Chair yoga poses and benefits

chair yoga

by Emily Gilbert |
Updated on

Chair yoga is a gentle form of yoga: usually either sitting down or standing up next to a chair, using the chair for support as you would with other chair based exercises. It is a gentle exercise that is ideal for seniors or those that have limited mobility.

To help you find out more about chair yoga, we've rounded up the benefits and the top positions to try to get started with expert tips and advice from Kristina Rihanoff, professional dancer and choreographer on Strictly Come Dancing. Kristina is also a certified yoga instructor at her own studio.

What is chair yoga?

Lakshmi Voelker-Binder is credited with creating chair yoga back in 1982 when one of her thirty-something students had a flair-up of her arthritis and could no longer get down on the floor to practice yoga. After practising for several months, she was able to start doing mat yoga again, always keeping her chair nearby. Today training in chair yoga is widely available; there is even an International Chair Yoga Association based in the United States.

With her own mum's needs in mind, Kristina undertook training so she could bring chair yoga classes to her wellbeing centre SooYoga.

"It was both inspiring and eye-opening and I realised that there was so much to this form of yoga than I had initially thought. Many people don’t realise that chair yoga offers all the health benefits of a normal yoga practice; it tones muscles, helps with flexibility, reduces stress levels, enhances sleep and gives an overall sense of well-being," says Kristina.

What are the benefits of chair yoga?

• Gently building up physical strength

• Flexibility

• Helping focus and concentration

• Boosts mood

• Reduce stress

• Encourages sleep

• Relieves anxiety

Who should do chair yoga?

While chair yoga is great for the elderly, Kristina realised during her training that classes "would be helpful to people with MS, Fibromyalgia, weight issues, in post-operative recovery, as well as women in the late stages of pregnancy."

Chair yoga poses

Fancy giving chair yoga a try? Follow Kristina's typical class routine below.

Like any other yoga class, chair yoga begins with breathwork to settle the mind and body. Four to six rounds of deep breaths through the nostrils which help you oxygenate the bloodstream, open up the lungs to full capacity and calm down the parasympathetic system. Breathwork allows you to take the class in a more relaxed and mindful state.

©Igor Cuprins

We progress with back bends like seated half moon, backbends and forward bends.

©Igor Cuprins

Backbends are followed by seated chair poses with hands stretched into the ceiling into slow ragdoll with hands falling down to legs and slowly stretching back to an upright position.

©Igor Cuprins

Once the warmup is done, we progress into warriors and cress and lunges poses. If you have little mobility it’s best to keep seated, but this also can be done behind the chair holding on to the back for balance. Pretty much all warrior poses can be adjusted.

©Igor Cuprins

If the client is able to stand and hold on to the back of the chair, try downward facing dog by holding on the back of the chair and stretching the tailbone away from the crown. This has an amazing opening for the back muscles, gets rid of lower back pain and also opens up the hamstrings.

©Igor Cuprins

After warriors and lunges sequences, we progress in stretching with belts as they provide great assistance with poses like the standing bow tree pose.

©Igor Cuprins

I like to use blocks to help people with the supine twist at the end of class.

©Igor Cuprins

Finish with five to 10 minutes of meditation and mindfulness to rebalance and restore energy.

Can chair yoga help with weight loss?

Chair yoga for seniors can beneficial for weight loss, as it's a low-impact form of exercise that gets you moving. It is gentle on the body and daily yoga for over 50s is also beneficial for increasing strength and mobility. To see the best results, it's important to spend time doing these stretches everyday. If that doesn't seem feasible at first, try doing it two or three times to begin with.

Where can I do chair yoga?

You can do free chair yoga exercises from the comfort of your own home, as long as you follow a tutorial or online video to get you started - just so you know what you are doing, or you can sign up and participate in a class like Kristina's. If you're interested but you live too far away, you can join Kristina's Wellbeing page on Facebook.

We recommend speaking to your GP or a health professional if you're concerned about starting a new sport or physical activity.

A Digital Writer for Yours, Emily Gilberthas been a journalist since 2015 and has worked across a variety of specialist and lifestyle brands both in print and online. Specialising in product reviews, Emily is the first to know about all the exciting new releases, her favourite being foody gadgets.

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