How Can Older People Do Chair Yoga Correctly and Not Harm Their Health?

Written By: William Rivers
Reviewed By: William Rivers
Published: December 6, 2023

If you thought yoga was just for the young and spry, you're sorely mistaken! Yoga classes can be adapted to any level of mobility and to any age. 

One of the best forms of gentle yoga is chair yoga. Chair yoga is a safe and low-impact version of yoga that's perfect for older adults, anyone with physical limitations, or even those who spend a lot of time in a chair at work and need a quick break to stretch out their body. 

Chair yoga is simply yoga poses adapted to be done with the support of a stool or chair to bear most or all of one's body weight, and it's an invaluable tool to increase mobility and strength and boost mental health. Most chair yoga poses for seniors are specifically designed to assist with the physical activity needs of older adults. 

However, despite all these great benefits, it's incredibly important to practice chair yoga safely to avoid injury. Many people who practice chair yoga are physically vulnerable, so learning good technique with a credentialed instructor is the best way to get the most out of your chair yoga experience. 

This article will delve into why you should try chair yoga and how to go about it safely as a senior.

What Are The Benefits of Chair Yoga for Older People?

There are countless benefits seen from practicing chair yoga. Each individual's experience is unique, and not many practitioners reap several benefits, including (but not limited to):

  • Social Connection
  • Reduce Fear of Falling
  • Strength Improvements
  • Better Mobility
  • Increased Flexibility
  • Weight-Loss
  • Positive Mental Health Effects
  • Stress and Anxiety Reduction
  • Stronger Balance and Coordination Skills

As people get older, they tend to experience more loneliness, social isolation, and mental health difficulties. Chair yoga classes can be a wonderful way to connect with other seniors while enjoying the added mental health benefits of physical exercise. Yoga has also been particularly shown to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety by cultivating more peaceful mindfulness. The combination is both mood-boosting and calming, which is precisely what most seniors need.

Another aspect of chair yoga that makes it incredibly rewarding is the physical changes that can take place. As people age, they generally lose strength, coordination, and their ability to complete daily tasks unassisted. This can knock anyone's confidence and be a frustrating experience. Chair yoga instead helps to reverse or at least slow this process by improving physical ability. This gives seniors more independence for longer, which can result in yet another mental health boost.

A final important benefit of chair yoga is simply the physical health and fitness benefits. Getting moving in any way can improve cardiovascular health, and the resistance training aspect (bodyweight or supported bodyweight resistance in this case) can increase muscle mass and slow bone loss. This makes seniors overall less frail.

Who Should Not Do Chair Yoga

Despite how wonderful chair yoga can be, it's not necessarily suited for everyone at all times.

The first and most harmless example of this is those who simply aren't challenged enough by chair yoga. If an older individual is highly capable and enjoys regular yoga classes, it's better to continue with whatever form of yoga is an appropriate level of difficulty for them. They'll get more out of those classes.

Another time to avoid chair yoga is while actively sick. This could be a cold, a fever, or even just plain fatigue. There are times when it's best to get moving and times when it's best to rest, and each individual should listen to their own bodily cues to discern between the two.

A final group of people who may not be well-suited for chair yoga are those with osteoporosis or compromised joints from injury or surgery. This is because chair yoga involves a slight amount of weight-bearing on joints, and it could be either uncomfortable or dangerous for some people. 

However, even those recovering from injuries or with osteoporosis can safely do chair yoga as long as they have clearance from their doctor, understand which movements to avoid, and have a skilled instructor. 

Important Rules When Doing Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is overall very safe, but there are still some important rules to keep in mind to reduce any risk of injury or harm.

  • Use a Stable Chair The greatest risk of injury from chair yoga is actually from falling off the chair. Make sure to select a stable chair that is able to bear weight. 
  • Use Props When Necessary Yoga props such as additional chairs, pillows, yoga belts, and even blankets can be extremely helpful during chair yoga classes. They can modify poses and reduce strain so that the yogi isn't pushing past a healthy range of motion or amount of effort.
  • Keep the Spine Tall and the Core Engaged This principle applies to all kinds of yoga, but it's especially important for chair yoga. Practicing good posture by keeping the spine tall and stacked straight upwards as much as possible keeps the back safe. Particularly while making twisting motions, forward flexion (slouching) can be dangerous.
  • Avoid Jerky or Sudden Movements Chair yoga should be slow and graceful. This improves strength and stability while also reducing the risk of injury. Sharp and sudden movements put greater strain on the joints and muscles, and they can lead to accidental falls. 
  • Keep Feet Flat on the Floor Another basic safety precaution that has multiple benefits is keeping the feet flat on the floor. This clearly decreases one's risk of falling off of one's chair, but it also improves muscular engagement and overall coordination. It does this by grounding weight down and building strength with intentional movement.
  • Don't Push Breathing Exercises Too Far The final major pitfall to avoid keeping chair yoga safe is to avoid doing any extreme breathing exercises. While gentle breathing exercises have plenty of benefits, in excess, they can alter blood pressure and cause dizziness, vertigo, and even faintness in extreme cases.

Work Out With a Trainer and Consult a Doctor

Even with all of these precautions in mind, the most important thing is always to get medical clearance from a trusted healthcare provider before starting any new physical activity routine. This is particularly important at older ages and if one has health conditions to consider.

After consulting a doctor, it's also essential to practice chair yoga with a certified instructor who knows how to safely instruct each pose and adapt it to each individual's abilities. Chair yoga is an effective form of exercise that's well worth pursuing as long as it's done with these considerations in mind.

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William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
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