While most people think of yogis as having extreme flexibility, standing on their heads, or balancing on one finger, the truth is, ANYONE can do yoga. In modern times, yoga has been adapted for many different types of people because of its wide-ranging benefits. For instance, did you know that yoga is actually extremely beneficial for people who may be suffering from chronic pain or mobility issues, such as the elderly and people with disabilities? Then chair yoga might be for you.
What is Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga is a type of gentle yoga in which all of the poses, or asanas, are practiced either seated in a chair or standing using the chair for balance and support. It is a relatively new branch of yoga that is geared towards people with mobility issues, weight problems, or for people who simply cannot get down onto the floor. It has also become extremely popular amongst seniors and elderly groups who are looking to stay fit and flexible. More importantly, it can be practiced in the comfort of your own home.
Is Chair Yoga Safe for the Elderly?
Yes! Yoga in general helps us become more aware of the body, how it moves, and what it is capable of. That is why there are modifications and many different variations of each pose. The aim of chair yoga is to create space in the body through gentle stretching and movement, so you can really individualize your own yoga practice. You should never feel pain while doing yoga, so if you do, you know to back out of that pose. Remember, it is important to challenge yourself, but do not go beyond your comfort zone, especially if you’re just starting out.
The Benefits of Chair Yoga for Seniors
There are many benefits of chair yoga for seniors, including:
- Increased Strength
- Increased Flexibility
- Reduced Stress
- Increased Mental Capacity
- Increased Pain Management
What You Need to Begin a Chair Yoga Practice
To begin a chair yoga practice, you must first check with your doctor to make sure it is right for you. Once you’ve been cleared to practice, the first essential piece of equipment you will need is a backless, armless chair; if you do not have access to that, a folding chair would suffice. The backless chair simply provides the space for extra movement and deeper stretching (see our review of the best yoga chair).
Next, you will need some comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, sneakers, and water. If you’re up for the challenge, there are also classes that incorporate very light weights or resistance bands to increase muscle tone and build some strength.
If you don’t want to invest in the equipment at home, you can always find a chair yoga for seniors class at the YMCA, your local yoga studio, gym, or any other facility that might offer group fitness classes.
The Best Beginner Chair Yoga Poses for Seniors
- Seated Spinal Twist
Sit towards the front of the chair with the knees bent, pressing evenly through the feet. Make sure the body is properly aligned: the ankles should be directly under the knees, and the hips, shoulders, and head should all be stacked in one line. As you inhale, elongate the spine and raise the arms up overhead. On the exhale, twist to the left side, bringing your right hand to the left knee, and your left hand to grab the seat of the chair behind you. Continue using the breath to lengthen the spine and deepen the twist to your own comfort level. After about 15-20 seconds, inhale and lift the arms up, then exhale and twist to the other side.
Benefits: This pose helps to relieve lower back pain, especially from sciatica. It also massages the internal organs and especially helps to stimulate the digestive system. Twists also help to reduce stress and anxiety, and detoxify the body.
- Wide-Legged Camel Forward Fold
Sit towards the front edge of the chair with the knees bent, and the feet opened a little wider than hip-distance. Point the toes out slightly, if that is accessible to you. With an inhale, reach the arms back; let the shoulder blades melt down the spine as you reach back and grab the seat of the chair behind you. With the chest open and lifted, take a deep breath. As you exhale, fold forward over the legs and interlace your fingers behind you. If you can, lift the hands away from the seat.
Benefits: This pose opens the shoulders and the chest. It helps to improve posture, and build stability in the legs and core.
- Chair Pigeon
Sitting on the edge of the chair with the knees bent and the ankles directly under the knees, inhale and lift your left ankle over the right knee so that your legs look like the number 4. Inhaling, grab both sides of the chair and lengthen through the spine. As you exhale, fold over the legs, leading with the chest. Hold for about 15-20 seconds, and inhale the spine up with a flat back. Switch legs when you are ready and fold again.
Benefits: Pigeon pose is a wonderful hip opener that provides a deep stretch in the gluteus muscles. It also stretches the groin and pelvic muscles and relieves sciatic pain.
- Seated Cat-Cow Stretch
Sitting up tall and straight at the edge of the chair, inhale and begin to lift your chest, allowing the shoulder blades to melt down the back and into the spine. Lift your head up if you can. As you exhale, round through the back and shoulders allowing the head to drop and lifting the navel up and into the spine. Continue this motion for as many breaths as possible.
Benefits: This pose improves posture and balance, provides a beautiful stretch for the entire spine and abdomen, moves the hips, and massages and stimulates the internal organs.
- Seated Savasana (Final Relaxation)
Sitting up tall with your back against the chair, place your hands on your knees and let the eyes close gently. Pay attention to the breath, but make sure it stays natural and not labored. Once you have found a comfortable position, you may stay in this pose for as long as you like.
Benefits: Savasana is one of the most important poses in yoga because it calms the nervous system and provides an ample amount of rest and relaxation: it is said that 10-20 minutes of savasana is equal to about 4-8 hours of deep sleep.
Chair Yoga for Seniors: Conclusions
Chair yoga is a great modification of traditional yoga that lets more people safely enjoy the benefits of yoga. Try out the poses here and if you want to keep learning, chair yoga coaches and classes are becoming more popular.