If you’re looking for a way to stay active and healthy despite limited mobility, wheelchair yoga is a great option!
There are plenty of wheelchair-friendly yoga moves that can help improve your flexibility and strength. In this blog post, we’ll share some tips on how to get started with wheelchair yoga.
How Does Wheelchair Yoga Work?
There are plenty of yoga moves that can be done from a seated position, and many of them don’t require any special equipment.
Wheelchair yoga, like any form of yoga, is fantastic exercise that can help you build strength, flexibility and balance while exploring mindfulness.
While many people think they need to be standing or have access to special equipment in order to practice yoga, there are actually plenty of wheelchair yoga poses and sequences that you can do right from the comfort of your wheelchair.
Wheelchair Yoga Poses
Check out our list of the most popular wheelchair yoga poses below!
For wheelchair cat-cow pose, sit up tall with your back straight and your chin tucked slightly in.
Take a few deep breaths to center yourself, then inhale as you begin the cow pose by arching your spine as much as possible, looking up at the ceiling.
As you exhale, round your back and tuck in your chin to move to the cat pose.
Repeat, moving between the cow and cat position several times, taking a few moments to breathe in each pose before switching.
2. Neck Rolls
For wheelchair neck rolls, start by sitting up straight in your chair and take a few deep breaths.
Inhale and roll your left ear towards your left shoulder. As you exhale, roll your chin forward towards your chest, then inhale as you move your right ear towards your right shoulder. Repeat several times, moving back and forth to each side.
For part two of this exercise, take a deep inhale and, as you exhale, turn to look to the left while keeping your chin level. Inhale and move back to center, then exhale and look to the right.
Repeat this three times on each side.
3. Shoulder Shrugs
With the wheelchair shoulder shrug pose, you’ll sit up straight in your chair and inhale deeply.
Then, as you exhale, gently shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths before releasing and repeating a few times.
4. Side Stretch
For side stretch, sit up straight with your feet firmly planted on the floor, and and place your right hand on the right armrest of your wheelchair.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, sweep your left arm up and overhead, reaching your left hand over towards the right. Turn your head to look up at the sky (but only if it feels OK with your neck).
Take several deep breaths, then inhale as you straighten up and move to your center. Exhale as you release your left arm. Repeat the same process with your left arm on the left armrest as you stretch your right arm overhead and across.
5. Forward Bend
For wheelchair forward bend, start by sitting up straight and inhale deeply.
As you exhale, slowly hinge from your hips to fold forward with your as far as is comfortable.
Hold this pose for three to five breaths before slowly returning to the starting position before you bend your upper body forward again.
6. Eagle Pose
For wheelchair eagle pose, sit in an upright position and inhale as you lift your arms up front of you. Bend your elbows so that they are at a 90 degree angle.
Next, cross your arms over each other at the elbows and — if you can — rest the backs of your hands against one another.
Hold this position with your arms out in front of you for several breaths, breathing continuously.
Release and repeat, putting the opposite arm in front of the other.
7. Leg Stretch
For wheelchair leg stretch, sit up straight and move slightly towards the edge of your chair. Extend your right leg out in front of you with your right foot flexed, moving your toe to point back towards you.
Place your hands on your right leg and take a deep breath. Exhale and gently hinge forward at the hips.
Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths before releasing and repeating on the other side with the left leg.
You can also add a bit of movement to this pose by doing a gentle side-to-side rocking motion with your extended leg.
Doing this will help to further stretch out your legs and hips, leaving you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated afterward.
8. Seated Mountain
For wheelchair mountain pose, sit tall in your chair with your back straight and feet firmly planted on the footrests.
Take a breath and as you exhale, push your shoulders down your back, pull your belly in toward your spine, and release your arms to relax down at your sides.
Close your eyes and take a few breaths, focusing on bringing awareness to each part of your body. Feel the connection between your spine, shoulders, arms, legs, and head.
9. Chair Twist
To do the chair twist pose from your wheelchair, sit up straight and place both hands on the armrests.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, begin to twist to one side. If you feel up for it, place your right hand on your right thigh for support as you inhale and look over your left shoulder as you exhale.
Hold this pose for several breaths before slowly returning to center and repeating on the other side, putting your left hand on your left thigh and looking over your right shoulder.
This pose is great for stretching and releasing tension from your upper body.
10. Chair Warrior
To do the chair warrior pose, sit up straight in your wheelchair and reach both arms out to the sides.
Take a deep breath in and as you inhale, raise your arms up above your head and lace your fingers together.
As you exhale, roll your shoulders away from your ears and let your shoulder blades slide down your back.
Take a few big breaths before exhaling as you unclasp your hands and release your arms.
11. Chair Pigeon
The chair pigeon pose is a great way to stretch out and open up the hips.
To begin, sit up straight in your wheelchair and cross your right ankle over your left knee. If you feel a stretch already, stay where you are!
Otherwise, if you want a further stretch, gently lean forward until you feel a comfortable hip stretch before holding the pose for several breaths.
Return your right ankle and take a breath in your regular seated position before repeating the pose for the opposite side, placing your left ankle over your right knee.
Doing this pose regularly can help to improve flexibility and reduce any tension held in the hips.
By practicing these poses regularly, you can help improve your flexibility and strength in your wheelchair. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced practitioner, there’s something here for everyone!
Guided Wheelchair Yoga Flows
Many individuals find it easiest to follow a video when doing chair yoga — we’d recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s fantastic video on wheelchair yoga below:
Benefits of Wheelchair Yoga for Seniors
For seniors who use wheelchairs, finding ways to stay active and maintain their physical and mental health can be a challenge. Fortunately, wheelchair yoga is an accessible and enjoyable option that can provide a range of benefits.
Here are some of the benefits of wheelchair yoga for seniors:
- Improves flexibility and range of motion. Yoga poses are designed to stretch and strengthen muscles, and this can be especially helpful for seniors who may experience stiffness or limited mobility due to a sedentary lifestyle or age-related conditions.
- Enhances balance and coordination. Many yoga poses require balance and coordination, which can help seniors maintain their ability to move around safely and independently.
- Reduces stress and anxiety. Yoga is known for its calming effect on the mind and body. Regular wheelchair yoga practice can help seniors reduce stress, anxiety, and depression (which can be common issues for the elderly — see our elderly depression statistics for more info)
- Boosts cognitive function. Studies have shown that yoga can improve cognitive function, including memory, attention, and concentration. This can be especially beneficial for seniors who may be experiencing age-related cognitive decline.
- Promotes social interaction. Group yoga classes can be a great recreational activity for seniors, as it serves as an opportunity for seniors to socialize and connect with others their age.
Before You Begin — Tips for Doing Wheelchair Yoga Safely
- Talk to your doctor or physical therapist first. They can help you understand which wheelchair yoga poses are a good fit and which might be too strenuous for your body. They may suggest modifications that are better suited to your specific abilities. It is always a good idea to start with approachable poses before moving on to more complex postures.
- Use a comfortable, well-fitted wheelchair. Make sure your wheelchair is comfortable and that it fits you properly. If you’re using a manual chair, make sure to adjust the seat height and back support so that your hips are aligned with your knees. Ideally, you’ll want to be able to comfortably plant both feet on the floor to connect you with the earth and hold you steady. If you use an electric-powered chair, check the settings to ensure the seat is at the right height and backrest angle for your body.
- Perform wheelchair yoga with friends or relatives. Doing yoga with others can make it more fun. Plus, if you do need help, there will be someone else nearby to lend a hand.
- Sensation in your muscles is normal, but stop if it’s painful. Pay attention to how your body is feeling as you move through the poses. It’s normal to feel some sensations in your muscles, but if something feels uncomfortable or painful, stop immediately or adjust the pose.
- Relax and don’t forget to breathe. Wheelchair yoga is all about mindfulness. Focus on your breathing and try to keep your mind in the present moment. Listen to your body, be gentle with yourself and enjoy the process of discovering how far you can comfortably stretch.
Practicing wheelchair yoga allows more people to join in on these kinds of activities, no matter their mobility level. With modified poses that are specifically designed for a seated position, your mind and body will both thank you afterward!
Don’t forget to take slow, deep breaths between poses to really make the most of the experience! Developing a sense of ease and awareness in your body during wheelchair yoga is key, so it’s important to relax into the stretches and listen to what your body is telling you.
You’ll be feeling better in no time!