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July 01, 2015

How Older Adults Can Get Started with Chair Yoga: 3 Poses to Try

Yoga provides benefits for people of all ages. Not only does yoga help strengthen a variety of muscle groups, it can provide mental health benefits, as well. 

A recent study revealed older adults who did yoga saw positive effects like a decrease in depression and anxiety, improved physical functioning, and a more stimulated mind. But for older adults, the thought of joining a yoga class full of flexible classmates can cause anxiety. 

You might be surprised to learn you don’t have to attend a class to get the benefits of yoga. In fact, you don’t even have to stand up — you can do yoga right from your own home, in your own chair.

Benefits of Chair Yoga

At a recent Healthy Aging day, Danna Mitchell, fitness assistant at Kendal at Oberlin, showed attendees how to get started with chair yoga. 

According to Mitchell, yoga — whether you do it standing up or in a chair — can provide six benefits: 

  1. Improved Strength: With improved strength, you’ll be able to continue your hobbies, remain independent, and prevent fewer injuries. If you do happen to get injured, you’ll be able to withstand it better than someone with less strength.
  2. Improved Flexibility: If you have mobility issues, improved flexibility from chair yoga may help you be able to do things — like reach down and pick up an object — you weren’t able to do previously.
  3. Improved Proprioception: Proprioception allows you to know where your body is in space and coordinates your movements appropriately, for older adults diminished proprioception can play a role in falls. Chair yoga can improve proprioception and give you greater control over your body and its movements.
  4. Reduced Stress and Improved Mental Clarity: Chair yoga can lessen the impact of chronic illnesses and pain, and being calmer can create a greater feeling of happiness and well-being.
  5. Opportunities to Socialize: If you attend a chair yoga class, it gives you the opportunity to meet new people.
  6. Improved Pain Management: The breath work in chair yoga (and regular yoga) can help you cope with pain.

Getting Started with Chair Yoga

It’s important to remember to never push your body to a point where you experience pain. You will still get the benefit of the postures regardless of your level of flexibility. Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise practice.

Grab a chair and try these poses:

Forward Bend: This pose eases tension in the upper back and neck. Start by breathing in and breathing out as you bend forward. Let your head and arms hang over your knees and relax into the position. Hold the position for a few seconds and keep breathing. Breathe in and slowly come back up to a seated position.

Spinal Twist: This pose increases circulation and flexibility in the spine. Start by facing forward and placing your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Put your right arm over the back of the chair. Breathe in and out as you twist to the right, then turn your head as well. Hold that position and breathe normally. Release slowly and return to a forward facing position. Repeat on the other side.

Leg Lifts:  This pose strengthens the legs and lower back and improves circulation to your legs and feet. Start by sitting and holding each side of the chair for balance. Breathe in and out and straighten and lift your leg and flex your foot. Hold this pose for a few seconds and slowly breathe out while lowering your leg. Repeat on the other side.

Chair yoga can be a nice introduction to the benefits of yoga practice, and staying active while decreasing stress and anxiety can have several physical and mental health benefits. If you have questions about starting chair yoga, be sure to talk with your doctor. If you’re looking for additional ways to stay fit and active, download this guide for tips on how to start a regular exercise routine. 

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