If you have never experienced the benefits of chair yoga for seniors, you’re in for a treat! Over the last couple of years, I’ve become addicted to this simple, yet powerful, practice. I hope that my passion for chair yoga encourages you to give it a shot!
By the time you reach your 60th birthday, you have probably taken two million steps. If you are like most of us, you have probably also dealt with your share of injuries or illnesses. Maybe you have had a hip replacement. Or maybe, like me, you have experienced a broken ankle (or two).
As we reach our 60s, we know instinctively that keeping fit and flexible is essential. But most of us have little tolerance for gyms and aerobics classes.
So, what’s the alternative? Many women I know have turned to gentle yoga, which is a fantastic option for getting in shape after 60. But what if you have mobility problems or are just feeling a bit fragile these days? Maybe it’s time to consider chair yoga.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “How could sitting in a chair possibly be good exercise?” Well, based on my own experience with chair yoga, I can tell you that it is surprisingly effective. Best of all, because it is so accessible, it is the kind of exercise option that you will do every single day.
I’ve been doing chair yoga on a pretty consistent basis, and I’ve been super happy with the results. In fact, I would argue that chair yoga was one of the main catalysts for my eventual return to lifting weights, doing cardio and taking group yoga classes.
To keep myself disciplined, I set an alarm to go off every few hours. Instead of doing 60 minutes of yoga all at the same time, I spread my yoga sessions throughout the day. For some reason, this was an easier approach for me to stick with.
As my flexibility improved and my stiffness went away, I started to see a whole world of workout possibilities in front of me. Now I still do yoga, but it is only one part of my routine.
The truth is that yoga can benefit anyone, regardless of age, inflexibility or even disability. There’s a saying among yoga teachers: “If you can breathe, you can do some form of yoga.”
For those who can’t get on the floor to do a traditional mat yoga class, chair yoga offers wonderful health benefits. Here are a few of the many benefits that chair yoga offers to seniors:
Few people stop to think about the fact that relaxation is a skill. We tend to assume that we are not relaxed because the circumstances of our lives are too stressful.
Like any other skill, relaxation can be cultivated through learning and practice. A good chair yoga instructor will start by teaching you yoga breathing skills that you can use not only during class but anywhere, anytime you need to decompress.
Some people assume the loss of flexibility is inevitable with aging. This is a misconception. Flexibility actually works on the “use it or lose it” model. You can improve your flexibility at any age. People who start taking yoga in their 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s find that they regain flexibility in their joints, connective tissues, and muscles.
Those who continue taking yoga over the long term even report that they not only regain lost mobility but often become more limber than in their younger years.
Most chair yoga participants report that after one to three months of regular weekly classes, they sleep better at night. Many senior chair yoga students who previously experienced chronic constipation have more regular bowel movements without medication. Pain from arthritis, sciatica, chronic backache, and other conditions also tends to decrease or in some cases even disappear with yoga practice.
Let’s be honest. There are hundreds of excuses that we give ourselves when it comes to starting an exercise program – even one as easy and gentle as chair yoga. Perhaps, like me, you have gained a little extra weight this past year. Or maybe you just feel stiff and inflexible.
Maybe you have an injury. Or maybe you feel that you’re “too busy” to exercise. If anything, these are all reasons to consider chair yoga, not reasons to avoid it!
Now, the big caveat here is that everyone’s body is different, so you should definitely check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. But, that said, I have never met a single person who has regretted starting gentle yoga – especially chair yoga.
It’s not just about the physical benefits. Chair yoga is also a great way to reconnect with your body and calm your mind.
To be honest, when I started doing traditional yoga classes, I found that I was too stiff and inflexible to enjoy the process. It felt like I lacked the balance and flexibility to do even the most basic asanas (movements). So I got discouraged. I wanted to do the positions properly, but even sitting cross-legged was a challenge.
Instead of quitting, as I might have done in the past, I decided to switch to chair yoga classes. Wow! What a difference! Just having the chair to support me addressed many of the flexibility and confidence issues that I was having. Now I’m ready to include other gentle yoga movements into my routine.
If the idea of starting a new yoga program makes you nervous, I want to tell you that I completely understand where you are coming from. I felt the same way too.
There are lots of free chair yoga classes on YouTube which you can do with ease in your own home. If you don’t like the first you try, don’t be put off – find a different teacher and have another go.
Some senior centres also offer chair yoga, so if you want to participate with friends, have a look at what is offered in your local community. Or why not invite some friends round your house, and all do an online chair yoga session together!
I started to realize that chair yoga isn’t just for seniors, although elderly people can absolutely benefit from the additional support. Chair yoga is for everyone. In fact, since boomers spend most of their time sitting, you could argue that we need it most.
One of the hazards of modern life is sitting. Studies have shown that sitting for extended periods of time can actually be as bad for you as smoking. One solution is to set an alarm to remind yourself to get up every hour and take a short walk. In addition, adding chair yoga to your daily routine will help to keep your joints lubricated and your body limber.
If you are already sitting, why not add a little chair yoga to your daily routine? Your muscles, joints, and tendons will thank you. And, when you feel good, you will be more productive.
Choose one that allows you to sit upright with shoulders positioned above your hips rather than a seat that encourages you to lean back and slouch. Ideally, try to select a chair without armrests or a chair wide enough that there are several inches between your body and the armrests.
Feel free to use a yoga strap if you already own one. If you don’t have one, you can use a long belt such as one from a bathrobe. You can even borrow your dog’s leash if you want.
This is most important for shorter people. You want to be able to have your feet flat on the floor while you sit upright on your chair. If that is not possible, place a yoga block or a thick book beneath your feet.
Ideally, try to wear comfortable clothing which does not restrict your movement. Remove your shoes. It is up to you if you practice with bare feet or with socks.
Begin by sitting in your chair without slouching or slumping. Posture is important in yoga not for appearance’s sake but because a hunched position prevents deep breathing and can constrict the spine. Sit so that your shoulders are directly above your pelvis. Position your chin parallel to the floor. Permit the top of your head to point toward the ceiling.
Most of us breathe in a hurried fashion without even realizing it. The healthiest way to breathe is to take as few as possible slow, deep breaths per minute, using as much of the lungs as possible.
Our lungs are much more spacious than we realize: their surface area is equivalent to the floor of a tennis court. Draw an inhalation into the base of your lungs. Then continue to breathe in, so that you feel your diaphragm expand.
Extend the inhalation further until you experience a sensation of your collar bones rising. Then release the breath as slowly as you can, trying to exhale from the top of the lungs downward.
As far as possible, try to make the inhalation and exhalation equally long. When the rhythm of your breath has slowed down, you are ready to begin stretching. Continue to use your breathing as you perform these movements.
Raise the heels of your feet but permit your toes to remain on the floor (or on your block/book).
Bring your thighs together. Inhale and think of elongating the spine as the lungs fill with air. Exhale and slowly turn your torso toward the right. At the same time that you do this, shift your legs to the left.
Take 3-6 deep breaths in this twisted position, trying to move the upper and lower body further in opposite directions from each other. Then on an inhalation, return to the center. Repeat this seated twist to the opposite side.
You will experience a release of tension and tightness in the back as you perform this stretch. You may want to repeat it two times in each direction.
Reach forward and loop your strap (or belt or leash) around your right foot. Extend your right leg forward, straightening your knee. Let the heel of the right foot rest on the floor but raise your toes. Gently pull on your strap with your arms as you push the sole of your foot against the strap. Feel the stretch up the back of your right leg.
If you want to take this stretch deeper, exhale and fold your torso forward over your leg, keeping your buttocks to remain planted on the chair seat. The left leg remains bent as you stretch the right leg, with the left foot planted flat on the floor. Inhale and come back up very slowly. Switch sides to stretch the left leg.
Take your strap (or belt or leash) in your right hand. First, raise your right arm toward the ceiling. Then bend your elbow so your right hand comes behind your head or neck. The strap should now dangle down behind your back.
Draw your left elbow out from the body and slightly backward.
Reach your left hand toward your lower back until you can grasp the lower end of the strap with your left hand. Continue to keep your head and torso upright as you perform this stretch.
Take 3-6 deep breaths in the stretch. Think of your breathing as a massage mechanism to loosen the muscles resisting this stretch. Gradually, without lowering your head or rounding your spine, see if you can walk your hands closer together on the strap. Exhale and release this stretch, bringing both hands back to your lap. Then repeat to the opposite side.
Each stretch can be performed multiple times. Or, if you are at the office, perform each stretch once to keep from getting tight, tense muscles from long periods of sitting. After doing these stretches, sit quietly in your chair for a brief period.
Close your eyes. Notice the difference in your body, how your muscles feel more relaxed. Also, observe the difference in your mental outlook. Your internal sense of equilibrium will feel re-calibrated back to a sense of greater calm and balance.
Many people stay away from yoga because they feel that they are “too old” to get started. Picturing a 20-something woman, twisting herself into a pretzel, they stay on the sidelines, getting tired and stiff. The opposite is true for chair yoga. Since many people believe that chair yoga is just for people with mobility challenges, they think it’s not for them. Both perceptions are misguided.
Have you tried chair yoga before? What was your experience? Do you have a favourite chair yoga instructor? Please join the conversation.
Tags Yoga for Seniors