Chair yoga can be useful for older adults who have difficulty with balance or want to improve their strength while minimizing the risk of falls. Chairs can provide stability or make an exercise easier for a beginner.

People can do chair yoga with the help of a physical therapist or yoga instructor or by following tutorials they might find online or in a book.

The movements typically involve sitting in the chair while stretching and holding poses or standing and using the chair for balance.

Read on to learn more about chair yoga for seniors, including whether it works, the benefits, and some poses to try.

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Yes — the research to date on chair yoga for older adults is positive. However, the studies so far have tended to involve a low number of participants. Chair yoga may:

  • Improve strength: A small study of 35 older women in community care found that 12 weeks of chair yoga improved strength in the hands, arms, and legs. However, this study was small, so more research is necessary.
  • Improve balance: The same study also found improvements in balance, agility, gait, and limb flexibility following chair yoga.
  • Help those with arthritis: A 2023 study of 85 Taiwanese women with knee osteoarthritis (OA) found that regular chair yoga improved functional fitness, suggesting it could be helpful for people with joint conditions.
  • Reduce joint pain: Another study from 2016 of older adults with OA found that an 8-week chair yoga program reduced joint pain. This effect remained for at least 3 months after the program finished.
  • Reduce the fear of falls: A small 2012 study of older adults with a median age of 88 years found that 8 weeks of regular chair yoga may improve mobility and decrease the fear of falls among this age group, with no adverse effects. However, this study had a very low number of participants, so more research is needed.

There is also significant evidence that yoga more generally improves the quality of life in older adults. A 2019 systematic review of previous studies found that this form of exercise can benefit physical strength and flexibility, as well as mental well-being, in this age group.

It is never too late to start yoga. Some of the benefits can begin from the first session. Even if a person cannot manage much exercise initially, making gradual steps toward better strength and balance can lead to rewards over time.

However, if a person has difficulty with certain movements, or they are not seeing any results, they may benefit from speaking with a physical therapist or yoga instructor who has experience working with older adults.

If a person has difficulty exercising due to pain, injury, unexplained fatigue, or muscle weakness, they should speak with a doctor before trying any new form of exercise.

Below are some chair yoga poses. To start, a person will need a stable chair without arms. It should not have wheels or castors. Wear comfortable clothing that allows for stretching.

Additional tools, such as yoga blocks or a rolled-up towel, can also be useful, but they are not essential. If any movement feels painful, stop and speak with a doctor.

Upward Salute Pose

To try this pose:

  1. Sit in the chair, with the back straight and feet planted on the floor, parallel and hip-width apart.
  2. Inhaling, raise both arms toward the ceiling. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the back straight, without arching.
  3. Exhale while lowering the arms.

Seated Mountain Pose

To do this pose:

  1. Sit in a chair and bring the soles of the feet to the floor.
  2. Align the ankles and knees.
  3. Elongate the spine from bottom to top, extending the vertebrae.
  4. Inhale while drawing the shoulders forward and up.
  5. Exhale while rolling the shoulders down and back.
  6. Repeat as desired.

Seated Cat-Cow Pose

To do this pose:

  1. Sit in a stable chair, with the back straight and feet planted on the floor.
  2. Bring the hands onto the knees.
  3. While inhaling, lift the chest and move the shoulders back, looking upward.
  4. Exhale while rounding the back, bringing the chin toward the body.
  5. Repeat as desired.

Seated Pigeon Pose

To do this pose:

  1. Sit upright on the chair, with the feet on the floor.
  2. Bring the right ankle up onto the left thigh, keeping the right knee and ankle aligned.
  3. Hold the pose for a few seconds. To stretch more, bend forward from the hips.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Downward-Facing Dog with chair

To try this pose:

  1. Stand in front of a chair, with the feet hip-distance apart.
  2. Bending from the hips, place the hands on the seat of the chair or grip the sides. Keep the back straight.
  3. Step the feet back until the arms are fully extended. Try to keep the heels planted on the ground. If this is difficult, try using a wedge or rolled-up towel to support the heels, or bend the knees.
  4. Hold the pose for as long as it feels comfortable.
  5. To finish, step the feet forward again and raise the upper body to a standing position.

There is no strict rule about how often people should do chair yoga. The right frequency may depend on a person’s current level of fitness, their goals, and how much exercise they can do before they tire.

A person may find it beneficial to start with a small amount of chair yoga and then work up to two or three sessions per week. Alternatively, if they can, they can ask a physical therapist what amount is right for them.

As with any form of exercise, there are some potential risks when it comes to chair yoga.

Even though the risk of falling to the floor is lessened when doing seated poses, there is still a possibility this could happen. It is important to use a very stable chair.

Injury is also possible if a person overexerts themselves or strains a muscle.

Chair yoga is a promising form of exercise for older adults. It may help people with certain health conditions, such as arthritis, to exercise without putting pressure on joints. It may also reduce the fear of falling, and help people who are not used to exercise to begin improving their strength and balance.

In addition to improving physical health, yoga also involves mindfulness, which can benefit mental health and well-being.

Older adults who are new to chair yoga may benefit from speaking with a health professional for advice on how to try it safely.