A Safe Yoga Chair Routine for Older Adults

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

As a form of exercise, yoga has many benefits specific to seniors. Improved balance and flexibility reduce the risk for (and fear of) injury and increase mobility. Yoga also improves circulation and your ability to sleep, and adding even light weights to the postures increases bone density and lowers the risk of fracture.

If you’re hesitant to try yoga because you’re not as limber as you used to be, keep in mind that you don’t have to practice yoga on the floor. If getting down to the floor or getting up and down is difficult, chair yoga offers spinal freedom while allowing you to remain in your comfort zone.

The postures in this seated yoga routine give you the same main benefits of a regular yoga class, including stress reduction, improved circulation, better concentration, and an overall sense of well-being. This routine takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Choose one of the yoga breathing techniques and use it for this entire routine.

Before you begin your journey into yoga, first check with your physician. After you get the green light, seek out a class that focuses on your age group, both for the social benefits and to be guided by a teacher who can adapt postures to your needs and abilities.

You’re in charge of whether you do a particular posture. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it.

Seated mountain posture

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair, with your back extended and your eyes either open or closed.

  2. Hang your arms at your sides, and visualize a vertical line down the middle of your ears, shoulders, hips, and backs of your hands; stay for 8 to 10 breaths.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Seated mountain arm variation

  1. Start in the seated mountain posture; raise your right arm and turn your head to the left as you inhale.

  2. As you exhale, return to the seated mountain posture.

  3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 with your left arm and a right head turn, alternating right and left sides slowly for a total of 4 to 6 repetitions on each side.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Seated karate kid variation

  1. Start in the seated mountain posture, and raise your arms forward and up alongside your ears as you inhale.

  2. As you exhale, bend your right knee and raise it toward your chest to a comfortable level.

  3. Take another breath and then, as you exhale, lower your right knee and your arms back to the seated mountain posture.

  4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 with both arms and your left knee, alternating both your knees slowly as you raise your arms, for a total of 4 to 6 repetitions on each side.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Be careful with this posture if you’ve have a hip replacement. If you aren’t sure whether your hips can handle it, check with your doctor first.

Seated wing-and-prayer

  1. Start in the seated mountain posture, with your hands together in prayer position and your thumbs at your breastbone.

  2. As you inhale, open your hands outward and lift your chest like wings.

  3. As you exhale, bring your hands and arms back together into the prayer position.

  4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 slowly for 4 to 6 repetitions.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Seated butterfly posture

  1. Start in the seated mountain posture, with your arms extended fully to the sides and parallel to the floor, and your palms facing forward.

  2. Inhale and then, as you exhale, bring your right hand toward the inside of your left arm in a twisting motion.

  3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 slowly for 4 to 6 repetitions, and then do the same with your left hand and right arm.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Standing warrior I chair variation

  1. Stand in the mountain posture, facing the back of your chair from about 3 to 1/2 feet away.

  2. As you exhale, step forward with your right leg, place your hands on the back of the chair, and bend your forward leg into approximately a right angle.

    You can keep your back foot flat or pivot on the ball of your back foot. Don’t be tempted to force the angle.

  3. Stay in Step 2 for 4 to 6 breaths, and then repeat with your left leg forward for 4 to 6 breaths.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Seated sage twist

  1. Sit in your chair sideways, with the back of the chair to your right and your feet flat on the floor.

  2. As you exhale, turn to your right and grasp the sides of the chair back with your hands.

  3. As you inhale, bring your back and head up nice and tall; as you exhale, twist deeper.

  4. Continue this sequence three times, or until you reach your comfortable maximum, and then stay for 4 to 6 breaths; repeat Steps 1 through 4 on the left side.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham

Seated forward bend

  1. Start in the seated mountain posture.

  2. As you exhale, bend forward from your hips and slide your hands forward and down your legs.

  3. Let your head and arms hang down, and relax in the folded position for 4 to 6 breaths.

  4. For a nice ending, use the seated mountain posture; close your eyes and choose focus breathing or a relaxation technique for 2 to 5 minutes.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]

    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham