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A woman does chair yoga.

Yoga has been shown to boost mobility, reduce stress, and improve bone and joint health, muscle strength, and respiratory function.

But many yoga programs are inaccessible for people who struggle to get down on and up from the floor, or who have difficulty balancing in a standing position. This often forces those who would benefit most from yoga’s rewards — older adults and people with chronic pain or injuries — to forgo the practice.

Fortunately, it’s possible to perform poses from a seated position and still reap the benefits.

“Yoga is an ideal low-impact lifetime exercise, and a perfect approach for proactive aging,” says yoga instructor Kristin McGee, author of Chair Yoga: Sit, Stretch, and Strengthen Your Way to a Happier, Healthier You.

She offers the following spine-strengthening poses to improve posture and relieve hip and lower-back pain. Begin by sitting tall at the front edge of a sturdy seat, with your feet flat on the floor.

Seated Back Bend

A woman performs the Seated Back Bend yoga move.

Why it’s great: “This pose will help engage the thoracic spine and counteract rounded shoulders,” McGee explains.

How to do it:

  • Clasp your hands together behind your back and inhale.
  • As you exhale, press your thumbs down into your seat and lift up through the center of your chest, allowing your head to rise and walking your gaze backward along the ceiling.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed down your back, away from your ears.
  • Hold for five breaths, then return to an upright position.

Make it harder: Take the bend deeper and lift your hands off the chair.

Seated Figure Four

A woman performs the Seated Figure Four yoga move.

Why it’s great: Provides a gentle stretch for the glutes and outer thighs, which McGee says can help relieve pain in the hips and lower back.

How to do it:

  • Place the outside of your left ankle above your right knee.
  • Flex your left foot and, on an exhale, let your left knee drop open. Try to use your left hip to draw you knee down; avoid forcing your knee down with your hands.
  • Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

Make it harder: As you exhale, place both forearms on your raised shin and hinge forward at your hips, keeping a flat back.

Seated Twist

A woman performs the Seated Twist yoga move.

Why it’s great: “Mobility in the spine can decrease as you age,” McGee notes. This pose will improve range of motion while strengthening the core, both of which will improve posture.

How to do it:

  • Place your left hand on the outside of your right leg and your right hand directly behind you on the seat.
  • As you exhale, gently twist to the right. Imagine leading from the center of your chest, not your chin.
  • Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

Make it harder: Use your inhales to sit taller and your exhales to twist farther.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

Photos: Chad Holder; Styling: Pam Brand; Mobility Model: Amber Johnson
Kaelyn Riley

Kaelyn Riley is an Experience Life associate editor.

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