5 Chair Yoga Exercises for Older Adults

Lauren Caggiano

Written by Lauren Caggiano on Tue Dec 13 2022.

Chair yoga is great for older adults who want to stay active because it allows them to remain seated, limiting the risk of a fall and potential injury. The physical benefits of chair yoga for older adults include:

What comes to mind when you think of yoga? Maybe it’s a fit 20-something woman who’s contorting herself into some impressive poses. While this scenario represents one experience, this is a limiting view. The beauty of a yoga practice is that there’s plenty of room for all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. For example, chair yoga — one expression of this practice — is great for older adults who want the health benefits of yoga but might have concerns about balance or coordination. 

Health Benefits of Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is great for older adults who want to stay active because it allows them to remain seated, limiting the risk of a fall and potential injury. The physical benefits of chair yoga for older adults include:

  • loosening and stretching muscles

  • reducing chronic pain

  • improving circulation

  • lowering blood pressure

  • protecting joints

  • building strength and balance

  • improving posture 

But the benefits of chair yoga extend beyond this list. Nadine Kelly, MD, founder of Yogi MD, believes that yoga packs a mean punch when it comes to promoting a healthy mind-body connection.

“We tend to think of yoga as an athletic endeavor that has to be done on a mat,” Kelly told WebMD. “Yoga practice is about much more than the physical [poses]; the practice includes skills like breathing, regulating your emotions, and practicing self-care.”

A Chair Yoga Workout for Beginners

Chair yoga workouts are popular because they easily adapt to your or your care recipient’s abilities. That said, here are a few moves to promote safe movement:

#1: Chair Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

The Mountain pose is revered as a foundational grounding poses in yoga, often used between other poses as a transition or resting pose. It can be modified for chair yoga by sitting instead of standing. You’ll still get the same benefits without having to worry about balance.

  • Sit at the edge of a chair, with knees bent to 90 degrees directly over your ankles and feet flat on the floor with toes pointing forward. Your thighs should be parallel and hip-width apart.

  • Sit up tall with your chest up, shoulders back, and your gaze forward.

  • Inhale, engaging your core by drawing your belly button into your spine and extending your spine. It helps to envision a string from the top of your head pulling you toward the ceiling to lengthen your spine.

  • Exhale, rooting down into your sit bones (the pelvic bones you can feel when sitting), and feeling like you’re sinking deeper into 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 those with low back pain, 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. Your knees should be bent 90 degrees directly over your ankles, and feet flat on the floor with your toes pointing forward. As with the first move, your thighs should be parallel and hip-width apart. Place 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 move helps relieve tight hips and glutes.

  • Sit up tall with your core engaged. 

  • Lift and bend your right leg so that your right ankle rests upon 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.

  • You can hinge at the hips to deepen the pose into a forward bend.

  • Repeat with the other leg.

#4: Chair Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana)

This pose can stretch the low back, shoulders, and hamstrings.

  • From a 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 to the point of a stretch, letting your head fall into your lap.

  • Inhale, moving back up to an upright seated position. From here, raise your arms 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 you experience tightness in the upper or lower back. However, it’s best for those with spinal stenosis, disc herniations, or spine osteoporosis to abstain.

  • 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 while sweeping your arms to the left. Do your best to reach towards the back of the chair.

  • Repeat on the other side.

  • Alternate sides for ten breaths.

Tips for Safety and Comfort

As with any exercise program, safety and comfort should be considered. None of these moves should hurt — you or your loved one should be mindful of honoring limitations. Make sure your older adult moves slowly, gently, and with intention. It’s better to be more conservative than risk injury, especially at the beginning of a chair yoga practice. Over time, their flexibility and strength can improve, and they’ll be able to do more with greater confidence.

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Lauren Caggiano
Lauren Caggiano

Lauren Caggiano is an Indiana-based copywriter/editor, ACE certified personal trainer and ACE certified health coach. She has a passion for health and wellness and helping people live fuller and richer lives.