Struggling with mobility issues as we age can leave us feeling isolated and limited, but wheelchair yoga exercises for seniors work with our capabilities to maximize our flexibility and overall wellness.
Chair yoga routines or wheelchair yoga poses only require a sturdy chair for an elderly person to receive the benefits of yoga, without needing to stand or perform complex postures.
However, before beginning wheelchair yoga exercises or any other wheelchair exercises for seniors on a regular basis, always be sure to consult your doctor.
Let’s check out some of the best poses to try!
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8 Best Yoga Wheelchair Exercises for Seniors
The various yoga exercises which seniors in wheelchairs can do fall under the category of chair yoga or seated yoga.
Chair yoga is a low-risk, low-impact form of yoga that is easy on the joints and can open the way to other forms of wheelchair exercises.
Chair Yoga poses are suitable for seniors at various fitness levels and are also good for those who are in the process of recovery from an injury or illness.
Here are a few exercises a new yoga student can start off with.
1. Chair Cat-Cow Stretch
This exercise is good for calming and improving posture. It targets the hips, spine, abdomen, and provides a great shoulder stretch.
- Sit upright on a chair with both your feet glued to the floor.
- Place both your hands on your thighs and inhale, while arching your back and roll your shoulders down and back.
- Next, you make sure your shoulder blades slide down your back for a deeper stretch. This is called the cow position.
- While exhaling, try to round your spine and bring your chin towards your chest making the head and shoulders drop forward. This is known as the cat position.
- Taking slow breaths, make sure you inhale every time you role your shoulders back and arch your back in cat position and breathe out when you curve forward in cow position. Alternate between cat-cow until your shoulders and back begin to warm and loosen up.
2. Chair Warrior Pose
Great for posture and arm mobility, this yoga pose works the muscles along the spine, the abdomen, shoulders, and arms.
- Face your body forward and let your arms drop to your sides.
- Make sure you are seated in an upright position to engage the core. This is seated mountain pose.
- Inhale deeply while lifting your arms to the ceiling and count up to three while holding the same position.
- After the three counts, bring your arms down slowly while exhaling, and make sure you count up to five to make it more effective.
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3. Neck Stretch
A great way to relieve stress and neck pain, the basic neck stretch works a variety of muscles including the trapezius and the scalenus medius.
- Sit upright, and if possible, try not to touch the back of your chair.
- Extend your neck upwards to the ceiling and hold this for 3-5 breaths.
- Next, you hold the base of your chair with your left hand and extend the other hand to the right temple, letting your head drop to the side.
- When exhaling, gently and slowly dip your right ear to your right shoulder without raising your right shoulder or bending your back.
- Switch sides and do the same on your right.
4. Chair Pigeon
Depending on your mobility, you may need some help for this position. It is fantastic for opening your hips and hamstrings and may reduce lower back pain.
- Sit in an upright position facing forward and make sure your back does not touch the wheelchair.
- Next, you want to raise your right ankle to the top of your left knee or thigh.
- This position is hard so you can use your hands to assist with holding the position or ask an assistant for help.
- Next, inhale deeply and exhale while bending forward as far is comfortable. Stop if the position begins to cause you pain. After you have taken 3-5 breaths in the bending forward position, return to your sitting position.
5. Eagle Arms
Eagle arms is great for stretching the muscles between your shoulders and for your rotator cuffs. It Improves circulation and aids upper back pain.
- While sitting upright in your wheelchair, stretch your arms forward and try to cross your right arm over your left arm while bending your elbows to guide your forearms together.
- Next, raise your elbows gently while you interlace your fingers, if your flexibility allows you too. Arch your back slightly to open the chest and keep your breaths steady and deep. After about 30 seconds, switch arms so that left arm is on top.
6. Chair Spinal Twist
This is a great way to improve back flexibility while getting a deeper twist in your pelvis and mid to lower back.
- Start by sitting sideways on your wheelchair with your knees tilted over the left side of your wheelchair.
- Reach for the back of the chair with your both while inhaling deeply. Try to keep your hips and pelvis in the same position.
- Next, gently turn your body towards the back of the wheelchair making sure you feel your spine stretch while you exhale.
- Try holding this position for about 6 seconds before you try again. Alternate between different sides of the wheelchair for at least 2 sets on each side.
8. Seated Forward Bend
This is an excellent exercise to improve posture and reduce fatigue and lower back pain.
- While in a seated position, make sure to sit upright with your back away from the back of the wheelchair.
- Ensure your knees are touching and your feet are glued to the floor while taking deep breaths.
- Gently bend down forward upon exhaling and try to feel your vertebra extending one at a time.
- Make sure you only feel a gentle stretch rather than any discomfort and try to hold this position for several breaths before you return to your initial position.
Benefits of Doing Chair Yoga for People with Limited Mobility
There are many benefits of doing wheelchair yoga for those who have limited mobility. These include:
- Improved flexibility and strength,
- Back Pain Relief,
- Easing arthritis symptoms,
- Reducing inflammation and creating healthier hearts by lowering blood pressure and reducing body weight, which helps prevent heart disease,
- Improves sleep, mood, and energy levels,
- Reduces the sense of isolation if taken in yoga classes with other people,
- Helps manage stress, anxiety, and promotes self care.
- Practice yoga with a professional instructor, if possible, to begin with. Otherwise, try to ensure a friend or family member is present to help you if needed.
- Only stretch to the point where you feel a gentle tension.
- No pose should hurt. If a pose causes pain, stop immediately. If the pain does not go away, consult a doctor.
- If you are reliant on your wheelchair, make sure you are safely strapped in and cannot fall out. Ensure your legs are also properly supported and that all normal chair poses are adapted according to the restrictions you may have.
What do I need for chair yoga?
Usually, all you need for chair yoga is a simple chair without armrests that might impede movement. However, if you are in a wheelchair, you can still benefit from many seated yoga poses such as mountain pose. In general, chair yoga can be done at home, but you can contact your local yoga studio to see if they offer classes.
Who is chair yoga suitable for?
Chair yoga is great for those who are struggling with mobility issues, such as those who are recovering from an illness or injury. It is also good for elderly people who may not be able to keep up with a full exercise routine and might need extra support.
Is chair yoga good for seniors?
Yes, chair yoga is excellent for seniors. It is a great way for elderly people who are at risk of falling or those who rely on wheelchairs to still access the benefits of yoga. This includes reduced stress and improved circulation through breathing techniques, as well as better flexibility in the upper body and movement.
How often should you do chair yoga?
Your doctor should always be involved with any decisions regarding exercise. Nevertheless, if you are doing full yoga classes for seniors, you may do them one to three times a week. Still, chair yoga is gentle enough that you can do most poses safely throughout the day and make them part of your daily life.
Wheelchair yoga for seniors is a fantastic way to ease into a more demanding exercise routine, or simply to improve movement and flexibility at your current fitness level.
Remember to always speak to your doctor about any new exercise and take things slow. Yoga should never hurt, so keep every pose within your comfort zone and never push past your limits.
- “9 Benefits of Yoga.” 2021. 2021. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-benefits-of-yoga.
- Jeter, Pamela E., Amélie-Françoise Nkodo, Steffany Haaz Moonaz, and Gislin Dagnelie. 2014. “A Systematic Review of Yoga for Balance in a Healthy Population.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 20 (4): 221–32. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2013.0378.
- Senior Lifestyle. 2020. “Top 10 Chair Yoga Positions for Seniors [Infographic].” Senior Lifestyle. Senior Lifestyle. February 12, 2020. https://www.seniorlifestyle.com/resources/blog/infographic-top-10-chair-yoga-positions-for-seniors/.
Have you tried any of these wheelchair yoga exercises for seniors? Please share your experience below!