing technique, or meditation
  • Minimizing the range of motion in a pose
  • Adding yoga blocks or cushions to provide additional support

For those with specific medical conditions like arthritis or heart disease, certain poses may be particularly beneficial or should be avoided altogether. An experienced yoga therapist can assist in creating a customized practice that considers these factors to promote both safety and effectiveness.

Set Up Your Space

Setting up a space for chair yoga can significantly enhance your experience and outcomes. Even if you’re going to a yoga therapist or yoga teacher in their space, you may be able to request certain changes to the environment. For example:

  • Make sure you’re in a calm, comfortable, clutter-free area.
  • Give yourself enough room to move around and stretch.
  • Get a sturdy chair without wheels that has a firm seat and supportive back.
  • Use a yoga mat or non-slip rug under your feet if needed.
  • To help with visibility, make sure you’re in a well-lit environment.
  • Add personal touches if they help relax you, such as cushions, candles, or photos.
  • Have someone available to spot or watch you if needed in case you require help.

Wear Comfortable Attire

To get the most out of your chair yoga practice, be sure to wear the right clothing. Choose attire that offers comfort and allows for a full range of motion.

  • Stretchy, breathable materials that don’t restrict your movements are ideal.
  • Loose-fitting tops and pants or leggings work well, both for allowing you to move and maintaining circulation.
  • Avoid clothes that are too baggy, as they can get in the way of poses or catch on your chair as you move.

6 Example Chair Yoga Exercises for Seniors

A person practicing Warrior II Pose modified for chair yoga

As a yoga therapist, I know that my clients get the best outcomes for their specific goals by using yoga techniques that are tailored to them individually. It’s not possible to provide a chair yoga sequence for seniors that will resolve any individual’s back problems or anxiety—these practices need to take into account your unique circumstances. But to give you an idea of what some chair yoga exercises for seniors could look like, I’ve put together a list of 6 examples below.

  1. Seated Mountain Pose: This fundamental pose lays the groundwork for good posture and a strong spine. It can also help relieve back pain. As a chair yoga pose, it can be performed by sitting on your chair with your feet flat on the ground, elongating your spine as you inhale, and releasing any tension in your body as you exhale.
  2. Gentle Seated Twist: Gentle twists and bends can be excellent chair yoga exercises for seniors. They often promote good digestion and spinal flexibility, and they may also relieve back pain. To practice a seated twist, sit up with your back straight and your feet on the floor, lengthen your spine, and twist at the hips to one side. Then switch sides.
  3. Chair Warrior Poses: Both Chair Warrior I and II can be performed while seated to strengthen several muscle groups, improve your balance, and achieve greater stability. For Warrior I, sit sideways on a chair, keep one leg at a 90-degree angle, stretch the other leg behind you, and raise your arms toward the ceiling. For Warrior II, sit sideways on a chair, keep one leg at a 90-degree angle, stretch the other leg behind you, and hold your arms parallel to the ground above each leg, looking directly ahead over the arm that is above your bent knee.
  4. Chair Pigeon Pose: Forward folds like Pigeon Pose can help sooth and stretch muscles in the lower back, hips, and hamstrings, which also helps improve flexibility. To practice a Chair Pigeon Pose, leave one foot firmly planted on the floor, raise the other leg so its ankle is crossed over the knee of the planted leg, and, hinging at your hips, gently fold forward.
  5. Seated Diaphragmatic Breathing: Deep breathing, either alone or coordinated with movement, can engage your parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest-and-digest response. It has both physical and mental benefits, relieving muscle tension in your body while also calming your mind. To practice Diaphragmatic Breathing as chair yoga for seniors, sit upright in a comfortable chair, inhale deeply and consciously into your abdomen, and exhale slowly and steadily.
  6. Seated Guided Meditation: Meditating can improve your concentration, quiet your mind, reduce stress and anxiety, and help you find inner peace. Seniors can easily follow a guided meditation while seated. For example, you may be directed to close your eyes, pay attention to your breathing or sensations in your body, repeat a mantra or visualize an image to hone your concentration, and gently guide your mind back when it wanders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chair yoga be effective in managing chronic conditions?

Yes! You can use chair yoga for seniors to reduce pain, increase mobility, and maintain physical function, helping to manage chronic conditions. Gentle movements and stretches can improve joint health and comfort. Yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation can all contribute to better mental health and emotional resilience, supporting seniors in having a positive perspective about their circumstances.

How does chair yoga improve balance and prevent falls?

By strengthening the muscles used for stability, improving posture, and promoting better coordination, chair yoga can help with balance. Better balance can reduce the risk of falling, which is a major health concern for many seniors.

Can you lose weight or belly fat from doing chair yoga exercises for seniors?

Any kind of yoga can support weight loss, including chair yoga! While it’s not the most effective exercise for burning calories, it can support the mobility and functioning that keep you active, reduce stress that can lead to bad habits, make you more aware of your body, and facilitate habit change.

How many times a week should you do chair yoga?

Practicing chair yoga for seniors three times a week, or about every other day, is great! But any amount of yoga is useful, especially if you keep at it consistently over time.

How long does it take to see results with chair yoga?

The time it takes to see results from chair yoga will vary based on your unique circumstances, what you do, how often you practice, and what you’re trying to achieve. Many clients start noticing changes within a few weeks or months.

Which is better for seniors, Pilates or yoga?

While Pilates and yoga can both be beneficial to seniors, chair yoga is a great entry point that requires less skill to get started. If you’re looking for group classes, it may be easier to find a yoga instructor with the knowledge and skills necessary to help you. If you’re open to trying yoga therapy, it gives you the option to address specific pathologies, better manage pain, and improve mental and emotional health in addition to physical health.

Where can I find chair yoga for seniors near me?

First, decide if you’re looking for yoga therapy or group yoga classes. To find chair yoga classes for seniors near you, check local community centers, senior centers, gyms, or wellness clinics. If you’re looking for a reputable yoga therapist, the International Association of Yoga Therapists has a database of certified yoga therapists. For those who would prefer to get guidance online, you can find yoga classes or yoga therapists to walk you through techniques from the comfort of your own home. This can also be helpful if you are struggling to find a suitable class or yoga therapist where you live.

Work with Our Yoga Therapists Online

Carol Day Young with Brandt Passalacqua

At Breathing Deeply, we want to make sure that safe, practical, and effective yoga therapy is available to people regardless of where they are located. Our trained yoga therapists are able to work one-on-one providing chair yoga for seniors over online calls. Visit the page about our online yoga therapy sessions to learn more, and use the contact form at the bottom of the page to get in touch.

Info Session

Brandt talks about common questions applicants have about the Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy Program. Tune in to get the full program details.