Senior Yoga: Adapting Yoga Poses to a Chair

It may seem at first implausible, but adapting classic yoga poses to a chair class is like teaching a typical asana practice—the possibilities of movement are endless. With the exception of inverted postures, any asana can be modified while seated or standing with support.


Teachers take note: there are a number of details to consider that are exclusive to a chair yoga class. For instance, forget supine poses—most chair yogis won't be able to get up and down from the floor, others won't be able to hear well, and still others will have unique physical restrictions. Nevertheless, a chair yoga class can be both healing and empowering to this special population.


Best Poses for Chair Yoga

Take some deep cleansing breaths by putting your hands on your abdomen and sending a big inhalation into the lower belly, expanding the navel outward. On the exhalation, release the breath, feeling the belly return to normal. Do it again. Inhaling, expand with oxygen, light, and energy; exhaling, release toxins, tensions, and worries. The yoga breathing practices will help calm and energize you, and you can practice them at any time.


ASANAS FOR DEEPENING

  • Wrist and ankle rolls. Subtle movements that may seem too slow in other classes are celebrated in this setting.

  • Arm and shoulder stretches. Shoulder rolls, eagle arms, cow face arms (with straps), and face-framing (opposite hand to opposite elbow with arms overhead).

  • Pelvic tilts. Perform seated cat-cow movements.

  • Leg exercises. Include toe curls, ankle rolls, knee lifts, leg lifts with legs crossed and uncrossed to strengthen the hip flexors and seated leg cradles.

  • Forward bend. Spread the feet wide, gently inch forward on the chair away from the back, and rest the forearms on the thighs as you bend at the hips to lengthen the spine. If flexibility allows, slide the hands down the legs to reach the ankles or floor.

  • Twist. Turn toward the twisting side, resting a hand on the back of the chair. Lengthen the spine, and gently twist on the exhalation.

Seated Poses—

Practiced on a sturdy chair in Seated Mountain pose.

  • Wrist and ankle rolls.Subtle movements that may seem too slow in other classes are celebrated in this setting.

  • Arm and shoulder stretches. Shoulder rolls, eagle arms, cow face arms (with straps), and face framing (opposite hand to opposite elbow with arms overhead).

  • Pelvic tilts. Perform seated cat-cow movements.

  • Leg exercises. Include toe curls, ankle rolls, knee lifts, leg lifts with legs crossed and uncrossed to strengthen the hip flexors and seated leg cradles.

  • Forward bend. Spread the feet wide, gently inch forward on the chair away from the back, and rest the forearms on the thighs as you bend at the hips to lengthen the spine. If flexibility allows, slide the hands down the legs to reach the ankles or floor.

  • Twist. Turn toward the twisting side, resting a hand on the back of the chair. Lengthen the spine, and gently twist on the exhalation.

Arms Shoulder rolls, eagle arms, cow's face arms (with straps), elbow bends, face-framing (opposite hand to opposite elbow with arms over the head), pelvic tilts, lion's breath with chest-beating, arm reaches up, back, front, and to the side.

Legs Toe curls, ankle rolls, knee lifts, leg lifts, legs crossed and uncrossed to strengthen the hip flexors, ankle to rest on the opposite thigh (seated leg cradle).

Forward Bend Spread the legs, gently inch buttocks forward on the chair away from the back, and rest the forearms on the thighs as you bend forward and lengthen the spine. If flexibility allows, slide the hands down the legs to reach the ankles or floor.

Twist Turn toward the twisting side resting the hands on the back of the chair. Lengthen the spine and gently twist on the exhale.

Standing Poses—Practiced while holding back of the chair for support

Use a sturdy chair. If necessary, place the chair against the wall.

Tadasana Stand in back of the chair, holding the back for support. Emphasize the importance of the weight being evenly distributed between the left, right, front and back sides of the body.

Uttanasana Standing sideways, one hip facing the back of the chair, place one hand on the chair, the opposite hand on the hip. Bend forward at the hips, bending the knees, stopping where you meet resistance.

Warrior II Stand in back of the chair, place one hand on the chair for support. Alternate lifting the arms.

Triangle Stand in back of the chair, place one hand on the chair for support. Once in triangle position, rest the leading side's hand above the knee for maximum stability.

Tree Stand to the side of the chair. Hold the back of the chair with one hand. Root the standing leg, turn the opposite leg out, keeping the foot on the ground. If balance allows, rest the foot on the ankle or calf.

Standing Poses-- Facing the Seat of the Chair

Standing Poses

Use a sturdy chair for support. Where possible, place the chair against the wall.

  • Mountain. Stand behind the chair, holding the back of the chair for support. Emphasize the importance of your weight distributed evenly between the left, right, front, and back, of the body. For a variation, rise up on the toes.

  • Standing forward bend. Standing with one hip facing the back of the chair, place one hand on the chair and the other hand on the hip. Bend forward at the hips, micro-bending the knees, stopping when you meet resistance.

  • Warrior II. Stand behind the chair, and place one hand on the top of the chair for support. Alternate the arm lift.

  • Triangle. Stand behind the chair, and place one hand on the chair for support. Once in triangle position, rest the leading hand between the waist and the knee for maximum stability.

  • Tree. Stand to the side of the chair, holding the back of the chair with one hand. Root the standing leg, and turn the opposite leg out, keeping the foot on the ground. If balance allows, rest the foot on the ankle or calf.


Facing the chair, place your hands on the seat.

Lunge Position one foot in front of the other with the front knee bent touching the edge of the seat. Lift the back heel off the ground keeping the knee straight.

Warrior I Position one foot in front of the other, with the front knee bent touching the edge of the seat. Place the heel of the back on the ground. Alternate lifting arms.

Downward Dog/Standing Splits Step both feet back so the spine is long and flat, torso parallel to the ground. Bend the knees, move the hips side to side, and the sit bones toward the back of the room, as you press the heels towards the ground.

Variation--Standing splits: lift one leg while in dog.

Tips for Chair Yoga Teachers

• Divide the class time into four segments:

(1) Centering (including intention, affirmation, and connecting to the breath)

(2) Seated movements

(3) Modified standing poses using a sturdy chair or chair against a wall for support. Transition back to seated by practicing chair pose and squeezing knees and thighs together, gradually lowering to the chair seat.

(4) Relaxation and meditation.

LEARNING FROM OUR ELDERS

As I teach the seniors, I also teach myself. Together our yoga lessons have helped us ease suffering, let go of unresolved issues and allow healing to begin. Fortified with the wisdom that comes only through a lifetime of experience, these senior “teachers” have taught me some profound lessons.

• Judgmental thinkers limit their options. Gladys, an 87-year-old with one kidney, a hip replacement, and no known knowledge of Buddhism, believes, “We are only limited by our own minds.”

• Nothing is impossible. Renee, who is 90-something, with plenty of twinkle in her eyes, told me her life’s philosophy revolves around the bumblebee. Aerodynamically, the bumblebee isn’t supposed to be able to fly–its wings are too big for its body, she said. But the bumblebee doesn’t know that. Renee said she has always lived her life like the bumblebee: you never know you can’t do something if you’ve never tried.

• Even a 93-year-old can get taller through yoga. Roselyn, a 4′ 6″ self-proclaimed “little old lady,” announced to the class that since she started yoga, she had grown an inch! She is now 4′ 7″.

• Chanting can be a great way to vent frustrations. Eighty-four-year-old Marian refers to chant as yogic screaming and requests a “good scream” at least once a week.

• It doesn’t matter how old you are, the pelvis likes attention. Through gentle seated backbends and “hula” hip movements, the senior students now have a better understanding and awareness of their digestion, lower backs and, yes, even sexuality!


My senior students/teachers and I hold hands. We chant Om. We practice the breath of the bumblebee. We stretch the biggest stretch we can at the moment. We connect. And we remind ourselves that if our hearts are in the right place, we can teach our bodies, minds, and spirits some new tricks.


0 comments

Recent Posts

See All