Yoga For Seniors: 13 Yoga Poses For Seniors

Aging is a gift. It is a blessing to have lived many years not to forget the wisdom and grace that comes with it.

However, your senior years do come with some challenges including an increased risk for illness, reduced in muscle mass and strength, loss of flexibility and balance, reduced mobility, and decline in memory among others.

These challenges do not need to spell doom for you with each passing birthday. Practicing a healthy lifestyle that involves exercising, eating healthy, and taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing can help you live well even in your senior years. Research has shown that practicing yoga regularly offers numerous benefits for seniors.

Benefits of yoga for seniors

Boosts strength and stamina by helping you to build muscles and improve your bone density.

Promotes your mental health. Many mental illnesses are associated with growing older, including Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression among others. Yoga and its meditative aspect had been shown to promote the development of gray matter, reduce stress and improve circulation to the brain.

Improves your cardiovascular and respiratory functions.  Continuous deep breathing emphasized in yoga activates your respiratory system and increases your lung capacity.

Improves your flexibility and agility. As we grow older, the body naturally loses flexibility. Practicing yoga promotes circulation to the joints and ensures that your joints are able to move within their range of motion.

Helps in prevention and management of chronic illnesses such as arthritis and cardiovascular diseases.

Now, you may be thinking “I am sold in on the numerous benefits that yoga can offer me, and how much it would help me improve the quality of my life. But, I don’t think I have enough strength or flexibility to do a headstand or handstand, or twist my body into some poses”.

The good news is that there are different types of yoga and over 1000 yoga poses and variations to fit different people’s needs and capabilities.  Restorative yoga, yin yoga, hatha yoga and chair yoga are some types of yoga that are appropriate for seniors. With the support of a few props you will be able to get into the various poses and enjoy their benefits.
Yoga Poses for Seniors to Improve Strength, Balance, Flexibility and Posture
Below is a selection of 13 yoga poses to help you get stronger, more flexible, have better balance and posture, and cultivate mental and emotional wellbeing. The poses include some chair yoga poses, simple standing poses and easy-to-do lying poses. For chair poses, use a sturdy chair that does not have armrests. Accompany all poses with consistent ujjayi breathing.

1.         Seated Mountain Pose

Sanskrit: Tadasana

The mountain pose helps to align your posture, gently stretch the entire body, and build core strength. The aim of this pose is to hold the body in an upright position while breathing deeply and steadily. It is an easy-to-do and straightforward pose for most people. You may either do the standing mountain pose or if your feel that it is challenging to remain on your feet, take the seated variation.

Seated Mountain Pose

How to do it

Assume a seated position on a sturdy chair.

Separate your feet and knees to a hip-width distance.

Press your seating bones and hamstrings on the chair.

Your knees should be bent at a right angle.

Root the corners of the feet down.

Pull your belly in towards the spine.

Roll your shoulders up and drop them backwards.

Draw the shoulder blades towards the spine and lift your chest.

Release your hands beside your body, fingers spread and pointing downwards.

Lengthen your neck and hold your head sturdily as if holding a stack of book on top of your head and look straight ahead.

Hold for 5 breaths.

For standing mountain pose, follow the instructions above but remain standing.

2.         Seated Supine Twist

Sanskrit: Katichakrasana

The seated supine twist offers a gentle twist at the base of the spine that massages the internal abdominal organs; therefore, promoting detoxification of the liver and better digestion. It also lengthens the spine and strengthens the back muscles.

This asana is a must-do if you spend the most part of your day seated. It is not suitable if you have herniated disc, a sciatica flare up, spinal injury or you had an abdominal surgery recently.

Seated Supine Twist

How to do it

Come to seated mountain pose.

Extend both hands in front of you, fingers pointing forward.

Inhale and as you exhale take a twist at the waist as you rotate the entire torso and hands to the right.

Hold for 2-3 breaths.

Come back to the center and switch to the left side.

*Instead of seating you may stand and follow the procedure above.

3.         Downward Facing Dog (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

The downward facing dog chair yoga variation offers you the benefits of a regular down dog without putting too much pressure on your hands and wrists. It stretches the hands and the entire posterior chain, while strengthening the upper body.

It is a great posture for building overall body strength to enable you do other yoga poses more effectively. This pose is not suitable for people with wrist, shoulders or hamstring injury.

Downward Facing Dog (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Place a chair against a wall so that the front edge of the seating surface is facing forward.

Stand in mountain pose facing the chair, about 2-3 feet away from the edge of the seat.

Slightly bend your knees and lean your torso forward until it is a few inches lower than the hip joint level.

Straighten your hands forward past your head and rest them on the seat or to hold on to the outer edges of the seat. Your torso should form a diagonal line from the fingertips to the sacrum.

Press your hands on the chair as if you are pushing the chair away from you.

Draw your rib cage and belly in.

Draw the shoulders away from the ears and the shoulder blades backwards.

Maintain a neutral spine- avoid rounding or arching the back.

Gently straighten your legs and maintain a micro bend behind the knees.

You may keep your heels lifted a few inches off the ground or drop them to the ground, if your hamstrings too tight.

4.          Warrior 2 (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Virbhadrasana 2

The seated warrior 2 is a full body invigorating pose that strengthens and lengthens the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, calves, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps. It improves your balance, stamina and agility. The pose requires you to breath deeply therefore strengthening your respiratory system.

It has therapeutic benefits for people with flat feet and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you suffer from insomnia, avoid doing the warrior 2 in the late afternoons and evenings.

Warrior 2 (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Seat on a chair in mountain pose.

Bring your seating bones forward so that they are covering only the first half of the seat.

Turn the right knee and foot out to the right and bend your knee to a right angle.

Extend the left leg to the front and pressing down the foot firmly. You may bend your left knee if need be.

Spread your hands on either sides of your torso, fingers pointed.

Draw the shoulder blades downwards and towards the spine, and lift your chest.

Keep your neck straight and head sturdy.

Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Switch sides.

5.         Triangle Pose (Chair yoga variation)

Sanskrit: Uttita trikonasana

The chair yoga variation of the triangle pose lengthens the entire side of the body, stabilizes and aligns the pelvis and spine, strengthens glutes, hamstrings, back and quadriceps, and opens the chest and shoulders.

Triangle Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Come to standing in front of the chair.

Step you left leg back about 3-2 feet, foot turned to a right angle.

Keep the right foot facing forward.

Spread out both hands to the sides, fingers pointed.

Hinge at your right hip joint and reach forward as you lean downwards until your right hand rests on the edge of the chair.

To align your hips, press the right hip inwards and open the left hip by rotating it externally and backwards.

Lift the left hand to point towards the ceiling.

Keep both knees straight, with a micro bend if need be, and ground the feet down.

Either gaze down, straight ahead or up at the lifted hand.

Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Switch sides.

6.         Dancer’s Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Natarajasana

The dancers pose offers a combination of balance, flexibility, and strength. As you stand on one foot and kick back the other foot, it takes focus and concentration to hold the pose.  The groin and quadriceps of the lifted leg lengthen while the hamstrings and quadriceps of the standing leg activate hence strengthening the leg muscles. The pose also opens the chest and shoulders, and strengthens the back.


Dancer’s Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it.

Stand in mountain pose behind the backrest of the chair.

Rest both hands on the backrest.

Ground the right leg by pressing the corners of the feet down and pulling the kneecap up to engage the quadriceps.

Lift your left leg backwards and with your left hand reach for the inner edge of the left foot.

Kick the left foot backwards as you lift it up.

Lengthen the torso by drawing your belly and rib cage in as you elongate the sides of the body.

Keep the standing leg straight or with a slight micro bend behind the knees.

Draw the shoulder blades back and down as you lift your chest.

Elongate the neck, keep the head sturdy and gaze forward.

Hold for 3-5 breaths

Switch sides.

7.          Goddess Pose with a Twist (Chair Yoga)

Sanskrit: Parivrtta Utkata Konasana

The seated goddess pose with a twist offers the strengthening, hip opening and detoxifying benefits of a twist and wide squat. It lengthens and stretches your inner thighs, calves and sides of the body.

Goddess Pose with a Twist (Chair Yoga)

How to do it

Sit in tadasana in your chair.

Open your legs wide so that you are straddling the seat.

Turn the left foot and knee to face the left side, and the right foot and knee to face the right.

Ground your seating bones and elongate your torso.

Reach both hands up, fingers pointing to the ceiling.

While maintaining an elongated torso, take a side bend on the left side by dropping the straightened left hand to the ground – elbow pressing against the inner left thigh, and fingertips pointing down. You may rest the left hand on a bock.

Look up at the lifted right hand.

Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Switch sides.

8.         Pigeon Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Kapotasana

This is another hip opener that opens the groin allowing the pelvis to release tension and

stabilize. It also stabilizes the spine and releases tension off the lower back while gently massage the abdominal organs hence promoting better digestion and detoxification.

Pigeon Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Seat in tadasana.

Separate your feet and knees hip-width apart.

Lift the left leg, bend the knees and place the left angle on top of the right knee.

Lengthen your torso, hinge forward from the hip joint.

Look ahead and hold for 3-5 breaths.

Switch sides.

9.         Modified bridge pose

Sanskrit: Setu bandha sarvangasana

The bridge pose energizes, rejuvenates and restores. It strengthens the back, eases tension off the lower back and opens the chest. It also stretches and strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps while stabilizing the feet. In the asana, the spine and entire thoracic column is lengthened and opened.

Since the heart is at a higher level than the head, it increases blood flow to the brain promoting calmness and stress relieve. This pose is not ideal for people with neck or shoulder injuries.

Modified Bridge Pose

How to do it

Begin in a seated position on the ground.

Lie back, and bend your knees to point towards the ceiling, feet flat on the ground. Your knees should be stack directly above the knees.

Lift your pelvis off the ground and place either a block, bolster or folded blanket under your sacrum.

Release the weight of your pelvis on the prop and rest your hands beside your body, palms facing up.

Rest the weight of your shoulders on the ground as you draw the shoulder blades downwards and shoulders away from the ears.

Your may place a thin rolled blanket under the neck for extra support.

Take your chin away from the collar bones and allow the neck to lengthen.

Gaze up.

Hold for 5-10 breaths.

10.    Feet Against the Wall Pose

Sanskrit: Viparita Karani

The feet against the wall pose is relaxing, calming and rejuvenating. It promotes blood flow to the brain, calms the nervous systems, and helps to detoxify the lymph nodes. It is likely that your feet may get a tingling sensation after holding them up against the wall for a few breaths. Wiggle them a bit to promote circulation and return to the posture.

Feet Against the Wall

How to do it

Come to sitting facing a wall – knees bent and toes against the wall.

Lean back and lie on your back.

Lift your legs and rest your heels on the wall.

Drag your upper body forward until your glutes, hamstrings and calves are in contact with the wall.

Lift your pelvis up and place a bolster or folded blanket beneath the sacrum and glutes.

Draw your belly towards your spine.

Place your hands beside your body and drop your shoulders away from the ears.

You may place a small folded blanket under your neck.

Keep your chin away from the chest and look up.

Hold for 5-10 breaths

If you find it difficult holding this posture, you may modify as follows:

Bring your pelvis as close to the wall as possible (in step three above).

Keep your knees bent and rest your feet on the wall such that the calves and hamstrings form a right angle.

You may place a bolster or blanket under the sacrum and pelvis for more comfort.

11.   Forward Bend (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Paschimottanasana

The chair yoga forward bend is a calming asana that promotes blood flow to the brain thus relieving stress. It also stretches the entire back and releases tension off the neck.  As the thighs gently press against the belly, it offers the abdominal organs a massage improving digestion and promoting detoxification. The pose also stretches the glutes and hamstrings.  It is ideal for alleviating back pain and managing anxiety.

Forward Bend (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Sit up in tadasana on a chair.

Hinge at the hip joint and bend forward resting your belly and chest on the thighs.

Allow your head to hang over the knees.

Drop your hands to the ground, fingertips or the palms resting on the ground.

Hold for 3-5 breaths

12.   Palm Tree Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

Sanskrit: Urdhva Hastasana

The palm tree pose is a variation of tadasana that promotes balance, proper posture, core strengthens, and stretches and energizes the entire body. As you lift on your toes and reach one hand up, the legs lengthen, core engages, and spine elongates giving you better posture.

Palm Tree Pose (Chair Yoga Variation)

How to do it

Come to standing in Tadasana facing the backrest of a chair.

Rest both hands on the backrest.

Lift your heels off the ground to stand on the balls of your feet.

Engage your thigh muscles as if holding a thin paper between your legs.

Draw your belly in, soften the ribcage and drop your tailbone.

Elongate the torso, lift your chest and draw the shoulder blades towards each other.

Reach your right hand up and keep your biceps and triceps active.

Drop your shoulders away from the ears.

Lengthen you neck, hold your head sturdy and look straight ahead.

Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Switch sides.

13.   Side Lying Corpse Pose

Sanskrit: Parsva Savasana

The side lying corpse pose is a restful position that is easy on the back and calming to the mind. While the traditional corpse pose would be ideal to end your yoga session with, some people especially those with back issues, find it uncomfortable. The side lying corpse pose in such a case becomes the better option. It allows the spine to assume its natural curvature and stabilizes the pelvis.

Side Lying Corpse Pose

How to do it

Lie down on your back, feet straight and hands beside you.

Bend your knees and hug them to your belly.

Roll over to your right hand side.

Tuck your right hand under your head and rest the left hand in front of your chest.

You may place a small pillow or thin blanket between your knees to ensure proper alignment of the pelvis and ease the weight of the top knee on the bottom knee.

Close your eyes and lie down in the pose for at least a minute allowing your breath to assume its natural flow – neither too deep nor too shallow.

Conclusion

Your body may not be agile, flexible and strong as it was in your younger years. However, you can work towards becoming stronger, fitter and healthier. The above 13 poses will get you started.

Take the modifications of the poses if you need to, use props whenever necessary, and work within your body’s limits. Practice yoga frequently and consistently. As you get stronger, you will be able to do more and delve deeper into poses.

While there are many books and videos that you can learn yoga from, it is best to either attend a yoga class or have an instructor come to you, especially at the beginning to prevent you from getting injuries. In such a setting, the instructor will be able to assess your physical condition, any unique needs you may have, and tailor for you a yoga session that meets your needs and one that is within your capabilities. Check in with your doctor before starting yoga for you to get a go ahead and identify conditions that may influence how you practice.