It’s popular these days to say “yoga is for everybody.” But is that really true? Can it really be practiced by everyone? Even those who, due to age, inflexibility, or injury, need to practice completely from a chair?
In fact, seniors may be able to get more out of yoga than most students. Since the brain’s two hemispheres are used more equally as we age, we can bring a better overall awareness to yoga, thus utilizing the mind-body connection more effectively than younger students.
Keep in mind that many seniors who are physically fit have no limitations when it comes to practicing yoga, except maybe using the adaptation devices many younger people use as well, such as blocks or straps. However, chair yoga may be the way to go for people:
- with balance issues
- looking to start slowly
- who would just feel more confident starting out this way
It not only has the benefits of regular yoga, such as helping with stress, pain, and fatigue — but it can also help with joint lubrication, balance, and even age-specific issues like menopause and arthritis.
This sequence will benefit anyone who prefers to do yoga in a chair, such as seniors or those in a chair at work. Keep in mind that you want a sturdy chair that you feel comfortable and stable in. That means no office chairs with wheels or anything that feels rickety.
And be sure to start off each new pose by making sure your butt is planted firmly in the seat. You will want to sit toward the front edge of the seat but still on the seat enough to feel stable.
Seated Mountain (Tadasana)
This is a great pose to simply engage your core, check in with your posture, and focus on your breath. Come to this pose after each of the poses below.
- Take a deep breath and sit up straight, extending your spine.
- As you exhale, root down into the chair with your sit bones (the lowest part of your tailbone, or the two points that take the weight when you sit).
- Your legs should be at 90-degree angles, knees directly over your ankles. You want to have a little room between your knees. Typically, your fist should fit between your knees, though your skeletal structure may require more room than this.
- Take a deep breath and as you exhale, roll your shoulders down your back, pull your bellybutton in toward your spine, and relax your arms down at your sides. If your chair has armrests, you may need to have them out to the front just a little or a bit wider, to clear the armrests.
- Engage your legs by lifting your toes and pressing firmly into all four corners of your feet.
Warrior I (Virbhadrasana I)
- Starting in Seated Mountain, take a deep breath. As you inhale, lift your arms out to the sides, then raise your hands up to meet above your head.
- Lace your fingers together, keeping your pointer fingers and thumbs out, so you’re pointing at the ceiling directly over your head.
- As you exhale, roll your shoulders away from your ears, letting your shoulder blades slide down your back. This will engage the shoulder capsule (the muscles that hold your shoulder joint together).
- Continue to take deep and even breaths as you settle in here, taking at least 5 deep breaths before you release your clasped hands on an exhale and let your arms gently float back to your sides.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
- Inhale in Seated Mountain, focusing on extending your spine, and simply fold over your legs. You can start with your hands resting on your thighs and slide them down your legs as you fold for a little extra support, or you can keep them at your sides as you work toward laying your torso on your thighs.
- Take 5 or more even breaths in this pose. It massages your intestines, helping with digestion, as well as passively lengthening your spine and stretching your back muscles.
- When ready, inhale as you lift your torso back to an upright position.
Eagle Arms (Garudasana Arms)
This pose relaxes your shoulders and upper back as it stabilizes and flexes your shoulder joint.
- Take a breath and then, as you inhale, stretch your arms out to your sides.
- As you exhale, bring them in front of you, swinging your right arm under your left and grabbing your shoulders with the opposite hands, giving yourself a hug.
- If you have more flexibility in your shoulders, you can release your grip and continue wrapping your forearms around each other until your right fingers rest in your left palm.
- Inhaling, lift your elbows a few inches higher.
- Exhaling, roll your shoulders down, relaxing them away from your ears.
- Take a few breaths, repeating the elbow lift and shoulder roll if you like.
Reverse Arm Hold
This stretches your shoulders and opens up your chest, which can help with posture, stress, and breathing difficulties.
- As you inhale, stretch both arms out to your sides, palms down.
- As you exhale, roll both shoulders forward a little, which rolls your palms so they’re facing behind you, then bend your elbows and let your hands swing behind your back.
- Clasp hands in any way you like (fingers, hands, wrists, or elbows) and gently pull your hands away from each other without releasing your hold.
- If you gripped a wrist or elbow, note which side it’s on.
- After you’ve taken 5 slow, even breaths with arms clasped this way, reclasp the other wrist or elbow and hold for 5 breaths.
Simple Seated Twist (Parivrtta Sukhasana)
Twisting poses help with lower back pain and aid digestion and circulation. They’re often called “detox” poses.
Though you will have your chair back to help you twist here, keep in mind that you don’t want to use the chair to yank yourself into a deeper twist. Your body will have a natural stopping point. Don’t force it by pulling with your hands. Forcing a twist can cause serious injury.
- As you inhale, extend your spine again and raise your arms out to your sides and up.
- As you exhale, gently twist to the right with your upper body and lower your arms —your right hand will rest on the top of the chair back and help you to gently twist, your left hand will rest at your side.
- Look over your right shoulder. Use your grip on the chair to help you stay in the twist but not to deepen it.
- After 5 breaths, release this twist and return to facing the front. Repeat on your left side.
Single-Leg Stretch (Janu Sirsasana)
You can inch a little closer to the edge of your seat for this one. Just be sure you’re still on the chair enough that you won’t slide off.
- Sitting up tall, stretch your right leg out, resting your heel on the floor, toes pointing up — the closer to the edge of the seat you are, the straighter your leg can get. But again, be mindful of how supported you are before folding forward.
- Rest both hands on your outstretched leg. As you inhale, raise up through your spine, and as you exhale, begin to bend over your right leg, sliding your hands down your leg as you go.
- Take this stretch as far as you like while not straining or forcing anything and still feeling supported, both by the chair and by your hands. If you’re able to reach lower on your leg, consider grasping the back of your calf or your ankle.
- Inhale and exhale slowly and evenly 5 times in this position, gently going deeper each time, and then release the pose by using an inhale to help you rise. Repeat this pose with your left leg outstretched, double-checking how supported your body is on the edge of the chair and realigning your right leg’s knee over your ankle before you bend over.
Photography: Active Body. Creative Mind.