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How To Teach Chair Yoga: Step-By-Step Guide

how to teach chair yoga

If you’re interested in working with the elderly, or people with mobility issues, then teaching chair yoga is a great way to make yoga accessible for these kinds of students. 

If you’ve never done chair yoga before, it can be hard to know where to start! That’s why we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide on how to teach chair yoga, covering:

Before we get started, if you’re not already qualified, enquire about becoming a qualified yoga teacher with OriGym here! Alternatively, download our free course prospectus here to browse the full range of courses we offer. 

Step 1 - Set an Intention for Your Chair Yoga Class

how to teach chair yoga

If you’re wondering how to lead chair yoga classes, the first thing you should do is set an intention for your class. 

By setting this at the beginning of your class, you can plan the session accordingly and keep coming back to the intention throughout the whole sequence.

Some of the types of intentions can use at the start of chair yoga sequence are:

  • Physical intentions, i.e. focusing on a specific part of the body, such as opening up the hips or lengthening the side of the body.
  • Energetic intentions, i.e. produce a specific energetic effect, such as lifting the energy in the room.
  • Emotional intentions, i.e. cultivate a certain attitude or emotion, such as happiness or gratitude.
  • Theme-based intentions, i.e. related to a specific theme or topic, the season that you’re in. 

Choosing an intention and keeping it in mind from the beginning to the end of the class helps keep both yourself and your students focused throughout the class.

For example, if your intention for the class is to open the hips, you can use this to choose a peak pose for the class that will help students to achieve this goal.

Say you choose seated pigeon pose as your peak pose. You can then craft the rest of the chair yoga sequence in such a way that will help to mobilise and prepare the body for this main pose.

Although you should plan an intention for your class, you should also be open to changing this when you arrive at the class.

This is because it’s important to consider what will be most beneficial for the students that you currently have in the room. 

For instance, if you’d planned to hold a class with a calming energy, but you arrive and the class already seems low on energy, this may not be so beneficial for them.

This is particularly true if you are teaching chair yoga to seniors, as they are more likely to fall asleep when sitting down!

Instead, you may need to alter the intention of the class to be more energising, which will benefit the student more. 

Finding a balance between planning in advance whilst also being able to adapt to your students is one of the things that makes a good yoga teacher!

Step 2 - Ask Students About Any Injuries Before Starting The Class

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As a yoga instructor, you should always ask whether anyone has any injuries at the start of the class.

But this is particularly important when teaching chair yoga, since you are more likely to be teaching elderly students or those with injuries and mobility issues. 

Being aware of these things before you start the class means that you can make sure to look out for these students when teaching.

This will then help you decide if the sequence that you’ve planned is appropriate for the students that are currently in the room. 

For example, if a student with a herniated disc arrives, you’ll need to know this information so that you can modify any twisting poses to ensure that they don’t injure themselves further.

When teaching chair yoga to seniors, the focus should be on keeping them safe and comfortable at all times.

At the start of the class, you should therefore remind students to only practise within their capabilities for the day.

For example, if they often suffer from lower back pain, they should pay attention to this area and move slowly, stopping and alerting you if they begin experiencing any pain.

As a chair yoga instructor, your priority should be helping students focus on what they can do, rather than what they are not able to do!

You should therefore remind them here that even if they have to perform poses with modifications, or if they have to skip some poses, they will still benefit from the practice.

The more sessions that they attend, the more that they’ll begin to build up their strength and flexibility levels, so will be able to practise more and more without pain or restriction.

 

Take your yoga career to the next level with OriGym!

Enquire today about our Level 4 yoga teacher training course

Step 3- Always Start Your Chair Yoga Sequence with a Welcome

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The next step in how to teach chair yoga is to give a short introduction or welcome to your class.

One of the benefits of chair yoga is that it is highly accessible to a range of people, including:

  • The elderly 
  • Those recovering from sports injuries
  • People recovering from surgery
  • Wheelchair users
  • Those suffering with shoulder, back, or neck pain

Since you are likely going to be teaching chair yoga to students with varying abilities and considerations, you should ensure that all students feel comfortable and welcome in your class.

Creating a friendly and inclusive atmosphere from the moment that students walk into your class means that they are more likely to be able to relax, let go, and enjoy the chair yoga sequence.

We’d therefore recommend dedicating 5 to 10 minutes at the start of the session to allow your students to talk to each other, have a general catch up, and settle into the room around them- before you start teaching the class. 

As well as creating a positive atmosphere from the very beginning, this sets a supportive tone for the session and helps students to feel that they are surrounded by friends.

This is especially crucial when learning how to teach chair yoga, as you’re likely to have older students, who come to your class to socialise and meet new people.

According to Age UK statistics, there are currently 1.4 million elderly people living in England who suffer with feelings of loneliness.

The yoga class may be one of the only chances that they have within their week to talk to others, helping them to feel less isolated.

So, allowing them this short time at the start of the class means that students can really feel the benefits of chair yoga.

By making students feel comfortable in your class, they will have a more enjoyable experience and therefore be more likely to return to your classes again!

Step 4- Teaching Chair Yoga Should Prioritise Breathing Exercises

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Once you’ve welcomed students into your class, the next step is to focus on getting them both mentally and physically prepared for the main section of the class. 

One of the main ways to do this is to start your class with breathing exercises (pranayama). 

This is an important tip for teaching any kind of yoga class, but particularly when teaching chair yoga. 

This is because you are more likely to have beginners or those with injuries and mobility issues in your class, who may be nervous about doing yoga. It is therefore even more important to ensure that they feel relaxed and at ease before you start your chair yoga sequence. 

Practising diaphragmatic breathing (breathing deeply from the stomach) causes the spine to extend and the small intercostal muscles below the ribs to contract.

This causes a decrease in pressure and an increase in volume to occur in the thoracic cavity, which includes the heart and lungs. 

This means that the blood is better oxygenated, which allows the body to function at a higher level.

Deep breathing also helps the physical body to relax and prepare itself for asana practice. If the body is stiff and tense, there is a higher risk of injury when performing poses.

This is particularly important when learning how to teach chair yoga, as your students are likely to be elderly, vulnerable, or physically limited by a specific condition- which puts them at an even higher risk of injury.

chair yoga benefits

Breathing in deeply from the diaphragm also encourages the nervous system to move away from the sympathetic response (a.k.a. the fight or flight response, or the stress response).

Instead, breathing exercises help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the rest and digest, relaxation response.

This reduces the production of cortisol, the hormone responsible for causing stress, which happens when the sympathetic nervous system is overworked.

As a result, students will feel any physical tension begin to melt away, and are likely to feel calmer, more relaxed, and ready to practise your chair yoga sequence!

Here are some breathing exercises which are ideal for building into your senior chair yoga sequence:

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

  1. Resting the left hand on the thigh, bring the right hand up to the face. 
  2. Holding the right nostril closed with the right thumb, inhale deeply through the left nostril.
  3. Then, close off the left nostril with the left thumb, whilst continuing to exhale smoothly through the right nostril. 
  4. Next, inhale through the right nostril, holding the left nostril closed. Continue the alternate breathing practice for 3 to 5 minutes.

Box Breathing 

  1. Begin by resting the hands on the thighs
  2. Inhale for four counts
  3. Hold the breath for four counts
  4. Exhale for four counts

Ujjayi Breathing 

  1. Inhale deeply, keeping the mouth closed. 
  2. Then, exhale through the nose whilst constricting the throat muscles. 

This should sound like waves on the ocean, which allows students to focus, clear their minds, and prepare to synchronise their movements with the breath later on in the session.

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Step 5- Gradually Build in Seated Poses for Your Chair Yoga Sequence

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After your breathing exercises, your students should be relaxed and focused and be ready for the main body of your class, where you will introduce the chair yoga postures. 

This is the asana part of your practice, and is the longest section of your chair yoga sequence. 

Asana practice is especially important for those with physical limitations, who you are likely to have in your chair yoga class. .

One of the benefits of learning how to lead chair yoga is that you get to use your creativity, as you won’t be using the traditional standing or floor-based postures that feature in other styles.

This is because as we’ve discussed, chair yoga is aimed at those with restricted mobility- both young and old, who may have health issues or limitations that may prevent them from achieving certain poses. 

When planning your yoga class, you should therefore make sure to offer modifications to your students, so that your classes are accessible to a wide range of abilities.

With this in mind, try to put poses together in an order that will help to gradually warm up the body, release any tension in muscles and joints, and prepare students for the session. This is particularly important when creating a chair yoga sequence for beginners or those with mobility issues.

Here is an example of how you can structure your chair yoga sequence:

Begin Your Chair Yoga Sequence with Twisting Movements

how to teach chair yoga 5

The first 4 poses that we’ve included are ideas that you could incorporate into your chair yoga sequence to lubricate and loosen the spine.

Including twisting movements at the start of your chair yoga sequence helps to warm up the spine and increase students’ mobility for the rest of the session. 

Here are some of the best twisting movements to include in a chair yoga sequence for beginners or any type of student. We’ve also included a short guide to how to perform the poses. 

  • Cat/Cow Pose 
  1. Inhale, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Curl the sternum up whilst lifting the chin, reminding students to keep as upright as possible.
  2. Exhale, asking students to turn their gaze in towards the navel and draw it back towards the spine, spreading the back body wide.
  • Seated ‘Half’ Sun Salutations
  1. Inhale, and reach the arms overhead. 
  2. Exhale and bend forward, aiming to touch the floor, toes, or ankles, depending on the student’s level of flexibility. 
  3. Inhale and slowly lift halfway back up, placing the hands on the knees. 
  4. Exhale back into the forward fold position. 
  5. Inhale, returning back to the start position and lift the arms up overhead. 
  6. Exhale, bringing the palms together lightly.
  • Twists Left and Right
  1. Ask students to sit tall, with their feet and knees together. 
  2. Moving the left hand across the body and placing it on the outside of the right knee, reach the right hand behind, helping the spine to lift taller.
  3. Exhale, twisting the upper body to the right for 3 to 5 breaths. 
  4. Inhale to release and repeat on the left-hand side.
  • Uttanasana
  1. Place the feet shoulder-width apart and keep the knees bent.
  2. Lean the whole body down towards the floor, with hands touching the floor, toes, or ankles, depending on flexibility levels of individual students.
  3. Remain there for 3 to 5 breaths, before returning to the starting position.

As a seated forward fold, this pose is a particularly great one for creating space in the back of the body and releasing any tension here. 

However, if the intention of your session is to work on the hamstrings, you could modify this pose to target them more. 

Do this by asking students to move forward to the edge of their chair and straighten the legs as much as is comfortable.

This is a great way of targeting muscles within the legs, such as the hamstrings and glutes, without having to stand up.

Progress Your Chair Yoga Sequence To More Dynamic Movements 

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The next three poses are more dynamic, and work to increase circulation.

This is particularly important to include when teaching chair yoga to seniors. 

As we age, plaque can begin to build up and narrow the passageways within the arteries. This causes them to become stiff and causes poor circulation, particularly in the legs.

Poor blood circulation in the legs results in less oxygen being delivered to all parts of the body, which can hinder the body’s ability to function normally.

As well as being able to move more freely, increasing blood flow will therefore help your students to feel more energised, and increase physical and mental performance.

You can do this through movements which involve the shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles, such as:

  • Shoulder Rolls
  1. Place fingers on top of the shoulder bones, and then ask students to inhale as they shrug their shoulders up. 
  2. Lifting the elbows forward, exhale and widen them out to the side, squeezing the shoulder blades together and down. 
  3. Repeat for 3 to 5 breaths, before changing directions.
  • Wrist Circles
  1. Ask students to put the palms together in front of them and interlace the fingers. 
  2. Rotate the hands in a circle in one direction, going slow for 2 to 3 breaths, and then speeding it up. 
  3. Swap the hands over and repeat, circling in the other direction.
  • Hip and Ankle Rotations
  1. Sitting up tall with the legs apart, pull the right knee towards the chest using the right hand.
  2. Rotate the knee in circles, and after 3 to 5 rotations, reverse the direction. 
  3. Place the right thigh on top of the left thigh in a cross-legged position, then rotate the ankle in a clockwise circle for 3 breaths, before switching directions.

Work Towards A Peak Pose In Your Chair Yoga Sequence

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After your students’ joints and muscles are warmed up, you can then culminate your practice in a peak pose.

This is often a more complex or demanding position, so may not be accessible for all students, depending on their ability.

So, before creating your sequence, ensure that you choose a peak pose which is appropriate for the students that you have in the room.

Seated Warrior II is an ideal peak pose to use when teaching chair yoga to seniors. 

This seated modification of the traditional Warrior II pose helps students stay balanced more easily than the standing version of the pose. 

This means that students who perform the full pose remain in the position for longer, without becoming fatigued.

To perform seated Warrior II:

  1. Ask students to move their weight over to the right-hand side of the chair, then turn their right knee and foot to the right. 
  2. Squeezing the quadriceps and turning the left foot sideways, they should then extend the left leg behind them so that the distance between the feet is about a leg’s length. 
  3. Turn the shoulders and abdomen to face the side, whilst opening the arms to the side into a T-shape, and hold this position for 5 to 7 breaths. 
  4. Repeat on the left-hand side.

Those with mobility issues can remain seated to feel the benefits of this pose.

However, if more mobile students are looking for progressions, they can instead hover over the chair, which helps to engage the glutes, abductors, and adductors.

 

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Perform a Grounding Pose Later on in Your Chair Yoga Sequence 

Apanasana is an ideal pose for including at the end of your session, as it is designed to calm both the body and mind.

In Sanskrit, Apana translates to ‘downward-moving life force’, so this pose is also thought to help move toxins downwards and out of the body.

Apanasana is usually performed lying on the back. However, you can modify this pose by:

  1. Remaining seated, ask students to bring one knee up to the chest.
  2. Hold this knee with your hands for a few breaths, before putting it back down onto the floor.
  3. Repeat with the other knee.

Step 6- Use Corpse Pose to Close Out a Chair Yoga Sequence for Seniors

teaching chair yoga

Ending your class with Savasana, or corpse pose, is a great way to allow students to consolidate the benefits of chair yoga and wind down after the physical and mental demands of the class. 

The pose also gives the parasympathetic nervous system the chance to take control, allowing both the mind and the body to rest, digest, and become calm. 

This calmness gives practitioners the chance to step back and observe any thoughts and feelings that have come up during the class, but without holding on to them. 

However, traditional savasana pose is performed lying down flat on the ground. So when teaching chair yoga, you will need to adapt this pose accordingly. 

Rather than lying down, ask students to remain seated and sit up tall, but allow their shoulders to fall down and away from the ears to release any tension.

They should also close their eyes, to allow themselves to properly unwind and turn their attention inwards for a few moments, leaving them feeling calm and collected as they leave.

If any of your students have back issues, they could slide a cushion between their back and the backrest of the chair.

This encourages them to keep their spine lengthened, but provides some extra support to ensure that they don’t slump or lean back.

Within the seated Savasana position, the arms should be relaxed, but not left dangling. 

So, if students find it difficult to know where to place their arms, they could place a cushion on their lap too and rest their hands there.

Those with a stiff or sore neck can use a neck pillow, or roll a blanket around the neck like a scarf for support.

5 Key Tips on How to Teach Chair Yoga Effectively

So, now that you know how to structure a chair yoga sequence, here are some tips to follow on how to lead chair yoga effectively. 

Tip #1- Find Out About the Levels of Your Students Before Teaching Chair Yoga

teaching chair yoga 2

As we’ve discussed, when teaching chair yoga, it is likely that you will have students of varying abilities and skill levels, or with health and mobility issues. 

It is important that you find out this information before you start your chair yoga sequence, so that you can be sure that you are teaching a safe and effective class for all.

If your students are booking onto your class in advance, you could find out about these things prior to the class itself. 

For example, you could ask them to fill in a form or health questionnaire, such as this one from the British Wheel of Yoga.

This could either be part of the online booking system when they sign up to the class, or could be in a follow-up email after they have booked. 

This will help you when you are planning your class, as you can create a class that is appropriate to the skill level and abilities of your students. 

For example, if your questionnaire reveals that lots of students have lower back issues, then you will know to avoid poses that could exacerbate this, such as backbends or side stretches. 

 

Take your yoga career to the next level with OriGym!

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You may even want to bring along cushions for students to place behind their back when sitting on the chair to support their lower back. 

Not only does this make the process of planning your session a lot easier for you, but it also shows students that you have their safety and wellbeing in mind. This will make them feel more comfortable and confident in your teaching, making it more likely that they will return to your classes!

As well as asking them beforehand, you should also check in with your students verbally at the start of every class. 

You should ask the class if anyone has any injuries or health issues, or even just how they are feeling on that particular day. 

This is an important tip for teaching chair yoga to seniors, as it is more likely that you will have students with injuries or mobility issues that could affect your class. 

Knowing this at the start of your class means that you will know to offer appropriate regressions, modifications, or even whether to avoid certain poses altogether. 

Tip #2- Practise Your Chair Yoga Sequence in a Circle

teaching chair yoga 4

When setting up your studio prior to students arriving, we’d recommend putting the chairs in a circle or semicircle formation.

Not only does this take up less space, but it also helps students feel more connected to one another, rather than being seated in rows. 

This is especially important if you are teaching a chair yoga sequence for seniors, as you’re likely to encounter students who may feel lonely and isolated on a day-to-day basis.

Being in a circle allows you to make eye contact with class members, enhancing this sense of connection and allowing them to feel part of something bigger when they attend your class. After all, this is one of the key benefits of chair yoga! 

Rather than simply standing at the front or in the middle, we’d also suggest making yourself part of the circle, to participate and allow students to feel a connection with you as their teacher too.

This position also allows you to move your chair around more easily, so that all students can see your demonstrations for each pose.

It also ensures that chair yoga benefits those of hard hearing, who may not be able to hear your voice if situated at the back of the room behind others.

As well as seeing you properly, being in a circle also allows students to reference each other, so that they can see how the pose looks on other bodies.

This isn’t to encourage them to compare themselves with others, but gives participants a chance to celebrate diversity and support each other.

Tip #3- Warm Up Properly at the Start to Help Students Experience the Benefits of Chair Yoga

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A popular misconception many people have before learning how to teach chair yoga is that it's easier than regular yoga. This could lead you to think that you don’t need to get students to warm up as much at the start. 

However, this isn’t the case! Seated poses are not necessarily ‘easier’ than regular yoga poses- they are simply modified. 

Seated poses are only ‘easy’ if you simply just move the arms. Once you also incorporate some spinal and leg movement, they become much more challenging!

This is because the pelvis is fixed when participants remain in a seated position, becoming the base of support for all of the structures above it, including the spine.

As the spine bends and twists, the connection points that link the spine to the pelvis- the sacroiliac and hip joints, are challenged.

It’s therefore important to warm these joints up before practising more complex and demanding poses, in order to reduce the risk of injury. 

We’d recommend beginning with some simple dynamic poses, where you can move in and out of the pose a few times, rather than holding it for an extended period of time.

This could include poses that we’ve discussed in this article, such as:

  • Cat/cow
  • Seated ½ sun salutations
  • Twists left and right

For example, a student attending your classes may have stiff hips, which limits their mobility and range of motion. 

So, if you ask them to perform a position such as Cow Face pose at the very start of the session, this could cause injury, as they are not prepared for the pressure that is being put on their hips.

Instead of warming up the muscles around the hips, the pose will pull strongly on the hip and sacroiliac ligaments.

Static and more challenging poses such as these are therefore better placed towards the middle of the practice, after the body has been sufficiently warmed up.

Tip #4- Chair Yoga Benefits Students More If You Incorporate Props

teaching chair yoga 6

Props are often used in regular yoga classes to either make poses more demanding, or when teaching beginners yoga.

They are therefore also great to use when teaching chair yoga to seniors too, as it is likely that these students will need to adjust poses.

Some types of yoga props you could incorporate into your chair yoga class are:

  • Yoga blocks. For example, in chair yoga, the legs should be at a 90-degree angle to the back of the knees and the feet on the floor. 

However, if students have shorter legs, they may not be able to do this. They can therefore use blocks to raise the floor up and create a broad and stable foundation, allowing them to maintain the 90-degree angle with their feet firmly planted on the floor.

  • Cushions. You may also have students with longer legs may find that their thighs slope upwards. 

To rectify this, you could recommend raising their seat by sitting on a cushion. This will help to bring their pelvis and knees into the same plane.

  • Straps. These help students get deeper into poses or perform poses that they do not have the range of motion to perform. 

For example, Cow Face Arms is a great pose for teaching students how to externally rotate one shoulder, whilst internally rotating the other.

If students cannot clasp their hands behind their back in this position, they could try using a strap and pulling gently on it.

Straps also help with exercises such as seated hamstring stretches, by wrapping the strap around the foot and again, gently pulling on it. This helps them achieve a deeper range of motion that they would not have otherwise reached. 

 

Take your yoga career to the next level with OriGym!

Enquire today about our Level 4 yoga teacher training course

Tip #5- Keep Your Senior Chair Yoga Sequence Short and Simple

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When designing a chair yoga sequence for seniors, we’d recommend keeping it simple. 

This is because as we have said, it is likely that you will be teaching students with health conditions or injuries. They may therefore also be new to yoga, or nervous about pushing themselves too far. 

Keeping your sequence simple will therefore help students feel confident and safe in your class, rather than feeling nervous about overly-complicated movements. 

So, rather than putting the emphasis on perfecting each pose, focus on explaining the benefits of chair yoga when it is practised on a regular basis.

Knowing that regular practice can help to increase flexibility, improve mobility, and can benefit cardiovascular health will encourage students to keep attending your classes.

We’d also suggest introducing only one or two new simple poses per class, such as the ones we’ve discussed in this article.

These should be accessible poses that they can practise at home outside of classes, to increase their confidence and improve their mobility.

To keep the sequence simple, you should also avoid complex poses such as inversions.

Inversions reverse the flow of blood from the heart to the brain, so aren’t good for those with high blood pressure, which is a common condition in the elderly.

Along with making sessions simple, each of your classes shouldn’t be too long, as your audience is likely to be limited in energy.

You also want to avoid putting too much strain on the muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system, so anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes for the whole session is a good guideline.

Before You Go!

So, we hope that our comprehensive guide to how to teach chair yoga has left you feeling prepared and excited to teach this niche kind of yoga! 

If you’re not already, the first step in teaching chair yoga is to become a qualified yoga teacher with OriGym! Enquire today, or browse the full range of courses we offer by downloading our free course prospectus here

Sources

  • Age UK, ‘All the Lonely People: Loneliness in Later Life’, September 2018

Written by Rebecca Felton

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first-class degree in English, Rebecca’s combined passions for fitness and writing are what brought her to OriGym. Rebecca is a keen gym-goer and specifically enjoys lifting weights. Outside of fitness and writing, Rebecca enjoys cooking, reading, and watching the football.

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