Chair Yoga is the practice of modified traditional yoga poses that can be done when sitting in a chair or using a chair for support. Created by Lakshmi Voelker in 1982, chair yoga was meant to give students with medical issues or less flexibility the opportunity to practice yoga without having to strain themselves.
Chair yoga has many benefits that are good for seniors, which include a reduction in stress, an increase in strength, reduction in injury, and increased flexibility, all while maintaining balance.
The rest of this article outlines the various benefits chair yoga has for seniors, as well as some considerations to keep in mind when starting out a new exercise routine. Keep reading below to learn about all of the things chair yoga can bring into your life!
Chair Yoga for Stress Relief
According to an article written by Erica Jackson, Ph.D., FACSM in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, any form of moderate exercise can have positive impacts on the stress level of an individual. A statistic presented by the American Institute of Stress cites that between 75% and 90% of primary care physician visits are due to stress-related illnesses.
Stress can impact every major physiological system in your body – from your brain to your reproductive system. Prolonged stress has been proven as a contributing factor in many chronic illnesses found in older individuals, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and more. These diseases are prevalent in individuals over 60, with 43.7 million Americans suffering from CVD, 5.8 million with Alzheimer’s, and 14.3 million with diabetes.
But how can yoga improve stress levels?
Yoga implements a mind-body connection that forces you to be present in your movements and breathing. Bringing together the mind and body in a guided practice can help relieve stressors and make you feel more present while practicing.
With more gentle practices like chair yoga, as your mind relaxes and the anxious thoughts melt away, your breathing will become slower, and your heart rate will start to go down. Reduced heart-rate can lead to a reduction in stress.
When muscles are tight due to anxiety and stress, pain is often a side effect. Stretching through a series of yoga poses will loosen those muscles and can reduce chronic pain over time. A reduction in pain can often result in lower anxiety and a better quality of life overall.
Another benefit of utilizing chair yoga to reduce stress is that it can be a fun activity for seniors to participate in together. A study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity concluded that overall, a continued exercise in older adults contributed to improved mood.
Furthermore, participating in group activities such as yoga has been proven to reduce depression and enhance the overall mood in seniors, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports.
Chair Yoga for Improved Strength & Injury Reduction
When participating in any exercise regimen, one of the most beneficial side-effects is an increase in strength. Increased strength can aid in the prevention of injury at any stage of life, but particularly in senior citizens.
Participating in regular chair yoga classes or guided, private practices offers a gentle way to gradually build strength through different low-impact poses. Low impact exercises incorporate fluid, soft movements that often require one leg remain planted at all times. They also aid in keeping joints stable, which helps prevent injury.
There are certain chair yoga poses aimed at increasing strength at a slow and controlled pace. Try the Chair Warrior series to build strength in your arms, legs, core, and back. These poses can be modified from sitting in a chair to standing, once you gain confidence in the movements.
Chair Yoga for Increased Flexibility While Maintaining Balance
Chair yoga is a great way to increase one’s flexibility through guided stretching and rotation. It has many poses geared at increasing strength in the arms, legs, and back, muscle groups that are integral for increasing mobility and flexibility in one’s extremities.
Increased balance has been shown to reduce one’s chance of injury due to a fall. A common concern for seniors can be the threat of falling, which can lead to decreases in muscular strength from inactivity, therefore increasing the risk of another potential fall.
One study conducted by the Research Unit for Sport and Physical Activity at the University of Coimbra in Portugal observed a decreased fear of falling, also known as Post-fall Syndrome, reported in those that participated in chair yoga during the 14-week study.
Post-fall Syndrome is a combined fear of falling and fear of losing one’s independence and often results in a reduced amount of physical activity, which can lead to weakened muscles. This, too, led to increased stress levels.
There are many chair yoga poses aimed at increasing flexibility. Downward facing dog stretches the back, while Triangle pose increases balance in your legs and arms.
Other Benefits of Chair Yoga
Chair yoga is a very cost-effective way to exercise, as there is no equipment needed other than a stable, sturdy-backed chair! You don’t need to go to a facility to participate in yoga. You can access tutorials on YouTube from the comfort of your own home. This can be especially helpful to seniors who no longer have the ability to drive and have to depend on public transportation or family to get around.
Chair yoga can be done alone or in a group, depending on your preference. It can be fit into your daily routine quite easily, taking between 5 and 25 minutes to complete. You can follow a tutorial or choose your own variation of poses, once you get more familiar with the flows. Get creative with your poses and find a balance of strength and flexibility exercises for a complete routine!
Unsure where to start? You can find a beginner’s tutorial for chair yoga here.
Things to Consider When Determining if Chair Yoga Is Right for You
As with every exercise regimen, there are some things to consider when starting something new. You should always consult your physician when beginning a new exercise routine, just to be on the safe side.
- If you experience difficulty breathing, plan to take things slow in the beginning to allow yourself time to adjust to a new mode of activity.
- Always participate in a set of warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after your practice. This will allow your heart rate and muscles to acclimate slowly to the increased movement, and will also slow your heart rate down at the end of your session.
- If you have balance issues, try new positions slowly and don’t push yourself too hard.
- Remember that this is a new activity for you, and you likely won’t excel at it right away. Yoga practice is called just that for a reason because it needs to be practiced. Stick with it, and you’ll be sure to see the benefits in no time.
As you can see, there are so many benefits to adopting a chair yoga practice as an older individual. You can experience decreased stress and anxiety levels, which can improve overall mood and quality of life. You can increase your strength, balance, and flexibility while reducing the likeliness of injury. Chair yoga movements can be done from anywhere with minimal equipment, alone or in a group.
Most importantly – you can potentially find a new, fun hobby to incorporate into your life!
- Wikipedia: Chair Yoga
- Get Fit Where You Sit: About Lakshmi Voelker
- Sun Health Wellness: Chair Yoga for Strength, Balance and More
- Kripalu: The Surprising Benefits of Chair Yoga
- Delaware State University: Faculty Page – Erica Jackson
- ACSM Health & Fitness Journal: STRESS RELIEF: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management
- Stress.Org: Stress Research
- Wikipedia: Cardiovascular Disease
- WebMD: 10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix
- Wikipedia: Alzheimer’s Disease
- Wikipedia: Diabetes
- Heart.org: Older Americans and Cardiovascular Diseases
- Alzheimer’s Association: Facts & Figures
- American Diabetes Association: Statistics About Diabetes
- Mayo Clinic: Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity
- Human Kinetics Journals: The Effects of Exercise on Mood in Older Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review
- British Journal of Sports: The Effect of Group-Based Exercise on Cognitive Performance and Mood in Seniors Residing in Intermediate-Care and Self-Care Retirement Facilities: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- University of Coimbra, Portugal: Faculty of Sport Sciences and Physical Education
- Science Direct: Fear of Falling
- Youtube: Gentle Chair Yoga for Beginners & Seniors
- Geisinger: Stay Safe and Active with Low Impact Exercise
- Aura Wellness Center: Chair Yoga Precautions