Updated: Jan 11
In my experience, the idea of running around in skin-tight leggings, trying to get down on the floor — and up afterward — and fears about mystical religious practices keeps many older adults from enjoying the many benefits of yoga. Luckily, numerous seated yoga exercises for seniors offer the same benefits without those off-putting aspects. Read on to learn more.
Key benefits of yoga exercises for seniors
Yoga offers many benefits to seniors, including:
Gains in flexibility and range of motion allow older adults to handle routine tasks better
Increased self-awareness and a deeper mind-body connection can help reduce symptoms of chronic disease
The social benefit of gathering with friends and supporting each other can bring happiness and acceptance to seniors
Make sure to check with your health care professional before you begin any new exercise program, including one with seated yoga exercises for seniors.
Five Seated Yoga Exercises for Seniors
While many can, not all yoga poses can be adapted to perform in a chair. Here are a few common yoga poses, along with the areas they target and the benefits you may experience with them. These are listed in the order I would recommend for you to perform them. It is one that I have used in the past when teaching seated yoga classes.
This sequence works from the top of your body down, covering major muscles within your torso when performed together. It offers a warm-up and deep stretch and is completed with focused breathing and relaxation.
Begin the sequence by sitting forward in your chair with your hands resting on your legs; take several steady breaths. Do not change the depth or pace of your breathing; simply find your natural rhythm. Allow yourself to relax and become aware of your body.
If you become uncomfortable or out of breath at any time during your practice, return to this position and breathe to recenter and refocus.
1. Seated Airplane
This great chest opening exercise offers an overall stretch for the front of your body. It is easy to perform and can help improve posture. Follow these simple steps to perform a seated airplane pose:
Sit toward the front of your chair, feet flat on the floor and your chest lifted.
Take a deep breath in as you lengthen your spine.
Then, as you exhale, hinge forward from your hip, letting your chest or collarbone lead the movement while you reach your arms back and down, palms facing each other.
2. Seated Downward Dog
A traditional downward dog opens your hips as well as your shoulders. A similar effect can be performed standing with your chair for support. The seated version offers an incredible stretch for your shoulders and upper back without the benefits of loosening the hip area. It is also a great yoga exercise for seniors who aren’t quite up to leaving the safety of a chair. Besides, there are countless hip and hamstring exercises available, and we will get to one later in the sequence.
Place your feet flat on the floor, roughly hip-width apart, while you sit toward the front of your chair.
Overlap your palms and take your hands overhead, palms facing forward. Your arms will remain slightly bent throughout this exercise.
Gently press your hands back so that your arms come in line or pass just behind your ears.
Hold this position for 2 or 3 breaths, then relax. Repeat the entire pose with the other hand in front.
3. Half Moon pose
This is a great transitional move and will get your spine ready for the Seated Spinal Twist coming up. The seated half-moon pose stretches your obliques and helps you lengthen through your spine.
If you have any back or spinal issues, please use extra caution, and stop or lessen your movement if this exercise causes any pain.
To perform this great seated yoga exercise for seniors:
Sit forward in your chair with your chest lifted.
Take a nice, deep breath in, and reach overhead, palms facing in, as you lengthen your spine and relax your shoulders.
Begin your exhale and gently to the side bend from the waist, allowing your arms to lead the motion.
Return to the center as you inhale, and repeat to the other side on your next exhale. You can continue this waving motion several times or finish the pose by inhaling to the center and exhaling to a relaxed seated position.
4. Seated Spinal Twist
The seated Spinal Twist is another gentle yet effective seated yoga exercise for seniors. It stretches and strengthens the deep stabilizer muscles of your spine and back and eases tension throughout the hips. You can perform it pretty much anywhere you find a chair, so don’t be afraid to try it out if you’ve been sitting somewhere for a while.
You will start by sitting up tall and crossing your legs at the knees. If this is uncomfortable, or if your health care provider has advised against crossing your legs, you can cross your ankles or place your feet together, pressing your legs toward each other.
Take a deep breath in and place both hands, palms down, on the higher leg.
Exhale and gently turn through your waist toward that higher leg.
Your shoulders should remain level throughout the exercise.
Hold the stretch for 2 or 3 breaths, then return to the center. Repeat on the other side.
If you would like to add a simple neck stretch, turn to look over your shoulder as you perform this pose.
Please remember that one side of your body will likely feel tighter than the other, so only move until you begin to feel the stretch. That may not be the same motion on each side.
5. Seated Pigeon pose
This is an incredibly popular yoga pose and is easily adapted as a seated yoga exercise for seniors. It offers a deep stretch throughout your hips and can be customized depending on your flexibility and range of motion. You will need to be forward in your chair to perform this pose.
Start by crossing your right leg over your left. Allow your knee to open out to the side. If you are comfortable crossing your ankle over your knee, that will offer a deeper stretch. If not, that’s perfectly ok.
Hinge forward from your hips, taking your chest and collarbone forward. Your spine should remain neutral throughout the stretch.
Take 2 or 3 deep breaths here, then gently return to an upright seated position. Repeat with the other leg on top.
Ending your workout
Repeat the opening focused breath sequence to end your session. Expect to spend about 15 to 20 minutes performing the entire sequence, including opening and closing with a couple of minutes of focused breathing.
This is a beautiful and versatile set of seated yoga exercises for seniors. Combined, they can help you gain flexibility and increased range of motion throughout your torso and hips.
Find a Yoga Class Near You
Taking group classes can provide an excellent opportunity for you to socialize with other older adults working toward better health by living a healthy and active lifestyle.
If you are unsure about starting your yoga journey, make a quick stop by your local YMCA or recreation center. You may be able to take a trial class or even peek in and see one in action.
There are many benefits to incorporating seated yoga exercises for seniors into your daily routine. First, they are user-friendly – no getting down on the floor or contortions needed!
You may notice mild soreness the day after you practice, so take a day off, rest, and let yourself recover. Within a couple of weeks, you should start to see improved flexibility, and daily tasks (like putting socks on) may seem just a little easier. And, after all, isn’t a better quality of life what your wellness journey is about?