Have a Seat

Chair yoga provides support and stability

For decades, Chicagoan Patricia Mamantov worked out regularly, doing water aerobics and Pilates. But when arthritis caused the 75-year-old’s shoulders to constantly ache, she switched to chair yoga.

“It’s an excellent way to move your body, not strain it, and not finish feeling like you’ve been through the wringer,” says Mamantov, who takes chair yoga classes at the Galter LifeCenter at Swedish Hospital. “Everyone knows it’s important to keep moving as we get older. That’s what it’s all about.”

In this gentle form of yoga, the person practices adapted poses while sitting on a chair or holding on to it, rather than sitting on the floor or standing unaided.

The chair enables those who have difficulty with balance or limited mobility in the leg and hip joints to participate in the practice. Participants with less mobility can do everything seated, while those with greater leg strength can do poses holding the chair’s back or placing a hand on the seat for balance and support. 

“Everyone knows it’s important to keep moving as we get older. That’s what it’s all about.”

Chair yoga stretches and strengthens muscles, loosens joints, and increases mobility, balance, and energy flow, says Tim Noworyta, who teaches hatha yoga and chair yoga at Galter LifeCenter. 

Yoga poses — whether in traditional form or adapted for the chair — provide a range of benefits, including building strength, improving balance, and decreasing stress. 

“There are a multitude of upsides to chair yoga,” says Jack Olson, MD, a geriatric medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center. “The range of motion, flexibility, and deep breathing are all good, as are the social benefits. And the meditative aspect is excellent, too.”

Gain Strength with These Seated Poses

For an introduction to chair yoga, instructor Tim Noworyta suggests trying these adapted yoga poses. Start all poses by sitting very tall, toward the front of your chair, with your feet planted hip-width apart on the floor.

seated mountain pose chair yoga

Seated mountain pose

  1. Roll your shoulders up and back to bring your shoulder blades closer together. Pull your lower ribs and belly in toward your spine.
  2. Extend your arms out to the sides and pull your arm bones back into your shoulder sockets. Lift your hands up so they are shoulder-width apart above your head, with your shoulders down, elbows back, arms and fingers fully extended, pointing up.
  3. Push your sitting bones into the chair and extend up like a mountain toward the sky, pushing the top of your head into the clouds. Take five deep breaths, slowly inhaling and exhaling.

seated twist pose chair yoga

Seated twist pose

  1. Bring your left hand to the outside of your right knee or thigh, and your right hand to the seat of the chair behind you or to the chair’s back. Gently pull in your lower ribs and belly and push your head toward the sky. 
  2. Inhale and, as you exhale, twist to the right, starting with your belly, then ribs, shoulders, collarbone, and head, with your right shoulder opening back away from your gaze. 
  3. With each inhalation, sit a little taller. With each exhalation, twist a little more, pulling with your left hand to help your ribs turn, while pushing down into the seat or pulling on the chair’s back to help your shoulders open. 
  4. Take four or five breaths, turn your head to look over your left shoulder, and take a few more breaths. Release, untwist, take a resting breath or two, and repeat on the other side. 

seated pigeon pose chair yoga

Seated pigeon pose

  1. Lift your right knee, and interlace your fingers around the top of your shin, just below your kneecap. Pull your knee toward your shoulder and bring your right foot across the top of your left thigh above your knee. Flex your foot, pulling your toes toward your knee and pushing out through your heel.
  2. Support your right foot with your left hand and support your right knee with your right hand. As you lower your knee in relation to your foot, the stretch gets more intense, so take it easy. 
  3. Gently pull in your lower ribs and belly and stretch up and out over your right shin, while pushing your tail back into the chair. 
  4. Take four or five deep breaths, gently deepening the stretch when you exhale. Slowly release, take a few resting breaths, and repeat on the other side. 

seated triangle pose

Seated triangle pose

  1. Place your left foot flat on the floor and extend your right leg, toes up and heel pressing into the floor. Extend your arms out to the sides, twist slightly to the left, and bend forward, leading with the right side of your torso, so that your right arm comes to the inside of your right leg, fingers reaching down toward the floor. 
  2. Press your arm against your leg for support as you twist your torso to the left, extending your left arm up and pointing your left fingers toward the sky. Depending on your neck flexibility, look down, sideways, or up toward your left hand. 
  3. Take four or five deep breaths, twisting your torso a bit more each time you exhale. Slowly release, take a few resting breaths, and repeat on the other side.