Reviewed by Dr. Richard Foxx, MD—Many seniors look at traditional yoga poses as something they simply cannot do. They may not have the balance or have suffered an injury that hampers movement. Perhaps they are just uncomfortable or lacking confidence in their ability to do it. If any of these apply to you, then chair yoga may be the solution.
It’s pretty self-explanatory: chair yoga involves yoga moves with the support of a chair. The chair serves as a stabilizing apparatus to enhance movement and provide reinforcement to those who might not have the physical capabilities, or mental comfort, to perform traditional yoga.
You’ve likely heard about some of the benefits of yoga. Some of the purported benefits include pain relief, relaxation, and improved mobility. But there are also a number of potential specific benefits of chair yoga for seniors.
Let’s take a look at why it might be a great introduction to, or useful form of, yoga for you.
Chair Yoga Benefits
One of the biggest benefits of chair yoga for seniors is accessibility. If your mobility is limited or you’ve never tried yoga before, the idea of getting down on the ground to perform poses can be daunting. Sitting in a sturdy chair to perform movements can ease the stress and help you reap the rewards of yoga in a more comfortable and realistic way.
2. Pain Relief and Treatment
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is its ability to help with pain. Because many seniors experience pain such as back pain, joint pain, and arthritis, yoga could be a useful and cost-effective treatment method.
There is research to suggest that yoga can have pain-relieving capabilities. Research has shown it can decrease pain and improve mobility in people with knee osteoarthritis. There is also work showing it can relieve pain and improve grip strength in people with carpal tunnel syndrome. More research on these uses is required, but yoga is largely risk-free and could be a useful tool to treat various pain conditions.
Part of its benefit might come from an ability to help lubricate joints, promote blood flow, strengthen muscles, and relieve inflammation.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Effects
There are some studies to suggest that yoga can help reduce inflammation. This might provide some resistance to pain and the development of chronic illnesses. Many chronic illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis are closely associated with low-grade chronic inflammation.
Some studies have shown reduced levels of inflammatory markers when yoga is preformed; however, more research is needed to confirm the overall benefit. It’s possible that the reduced inflammation associated with yoga is a result of its benefits on stress.
4. Stress and Anxiety Relief
The biggest benefit, and perhaps what yoga is best known for, is its ability to tame stress and anxiety. There are multiple studies showing that yoga can reduce the secretion of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.
Studies have shown that yoga’s influence on cortisol has led to significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, while improving quality of life and mental health. Because of these impacts, yoga may also promote better sleep quality.
The effects of lower stress, anxiety, and depression extend beyond mental health. Stress has the ability to exacerbate inflammation and joint pain, immobility, high blood pressure, and more physical symptoms.
5. Balance and Flexibility
Yoga is also known for an ability to improve balance and flexibly. It might achieve this in multiple ways. One is that it encourages a stronger mind-body connection. Paying attention to how you’re moving your body to reach a specific position creates awareness and improves neural pathways to target specific muscles. This can create better physical awareness that improves balance.
It can also help improve strength and flexibility so you are better equipped to move your body faster and further, when needed. This can help reduce the risk for falls and injuries.
Chair Yoga Poses for Seniors
The following are six chair yoga poses you can do almost anywhere. Before getting started, there are a few things to remember:
- Use a sturdy chair with a high back, legs that allow you to touch the floor, and little padding on the seat. Swivel chairs; rockers; and low, deep lounge chairs will not suffice. Dining chairs are likely the most suitable option.
- The chair can be used a prop in multiple ways. During some motions you will be sitting. For others, you may be standing behind the chair and using the backrest for support.
- Wear comfortable clothing that allows for free movement.
1. Seated Cat Cow
- Sit forward in the chair with your buttocks toward the front. Your entire buttocks should be on the chair.
- Sit up straight and tall (back not touching the backrest) with hands on your thighs.
- Exhale and round your back forward. During rounding, focus on pulling your belly button towards the spine, tucking your tailbone under. Tuck chin into chest as well.
- Have your upper back as round as possible, pushing your midback toward the chair (but not moving from your position).
- Hold for a couple of seconds.
- As you inhale, allow your belly to move forward and arch your back, push your chest out, and look toward the ceiling.
- Hold for a few seconds, then move back into the first position. Repeat several times, exhaling into the first position (cat) and inhaling into the second (cow).
2. Seated Twist
- During inhalation, extend your spine and raise your arms out to your sides, to about shoulder height.
- While exhaling, gently twist to the left with your upper body and lower your arms. Your left hand should not be resting on the top of your chair’s backrest. Your left hand will help support the twist but should not be used to deepen it. Your right hand will be resting at your side.
- Look over your right shoulder and use your grip on the chair to help you hold the twist, but not deepen it.
- After five breaths, release the twist and return to the starting position before repeating with the right side.
3. Seated Chest Opener
- Sit toward the front edge of your chair and interlace your fingers behind your back.
- As you inhale, begin to bring your hands up away from your back (fingers remain linked throughout), slightly bending forward at the hips. Lift chin away from your chest.
- As you exhale, lower hands.
4. Seated Mountain
- Take a deep breath and sit up straight so the spine is fully extended. You should be slightly forward in your chair.
- As you exhale, drive your hips towards the chair so your lower tailbone (the point that usually takes the pressure when you sit) is fixed on the chair.
- Legs should be at 90-degree angles, with knees directly over ankles. You don’t want too much room between your knees.
- Take a deep breath during exhalation and roll shoulders down and back, pulling your belly button towards your spine, with arms relaxed by your sides.
- Engage your legs by lifting your toes and pressing the heels and balls of your feet into the ground.
5. Chair Pigeon/Hip Opener
- Sit in the back third of your chair, without using the backrest. The distance between your back and the chair’s backrest should be about two or three inches.
- Place your left ankle on top of your right knee. Let your left knee relax out to the side, but keep foot flexed. Your torso should be slightly bent over your leg.
- As you inhale, sit up tall. Exhale and hold the stretch. If desired, you can help yourself to a deeper stretch by lightly pushing your left knee with your left hand.
- Hold the stretch for a few seconds and repeat.
6. Single-Leg Stretch
- Sit close to the edge of your chair, but not so close that you risk falling off.
- Sit up tall and stretch your right leg out in front of you. Your heel should be on the ground and toes pointing up.
- Rest hands on your outstretched leg. During inhalation, rise up straight with your back, through your spine. During the exhale, begin to bend over and slowly slide hands down your leg as you go.
- Go as far as you can without straining or forcing anything, staying comfortable in the chair (meaning you’re not afraid of falling off). If you can get quite low, consider grasping the back of your ankle.
- Perform five slow, even breaths once in the stretch. On the sixth inhale, slowly release the pose and return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your left leg.
Chair Yoga: A Useful Tool for Seniors and Others
If you’re intimidated by yoga or limited in your ability to perform it, chair yoga is perfect for you. It can provide a number of potential benefits to help improve your quality of life, and it can be accomplished virtually everywhere. Doing it a few times per week could potentially make a real difference in your health and well-being.
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