Do you often feel tense? Has it become difficult to bend down and tie your shoes due to stiff joints? Are you often worried about falling? If so, chair yoga and seated yoga poses may be the ideal exercise to add to your daily routine.

“If exercise could be packaged in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.”  - Robert Butler, National Institute on Aging.

What is chair yoga?

Chair yoga is derived from traditional yoga, an ancient practice with poses that date back over 5,000 years. Many, if not all, traditional yoga poses can be replicated as sitting yoga poses or yoga stretches using a chair. This makes chair yoga both suitable and enjoyable for individuals at all levels of experience, including seniors.

The health benefits of chair yoga

The benefits of an active lifestyle are well known and documented. It's often said that "exercise is the best medicine." Luckily, chair yoga is an effective and accessible exercise for everyone.

Once you begin practicing chair yoga, you will start to feel a sense of ease and relaxation flow through your body. Over time, you will notice the tension that once overtook your muscles and joints begins to release, and basic tasks of daily life are once again possible.

Using your chair for seated poses or balancing poses, you can take advantage of the many benefits yoga provides, such as increased circulation; feelings of well-being; and decreases in blood pressure, anxiety, inflammation, and chronic pain.

Despite any limitations you may have, chair yoga can help you feel stronger, along with many other benefits. Including:

  • Increased flexibility: The ability to bend, twist, stretch, and move freely is important for more than doing yoga. It allows you to do the things that you need to do and engage in the activities that you love. Although some people assume that a loss of flexibility is inevitable as they age, they are mistaken. When it comes to the human body, the rule is “use it or lose it.” By gently challenging your body with chair yoga, you can increase your range of motion and improve your mobility at any age.
  • Improved Strength: Using your muscles to complete yoga poses builds strength. More strength can lead to better balance, which can reduce your risk of falls. It can also improve your body's ability to withstand injury. More muscle mass increases your calorie burning ability, may increase bone density and make activities of daily living easier and doable.
  • Improved Self-Awareness: Doing yoga generally means shifting smoothly from one pose to another. Moving from one pose to another improves your proprioception. It is your ability to accurately sense where your body is in space, which improves your coordination.
  • Reduced Stress: Mindfulness is an inherent part of yoga. Focusing on your movement, your breathing, and how your body is reacting to the exercise creates a kind of moving meditation that promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and improves mental clarity. Like other forms of exercise, seated yoga may also help improve mood, your confidence and relieve anxiety and depression.
  • Improved Pain Management Skills: Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that one of the perks of exercise is reduced pain. That is because working out prompts the body to release natural painkillers like endorphins. Chair yoga also provides you with valuable tools for managing your pain. Gentle movement, deep breathing, and imagining the pain leaving the body can be applied in other situations to cope with pain and discomfort.
  • Better Sleep: Maintaining a regular exercise routine is often associated with better sleep, and chair yoga is no exception. These mindful exercises have been known to create a more positive outlook on life, which in turn reduces stress and headaches and improves sleep – creating a mind-body experience.

Chair yoga for weight loss

For me, teaching chair yoga allowed me the opportunity to create an exercise program that is accessible, fun and at times just as challenging as a more traditional yoga class. At first, I taught chair yoga to people who had physical limitations such as multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and pulmonary disease. Soon, I was teaching chair yoga to younger, healthier people who wanted to try something new.

At the Lifespan Center for Weight & Wellness I teach chair yoga (currently on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions) to our weight loss patients. Participants have told me they feel great knowing they are capable and competent to engage in this form of exercise. It is easier to stay motivated and feel a sense of accomplishment when you can exercise, especially when you thought you were too weak, too heavy, or too old to do it.

How to do chair yoga and learn seated poses

For more information on chair yoga and learning poses, try The Yoga Journal or Very Well Fit sites.

There are some helpful smartphone apps, as well, such as Yoga for Beginners, Chair Yoga, or Office Workout for exercises and Plum Village for meditation.

For more tips on living well as we age visit the Aging section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog or the National Institute on Aging. For additional fitness tips, visit our Moving section of the blog.

Joanne DeCataldo, MA

Joanne DeCataldo, MA

Joanne DeCataldo is a health educator and group leader in the Master’s Program at the Center for Weight and Wellness.