Chair yoga allows yoga to be accessible to people with mobility and / or balance difficulties. While it’s usually thought of as a practice for older adults, it’s also great for people with neurological problems, women in later stages of pregnancy and for anyone looking for a more gentle yoga practice.
Benefits of chair yoga for seniors
Studies have shown that chair yoga has a significant health benefits including improved balance and stability, reduced pain symptoms in older adults with osteoarthritis, a reduced number of falls in psychiatric patients, and improved mental well-being and confidence.
Choose a sturdy chair with a back-support and ideally without arms. Make sure the chair is on a non-slip surface and that your feet are comfortably flat on the floor.
6 chair yoga poses for the lower body
Most poses can be adapted to practice in a chair either sitting or standing holding the chair for support. These poses below focus specifically on the lower body. For a full chair yoga for seniors video, check out Lyn Core’s class below.
Before you start the sequence take a few moments to centre yourself in seated Mountain Pose:
- Sitting up tall in your chair, ground through the hips and lengthen through the crown of your head. Arms by your side or hands resting on your knees.
- Shrug your shoulders towards your ears and then let them drop.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep calming breaths.
- Take a quick mental scan through your body, noticing how your body and breath feel in this moment.
1. Single leg forward bend – Chair Janu Sirsasana
Janu Sirsasana stretches out the hamstrings and the forward bend element is calming for the nervous system as it stimulates the nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system. Because it’s an asymmetrical pose it can also give us great awareness of the differences between our left and right sides which can be helpful for balance.
- Sit at the front edge of the seat with your left foot flat on the floor for support.
- Extend the right leg out in front of you. Inhale as you lengthen up through the crown of your head, drawing the lower belly back towards the spine.
- Exhale to gently fold forward over your out-stretched leg.
- Stay here for a few breaths, inhale to come back to sitting upright and bring your right foot flat on the floor again into a Chair Mountain pose.
- Pause for a few breaths to feel the effects in your body before repeating on the other side.
2. Hamstring stretch – Utthita Hasta Padangustasana
Like the standing version, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasa, this pose will stretch out the calves and hamstrings, and will activate your core abdominal muscles, which helps improve balance.
- Make a loop with a strap or belt and hook it around your right foot. Hold the strap in your right hand – you can hold the edge of the chair with your other hand for extra support.
- Keeping your back as straight as possible begin to straighten and lift your right leg. You can keep a bend in the knee if it’s more comfortable.
- While in the pose you can point and flex your foot a few times to pump your calves which can help circulation.
- For an extra challenge loosen your strap a little so that you’re using your hip flexor muscles to keep the leg lifted.
- After a couple of breaths bring the right foot back to the floor. Pause and notice the sensations in your body before repeating on the other side.
3. Glute stretch – chair Pigeon pose
This chair yoga version of Pigeon pose or ankle to knee pose will target the glutes and piriformis muscles.
- Begin with some gentle mobility work for the hip joint by lifting the right foot a few inches off the floor, take hold of your knee and make circles with it, do this three times in each direction.
- Cross your ankle over your left knee and gently move the knee up and down a few times. If it’s not possible to bring your ankle to your knee you can cross your ankle in front of your shin and rest your foot on a block if you have one.
- From here inhale as you lengthen through your spine and fold forwards as you exhale. Stay within your comfort range.
4. Seated Hero’s pose – Virasana
Hero’s pose or Virasana targets the large quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh and the hip flexors including the psoas. These muscles often get tight when we’re sitting a lot so this pose is also beneficial for people working at a desk all day.
- Shift to the side of your chair that your right leg is off the chair. Hold the edge of your chair with your left hand.
- Lean to the left as you bend your right knee and take hold of your foot with your right hand – you can loop a strap around your foot if this is easier.
- Bring your heel towards your buttock. You’re aiming to feel the stretch in the front of the thigh. If you feel sensations more in the knee release your foot a little.
5. Chair yoga lunge pose
This is a useful variation to try if you can’t bend the toes of your back leg when in a high lunge pose or if you have knee problems that make a low lunge uncomfortable.
- Stand in front of the chair about an arm’s length away from it.
- If balance is an issue, turn the chair 90 degrees and hold the back of the chair.
- Bring your weight into your left foot and step up onto the chair with your right foot.
- Lean forward towards your front leg. You might feel a stretch in the back of the calves and the front of the right hip.
- Make sure your knee is above your ankle and not coming forward of it.
For a seated lunge variation, come to the side edge of your chair as in the previous pose so your left leg is on the seat and bring your right leg back behind you into a lunge position. From here you can go directly to the next pose or come back to standing, take a few breaths in Mountain pose before repeating on the other side.
6. Half-splits pose with a chair
As with the previous pose this standing variation of half splits pose works on your balance as well. Balance is an important part of proprioception which is our ability to sense our body and movements in space and is often be affected by neurological disorders such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s.
- Starting in the previous lunge pose, straighten the front leg and rest your heel on the chair.
- You can stay here and work on balance and stability in your standing leg. Or, walk your hands down your leg and hinge from your hips to come into a forward fold.
- Here you can flex your foot bringing your toes towards you for an extra stretch on the back of your leg.
- After a few breaths, bring your torso back upright. Take a breath here before you lower your foot back to the floor. Repeat on the other side