Chair Yoga: Popular for Older Adults

Chair yoga is a popular therapeutic form of yoga utilizing a chair for yoga poses and exercises designed primarily for seniors or those suffering from an injury with limited mobility. Therefore, it is an accessible form of yoga that opens up the practice to benefit more populations in the world. Not only can older adults benefit from this style of yoga, but also those who need more of an alignment-based approach to yoga rather than other styles such as vinyasa or flow styles of yoga.

Key takeaways:
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    Chair yoga is an accessible form of yoga.
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    Chair yoga has its roots in the Iyengar style of yoga.
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    Chair yoga is popular among seniors.

Sitting on a chair is beneficial for seniors or anyone in a frail condition to prevent falls so they can safely perform the exercises and reap the reward of yoga. Many aspects of yoga have proven beneficial for anyone from any walk of life. For example, gentle stretching, breathing techniques, and meditation will soothe the body and calm the mind, no matter your age or condition. Yoga, even on a chair, allows you to accept your life just as it is.

Some benefits of chair yoga include:

  • Better circulation
  • Improved mobility and flexibility
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased stress
  • Reduction of chronic pain

Chair yoga for seniors

One thing to keep in mind is that any elderly person should check with their doctor before starting a new exercise program. With that being said, chair yoga can be customized for senior-specific conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and more. However, if anything hurts or feels painful, they should stop, modify, or only continue with exercises that do not exacerbate their condition.

It is recommended to start slowly and chair yoga for seniors will likely be a shorter class than normal- perhaps only 30 minutes as opposed to 1 hour. The number one priority in teaching chair yoga for seniors is to keep them safe and comfortable for the duration of the session. In the beginning, seniors may need to limit their range of motion or only do exercises part-way, but over time, their strength, stamina, flexibility, and resiliency will improve to do more without overexertion.

What you need to practice chair yoga

A sturdy chair where the practitioner’s feet can touch the floor.

Blocks and straps are optional props used in regular yoga classes that may aid in stretching and support during chair yoga.

A summary class of chair yoga for seniors with sample exercises:

  1. Start seated in the chair with a gentle guided breathing or meditation exercise to get centered.
  2. Go through a series of warm-up exercises to gently heat the body, such as rolling out the neck, wrists, and ankles.
  3. Perform standing poses using the back of the chair for balance. If the senior has trouble standing, then skip this section. For example, the practitioner can practice tree poses whilst holding the chair and balancing on one leg.
standing yoga poses using the back of the chair for balance
  1. Perform yoga postures on the chair. One can sit on the chair in Warrior 2 pose, with the front knee bent and back leg extended out and arms out to a T-shape.
woman doing chair yoga Warrior 2 pose
  1. Stretch the upper body while sitting in the chair, using props if necessary. For example, one may take Gomukhasana arms (cow face pose) by using a strap to hold onto behind the back. One arm goes up and the other arm reaches behind.
woman doing Gomukhasana arms cow face yoga pose
  1. Calm the body with a simple seated twist to wind down before relaxation.
  1. Finish with seated savasana to relax and calm the parasympathetic nervous system.

Iyengar-Style Chair Yoga

The roots of chair yoga stem from the great yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, who introduced the chair as a yoga prop. Iyengar formed an alignment-based, prop-heavy style of yoga during his lifetime of yoga achievements to make yogic postures accessible to all. It is designed to be a more therapeutic style of yoga that can help treat certain ailments. For example, someone recovering from surgery or a strained/sprained joint or muscle may use chair yoga therapeutically.

B.K.S. Iyengar wanted yoga to be for everyone, so his incorporation of props made it all-inclusive. It has largely been adapted to yoga for seniors due to their issue with getting on and off the floor easily, but can certainly apply to anyone at any age or population who has this issue due to injury or immobility. It can also help those who sit at a desk all day to incorporate some gentle stretching into their daily lives.

Using the Iyengar yoga chair

Iyengar-style chair yoga will likely be more advanced than chair yoga for seniors. It will also include more props such as blankets, bolsters/cushions in addition to the blocks and straps. A range of movements will be explored, including backbends and inversions.

An example of an Iyengar chair yoga inversion

Pad the chair with a folded blanket and place a bolster at the foot of the chair. Place the hips on the seat of the chair facing backward and slowly recline down so the head and shoulders are on the bolster. Hold onto the legs of the chair for support. In this way, you can hold an inversion comfortably for 5 minutes or more. This pose should not be performed by seniors but is an example of a more advanced way of using a chair and a testament to the creative genius of Iyengar.

woman doing Iyengar chair yoga inversion pose

While chair yoga is popular with seniors, it can be performed by anyone as an all-inclusive style of yoga. Yoga is for all, and chair yoga supports that concept. A full yoga exercise routine can be performed using a chair to help with balance or therapeutically support good alignment.

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