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Chair Yoga for Seniors

Do you have a loved one who struggles with physical movement? Are you trying to get your elderly parents to exercise more? As people get older, they begin to worry about safety when it comes to staying fit. Don’t worry, there are many different activities you can try with your elderly loved one, even if it’s not exercising. Though when it comes to exercise, poses will have to be modified. Chair yoga offers seniors a great option. Yoga helps with stress, muscle pain, and poor circulation. It can also lower blood pressure, improve strength, and protect joints. Since all of the poses incorporate a chair and allow you to stay seated, this type of yoga is not only possible but also safe for those who are frail or struggle with flexibility. This article will explain what chair yoga is in detail, tell you about its benefits, and advise you on how to get started. 

What is Chair Yoga?

You may be coming across this article because you’ve noticed your elderly loved one is slowing down. This is normal. As we age, we tend to move less and take our time with everyday activities. This process of slowing down can also happen after an injury or because of chronic pain. That’s where chair yoga – along with other simple practices – comes in handy. It does two things: first, it lets seniors exercise at their own pace; and second, it helps them stay active regardless of their range of mobility.  

Simply put, chair yoga is a practice that simplifies yoga poses and allows individuals to practice yoga while seated in a chair. This simplification ensures that the exercises are accessible for those who struggle with mobility or balance issues. Even though there are clear differences in the moves after they are modified, the basic postures stay the same. Chair yoga incorporates hip stretches, backbends, forward bends, and twists, among other moves. It will reduce your loved one’s stress levels, work on muscle tone, build better breathing and sleeping habits, and improve senior’s overall sense of well-being. If you are caring for your loved one, you’re welcome to do chair yoga with them. It will have all of the same benefits for you too! 

Is Chair Yoga right for My Older Adult?

You may be asking yourself: Is yoga the appropriate way of exercising for my loved one? Will they struggle with the poses? Will they even enjoy something that’s usually practiced by younger people? We’re here to tell you that yoga really is for everyone, even for those who struggle with exercise because of age, injury, or inflexibility. Some even argue that yoga becomes more beneficial as you get older because it requires a mind-body connection and awareness. In 2001, a University of Michigan study by Patricia Reuter-Lorenz and her colleagues showed that older adults use their brains differently. They showed that as we age, we start using both of our hemispheres more equally. In this way, older individuals may have an easier time accessing a mind-body connection in a well-rounded way.

Chair Yoga Modifications

It’s important to remember that many seniors will be absolutely fine when practicing yoga without modifications. Indeed, most people – including younger individuals – are encouraged to incorporate blocks, straps, and other equipment while practicing conventional yoga. However, if your loved one is someone with joint pain, balance issues, lack of strength, and general inability to move around freely, chair yoga is the right way to go. Some seniors will feel more comfortable starting out this way and may not require a chair as time goes on. Others will only feel safe when using the chair and that is totally fine. 

Chair yoga will help your loved one not only with stress, pain, and fatigue, but it will also improve their balance, joint lubrication, mood, and overall health. For some seniors, chair yoga can also be a great way to deal with age-related issues like arthritis or menopause. 

What Are the Benefits of Yoga?

We’ve mentioned some of the benefits of yoga already, but let’s discuss it more. One of the leading causes of depression in seniors is lack of activity, chair yoga can be great for combatting this problem. It strengthens both body and mind. Indeed, it’s benefits are backed by scientific research. In 2017, The Journal of Geriatrics published a study about chair yoga and osteoarthritis. Participants who were struggling with this disease did chair yoga twice a week for 45-minutes each day. The experiment lasted for eight weeks. Afterward, participants reported a decrease in pain, improvements in their daily activities, and better walking speech. 

A smaller study in 2012 and a previous one in 2010 also found that chair yoga reduced seniors’ risk of falling and made them less anxious about the idea in general. This is an important finding to consider. After all, falling is a leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for seniors. Other benefits of yoga that are backed by research include: improvement in anxiety levels, decreased stress, and reduced inflammation. Chair yoga can also help those dealing with PTSD-related anxiety and decrease the risk of heart disease. Of course, your loved one can only reap these benefits if they practice chair yoga on a regular basis and truly dedicate their time to the activity. So, if you have an elderly loved one whose health could be improved with yoga, encourage them to put in the work for a couple of hours a week. It will be worth it. 

How Do You Get Started?

Before you get started, make sure you pick a chair that is sturdy and comfortable. There’s no need to go out and buy something specifically for yoga. The whole point is that these exercises are supposed to be adaptable. However, it’s important that you don’t use anything that has wheels or is not stable. We also suggest that you remind your loved one to start each pose while firmly seated towards the front edge of the chair. This will help them complete all of the exercises. 

Now that you know what chair yoga is and what its benefits are, here is how seniors can get started with the practice. Seated yoga poses should be accessible from the get-go; however, there are a couple of things you can do beforehand that may make the process easier. 

  1. First, speak with your loved one’s primary physician. They need to be aware of any new exercise routine the senior plans to add to their everyday life. Most likely, they will tell you that it’s completely safe and effective but it’s still important to coordinate all forms of treatment with healthcare professionals. 
  2. Incorporate props: Even for younger practitioners, props can make yoga much easier. If your loved one is just starting out, props will make the exercises more accessible and comfortable. The chair will be their first prop. You can also get them yoga blocks, a belt or a strap, and blankets to make them more comfortable. 
  3. Be careful: This is especially important if your loved one struggles with balance. Make sure you are in the room at least for the first couple of times that they try yoga. This way, you’ll be there to help them if they lose their balance or experience any sort of difficulty or pain. 
  4. Find a routine that fits your needs: If your loved one wishes, you can easily find a class for them that is nearby. This will also help them socialize and switch up their surroundings. Simply look for a yoga studio near you and see if they offer chair yoga. Having a teacher who is qualified and experienced in the room with them, will help your loved one immensely. If they would rather exercise at home, you can find a myriad of chair yoga exercise videos online. Choose one that feels right for your senior and make sure you supervise them as they try it out.
  5. Modify if necessary: Your elderly loved one may have chronic pain conditions that change from day to day. It’s important that they listen to their body and decide what they can and cannot do on a specific day. If the length of the class doesn’t suit them or if a pose is causing them pain, they should feel free to stop at any moment or use props. 
  6. Be patient: Starting a new exercise routine is difficult for everyone. It can be especially challenging when you have mobility issues. So, be patient with your loved one and tell them to also be patient with themselves. Don’t be upset if a pose is challenging. Instead, encourage your loved one to start slowly. If you make sure they are consistent in their practice, exercises will become easier with time.  

What Are the Poses?

Here are five seated yoga poses to get you started:

  1. Chair cat-cow stretch – Make sure you are firmly planted in your seat. Keep your spine long, your hands on your knees or thighs, and your feet flat on the floor. Then, inhale and roll your shoulders, arching your back (cow position). On the exhale, round your spine and let your head drop. Drop your chin to your chest and let your shoulders roll forward (cat). You can do this for several rounds. 
  2. Raised hands pose: Simply raise your hands towards the ceiling as you inhale. Relax your shoulders, sit straight, and stretch as you reach up. 
  3. Forward bend: Bend forward from the waist. Let your arms and head hang heavy and rest your hands on the floor. 
  4. Pigeon: Place one ankle on the opposite thigh and keep your knee in line with your ankle. Hold your foot and your knee for support. You can bend forward if you find this holding pose too easy. Then, repeat on the other side. 
  5. Spinal twist: Sit sideways on the chair and twist your torso towards the back of the chair. You can hold the back of the chair with your hands for support. Make sure you exhale as you twist. Then, repeat on the other side. 

Conclusion

As we come to the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of what chair yoga is and if it’s the right fit for your elderly loved one. Make sure you speak with your doctor about incorporating seated yoga into the senior’s weekly routine. It will benefit them in a myriad of ways. Their physical and mental well-being will be significantly improved if they are consistent and you can always join them during the exercises, making yoga something you do together as a form of bonding.

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