If the idea of getting down on the floor to exercise doesn’t sound very appealing to you, you may think yoga is not for you.
But the truth is that yoga can benefit anyone, regardless of age, inflexibility, or even disability. There’s a saying among yoga teachers that, “If you can breathe, you can do some form of yoga.”
Most of us are aware of how important it is to continue to exercise as we age, and having a regular exercise routine can help in a variety of ways, ranging from fall prevention to avoiding depression and relieving arthritis. The challenge that often presents itself is how to find safe forms of exercise that can accommodate the physical limitations aging often causes. So for those who can’t get on the floor, or don’t want to get on the floor, chair yoga offers wonderful health benefits.
Chair yoga is a type of yoga that has been modified to allow participants to perform all of the required exercises from a seated, or sometimes standing, position. It allows seniors and those living with disabilities to reap the benefits of yoga without risking their safety.
For older adults, chair yoga also helps with chronic pain and symptom management for health problems including arthritis, depression, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and a variety of autoimmune conditions.
Chair yoga has also been documented to:
- Improve core strength and balance
- Increase flexibility
- Promote mobility
- Improve mental health and positive feelings
- Increase oxygen intake
- Promote better breathing techniques
- Help reduce stress and the emotional response to stress
- Control weight
So those are a variety of excellent benefits people may experience from chair yoga. Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper into a few of those points.
Few people stop to think about the fact that relaxation is a skill. We tend to assume that we are not relaxed because the circumstances of our lives are too stressful. We may tell ourselves that we will relax after the mortgage is paid, or after a sick family member is healthy again, or whatever. But the truth is that everyone’s life always contains some tension-inducing problems. We can’t run away from them, so we must learn how to relax.
Like any other skill, relaxation can be cultivated through learning and practice. A good chair yoga instructor will start by teaching you yoga breathing skills which you can use not only during class but anywhere, anytime you need to decompress.
Some people assume loss of flexibility is inevitable with aging, but this is a misconception. Flexibility actually works on the “use or lose it” model. You can improve your flexibility at any age. People who start practicing yoga in their 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s find that they regain flexibility in their joints, connective tissues and muscles. Those who continue practicing yoga over the long term even report that they not only regain lost mobility, but often become more limber than in their younger years.
Reduce or even eliminate insomnia, arthritis and constipation:
Most chair yoga participants report that after one to three months of regular weekly classes, they sleep better at night. Many chair yoga practitioners who previously experienced chronic constipation have more regular bowel movements without medication. Pain from arthritis, sciatica, chronic back ache, and other conditions also tends to decrease or in some cases even disappear with yoga practice.
So, if you are interested in trying a chair yoga class, here are a few suggestions to get you started.
If you have been living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, the first thing you should do is check with your primary care physician to confirm that starting exercise will be okay. Let them know you would like to begin chair yoga and explain what that will entail (though many doctors now are aware of the practice and are recommending yoga with a qualified instructor to their patients for its multiple benefits).
Once you gain your doctor’s approval, begin by asking around at your local health clinic, doctor’s office, massage therapist, etc. as they often know teachers to recommend. Be sure that the teacher is qualified to teach the style of yoga you’re looking for and that they are aware of any conditions or limitations you may have.
Know that it’s natural to feel nervous or hesitant for your first few classes. But remember that everyone in that room started off as a beginner as well, and you have nothing to be embarrassed about.
Be prepared for the best class experience by wearing comfortable clothing. Nothing distracts you more than discomfort while moving and breathing! And don’t worry about being fancy! Comfortable pants and a t-shirt are all that’s required.
And finally, go with an open mind. Plan to have fun, relax, break a sweat – whatever your intention! Just remember that you’re doing this for you and your health – physically and mentally – and that you’re never too old to try something new.