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Mobility problems don't have to affect your ability to remain active and promote good health. Even if you use a wheelchair! Wheelchair yoga offers many health benefits through poses that can be done while seated in a chair. Keep reading to learn more.

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senior woman holding a wheelchair yoga pose

It’s important that we stay active and flexible as we age. Sedentary lifestyles and general wear and tear on the body, poor posture, and the accumulation of minor injuries – whether from sport or day to day life – can all mount up to put strain on the body. Gentle strength-building exercises, stretching and movement can help to undo that damage and prevent more damage too.

Those of us who are blessed with the ability to exercise in the traditional manner can get a lot of benefit from those exercises. WHO recommends that adults aim for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, and two days of strength training, as a minimum target .

But what about those of us who use a wheelchair? Let’s learn more about wheelchair yoga.

Wheelchair Yoga For Fun and Fitness

Wheelchair yoga offers an accessible and fun way to get moving. It involves stretching, twisting, bending and moving, as well as meditation and breathing exercises, that can help practitioners to stay limber and fit within the limitations that they have. It’s a good way for those who are limited in their mobility to get involved with traditional yoga classes, and it’s something that is easy to learn and that can be done at home without any special equipment.

Yoga from a chair has a lot of benefits, especially for senior citizens:

  • It can help to mitigate dementia symptoms: Studies show that chair yoga can help to improve the quality of life for those suffering from dementia, improving the long-term prognosis.
  • It improves outcomes for osteoporosis sufferers and can help to manage osteoporosis symptoms. Resistance training is often recommended for osteoporosis sufferers, but it is not always possible or practical for those in a wheelchair. Seated yoga, on the other hand, can work very well and offers similar benefits.
  • Chair yoga is low risk compared to traditional forms: Some adults use wheelchairs for ‘getting around’ but are not confined to them all the time. For those, the temptation might be to try traditional exercise classes. While it is wise to try to stay as fit and active as possible, for those who are at-risk of falls or who are concerned about safety, seated yoga is a low risk, highly beneficial form of exercise for seniors.

Easy Introductions to Wheelchair Yoga Poses

Wheelchair yoga uses a lot of the same poses that are used in traditional yoga, and also uses modified poses that take a standard position and makes it more usable for people with limited mobility.

Some examples of wheelchair yoga poses include:

  • Side Stretch: Reach your left arm above your head, and lean over to your right side. You should feel the stretch on your left hand side. Repeat to the opposite direction, raising the other arm. Try to stay facing forwards, and lean, rather than twist, to the side.
  • Eagle Pose: Put your arms out in front of you, elbows bent 90 degrees, palms facing. Cross one arm over the other, and wrap your forearms so that they ‘cross’ as well and your palms touch. Try to keep your arms up as much as possible while doing this. Try to keep an upright posture and your shoulder blades pinched back as you’re doing this.
  • Twist: This position is as simple as it sounds. While seated, keep an upright posture and turn to look back over one shoulder. Try to turn your whole body rather than just your head. Twist so that the shoulders are turning. Use one arm to help you by reaching over the wheelchair frame on the side you are turning to if required.

The above are just a few of the common yoga poses. There are many others that can work for people in a wheelchair, including modified versions of the cat pose, and cow pose. You can also practice yoga-style deep breaths and meditation techniques while you are using a wheelchair.

ALSO READ: The Best Wheelchairs: Lightweight and Comfortable!

Guided Yoga in a Wheelchair

Rather than trying to read about how to do the poses, it may be beneficial to watch some wheelchair yoga flows on DVD’s or follow videos online. When you are watching videos you can see how to get into the poses more clearly and you can also follow along with the person teaching the video, so you can get an idea of how long to hold each pose too. If you’re the sort of person that tends to rush through workouts when doing them yourself, you might find that this works for you since it stops you ‘cheating’ your way through the workout!

You’ll also get a bit of the feel of a yoga class, including some of the relaxation tips, which are, for many people, the best benefits of doing a yoga session.

RELATED: What Are The Best Yoga Apps for Seniors?

Some good yoga videos for wheelchair users include:

Yoga With Adrienne

Wheelchair Yoga - Gentle Chair Yoga Routine

This guided yoga session is short, coming in at just over ten minutes long. It’s wheelchair friendly, easy to follow, and taught by an accomplished yoga teacher. The exercises are simple and the focus is on breathing and relaxation, with gentle movements intended to refresh.

Adapt to Perform – Wheelchair Yoga for Beginners

Wheelchair Yoga For Beginners

This set of wheelchair yoga poses and exercises is taught by a male instructor, which may be useful for a stubborn grandparent that thinks “yoga is for girls”! The selection of exercises has been carefully selected to be wheelchair friendly, and includes shoulder mobility exercises that are often overlooked in traditional classes.

Wheelchair Yoga for Those With Severe Physical Limitations

Wheelchair Yoga For Those with Severe Physical Limitations

Some wheelchair yoga videos are aimed at people who struggle to walk long distances but are otherwise generally mobile. This video is different in that it takes into account other limitations that someone might have if they are in a wheelchair. The exercises can be tailored based on the viewer’s abilities.

Wheelchair yoga is suitable for almost everyone, and even those who are mobile can adapt some of the stretches, so the kids can follow along, or if they are old enough, do them in the office at work!

Wheelchair Yoga DVD’s

If you don’t have great internet service or searching YouTube is something you or your senior loved one isn’t going to do, here are some DVD’s you can pop into your DVD player and strike a pose.

Yoga Vitality – Chair Yoga For Seniors

The Yoga Vitality program by Dean Pohlman is designed specifically for seniors and people with health or mobility problems. These workouts are touted as part physical therapy, part workout, and part relaxation. He focuses on showing you how to stretch your back and extremities by learning to hold a position while taking relaxing deep breaths.t

Chair Yoga: Seated Exercises for Health and Wellbeing

The focus of this DVD are effective and senior friendly yoga poses and positions that can be done from a standard chair and adapted for wheelchairs too. I chose this one for my list because it is highly reviewed by certified yoga teachers who praise it for being detailed and thorough.

Chair Yoga

This DVD is part of a series of chair exercise videos for seniors. It is designed for beginning yoga students and features advice on improving mobility, the benefits of a good stretch and deep breaths, and improving overall health.  All while seated in a chair!

Wrapping Up

Yoga offers tremendous benefits to the human body – even for people who are wheelchair bound or have reduced mobility. It’s a great way to get in a nice stretch, learn to sit back and take a few deep breaths, and focus on your mental health for a few minutes.

You might want to explore the benefits of tai chi for seniors too if you prefer more movement during your exercises.

Many of the “yoga in chair” poses and exercises can be adapted for people in wheelchairs. Don’t be surprised if you break out a sweat – even from a seated position.

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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