what is chair Yoga and how Can it help seniors?
Chair yoga is a style of yoga that can be practiced while seated in a chair or whilst standing, using a chair for stability and support. Just like other styles of yoga, chair yoga can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance as well as having a number of other mental and physical health benefits.
Chair yoga allows the safe and supported inclusion of Elderly persons, allowing them access to all the same benefits as mat-based yoga without the need for standing for extended periods or transferring from the floor. Group classes also provide the opportunity for social inclusion in a population at risk of isolation.
People with health conditions should consult their doctor before starting a chair yoga practice.
It’s always worth consulting your primary care physician prior to undertaking a new physical exercise regimen, particularly if you have a chronic health condition. Chair yoga is a gentle, seated practice but injury can still occur and it may not be suitable for those with certain health conditions. To ensure chair yoga is safe and appropriate for you, please consult with your doctor prior to beginning the practice.
Benefits of Chair Yoga: why chair yoga is a great way for seniors to stay healthy
As we age, our bodies tend to naturally slow and stiffen leading to a reduced range of movement, which can be associated with pain. The aging process affects more than just the muscles, joints and our ability to move and contributes to the development of several major health challenges including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and dementia.
Chair yoga has been shown to preserve mobility, reduce pain and contribute to preventing falls leading to fragility fractures. It is well known yoga positively impacts heart and lung health and there is also emerging early evidence it may help to combat age-related and neurodegenerative, cognitive decline. Attendance at a group class also helps combat the negative effects of social isolation commonly seen in the elderly population and can have a beneficial impact on mood.
Examples of chair yoga poses
1: Connecting to the breath
Benefits: Developing an awareness and appreciation for our breath is a fundamental principle of yoga. We can do this very effectively seated in a chair.
2: Seated Mountain Pose – Tadasana
Benefits: Seated mountain pose helps us to develop postural awareness and build muscular strength.
3: Seated Raised Hands Pose – Urdhva Hastasana
Benefits: Seated raised hands pose allows us to begin to explore pairing our breath with movement, using the inhale to support us in raising the arm up towards the sky. This mobilises the arms and shoulders, opening and broadening across the chest.
4: Seated Spinal Twist – Ardha Matsyendrasana
Benefits: Seated spinal twist contributes to overall spinal health and helps both build muscular strength and ease muscular tension.
5: Contralateral movements – raised arm with alternate raised leg
Benefits: Contralateral movements help improve proprioception (your body’s understanding of where it is in space) and coordination.
Chair yoga tips: advice for those new to chair yoga
Make Sure You Pick A Suitable Chair
There’s a few factors that need to be considered when selecting an appropriate chair for practicing in. First off, it’s really important to ensure the chair is strong and stable with an appropriate weight capacity. You want to be able to trust it can accommodate the weight that will be placed upon it and not worry about it rolling away for example, if it’s on wheels. A firm support works best with a shallow cushion, ensuring it has a backrest can be incredibly helpful. If the cushioning is too deep, such as a soft sofa for example, it can make movement very difficult and be counterintuitive. Arm rests can be both a help and a hindrance depending on the individual and the practice so also need considering carefully. They can assist in moving to standing when using the chair for supported standing poses but also restrict movement in several situations.
Ease into it
Just like any other form of physical activity, it’s good practice to begin slowly and steadily, honoring your body and any limitations that you might encounter. It’s a common misconception to think that because we are seated we cannot cause injury. We can, and appropriate care must be taken at all times, including speaking to your primary care physician before beginning a new exercise regimen if you have any health concerns. Seeking guidance from an experienced teacher is hugely beneficial, especially when you’re new to the practice.
Don’t underestimate the power of connecting to your breath
There may be days when you don’t feel like moving that much at all. Honor those days and remember that connecting to your breath is just as much a part of yoga as physical movement exercises. Try and integrate mindful breath-led movement into your practice. If you’re not sure what we mean by breath-led movement, check out this short explanatory video here.
How to get started with chair yoga
In-Person Chair Yoga Classes
Thankfully, chair yoga classes are becoming increasingly popular as more and more people recognise the benefits.
Chair yoga classes might also be available at your local studio and in your local area, it’s worth exploring venues beyond dedicated yoga studios as many charities, independent teachers and community groups are now offering in-person chair yoga classes. It’s always helpful to learn in-person as you can benefit from tailored feedback and teaching specific to you. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for social interaction and inclusion.
Live-online classes also allow in-person participation without requiring physical attendance. These are a fantastic way to participate without needing to overcome the barriers of distance, transport or travel. If you can’t find any chair yoga classes near you but would still like to join in-person, live-online classes can be a great option.
Chair Yoga on Youtube
Pre-recorded classes such as on YouTube for example allow you to trial classes for free in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace. Here’s one of my 10-minute chair yoga classes for you to check out:
More about the author
Lucy is a passionate advocate for inclusion within the yoga and wider wellness space and in collaboration with The Guild For Lifelong Learning and Cheshire East County Council, has pioneered a fully-funded adult, community chair yoga programme. She teaches passionately alongside her career in Pharmaceutical Medicine, expertly blending her Conventional Medicine background with a holistic approach to wellbeing.