What is chair yoga?
Chair yoga is a style of yoga that can be practised while seated in a chair or whilst standing, using a chair for stability and support. It is a great way to get started with yoga if you are new to the practice, are not comfortable standing for longer periods or find transitioning between the floor and standing tricky. Just like other styles of yoga, chair yoga can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance along with a number of other mental and physical health benefits, all while making these benefits much more accessible.
Chair yoga has also become popular because it can be undertaken by those working in offices (or at home) without ever having to leave their desk. It can actually provide a great opportunity to relieve the physical and mental tension associated with spending long-hours seated at a desk.
Who is chair yoga for?
Chair yoga is especially beneficial for those living with reduced mobility or physical limitations that prevent them from participating in mat-based style yoga classes. By utilising the chair we can reduce or eliminate the requirement to stand and we do not need to transition from lying or sitting on the floor. Chair yoga is for everybody but can be particularly beneficial for those with:
- Back pain
- Age-related physical limitations
- Restricted mobility
- Chronic pain
- Desk-based office workers
- Wheelchair users
- Those living in care home or hospital settings
The benefits of chair yoga
Chair yoga has a lot to offer, in fact just as much as any other type of yoga! It’s a common misconception to believe something is lost or minimised by practising in a chair, but that is just not true. Indeed, chair yoga is supported by an increasing body of scientific evidence demonstrating its many physical and health benefits. These include:
- Improved physical function
- Preserved mobility
- Increased flexibility
- Better balance
- Improved gait speed
- Better strength
- Pain reduction
Additionally, chair yoga shares all the mental health and wellbeing benefits of mat-based classes, including greater mental clarity, self-awareness and self-perception. We can also access the same level of relaxation and awareness of breath connection for improved emotional balance. These benefits are especially notable when chair yoga is integrated into your daily or weekly routine and practised consistently.
Better mental clarity, performance and concentration
Yoga helps to build new neural pathways, changing the structure of the brain and contributing to improved attention, memory and learning. In addition, emerging evidence suggests yoga may protect against age-related and neurodegenerative, cognitive decline
Learning to regularly ‘check-in’ with oneself, with or without mindful, breath-led movement, even for just 10 or so minutes, in the middle of a work day, can have a hugely beneficial impact on mental clarity and attention.
Improved Mood & Reduced Stress
Yoga is well-known to positively impact mental health, including reducing anxiety and depression. In addition to the mood-boosting endorphins released during exercise, yoga can elevate levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), associated with improved mood and reduced anxiety. Yoga also helps to temper our emotional reactivity, allowing us to better approach stressful situations.
The breath is integral to yoga and a powerful tool used in the integration of mind, body and spirit within yoga philosophy. By enhancing our awareness and understanding of our patterns of breathing and holding we can dramatically improve respiratory health and with it overall health.
Better Appreciation of the Mind & Body Connection.
Our states of mind are intimately connected with our physical body and vice versa. Chair yoga, just as other types of yoga, deepens our appreciation of this relationship so that we may positively impact our health and wellbeing.
Yoga has been found to be beneficial for pain control and reduction in a number of chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia, migraine, osteoarthritis and chronic low-back pain. Often chronic pain can limit our ability to participate in movement practices, but chair yoga allows a supported, safe and tailored environment for us to access these benefits.
Benefits of Chair Yoga for Seniors / The Elderly
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 ageing 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 this population and can have a beneficial impact on mood.
Chair yoga provides a tailored format for 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.
Benefits of Chair yoga for people living with limited mobility
Yoga is popularly portrayed as requiring a high degree of physical mobility and flexibility. This is an incredibly unhelpful stereotype that commonly dissuades those with physical mobility challenges from joining a class. The truth is yoga can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their level of physical ability. Chair yoga is one of the ways we can adapt the physical practice to meet the needs of the individual, without anything being lost or reduced in the process. Chair yoga is an empowering and radically inclusive practice. Chair yoga is real yoga.
Benefits of Chair Yoga for people working in an office
Office chair yoga invites the opportunity to integrate mindful, breath-led movement into a busy, working day. It provides the opportunity to check in with oneself, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too, with the added benefit of alleviating the muscular tension and physical discomfort of ‘desk-posture’.
Chair Yoga Classes
Thankfully chair yoga is becoming increasingly recognised and taught, as teachers and studios begin to appreciate the need for more inclusive yoga practises. If you don’t see anything on your local studio schedule, feel empowered to get in touch and discuss bringing about this positive change in your yoga community.
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.