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Chair Yoga

Posted 12/27/2017 by UHBlog

If you want to increase strength and agility, but are leery of traditional fitness classes, chair yoga may be the perfect fit. Ask us how low-impact and assisted exercises can improve your well-being.

Older women in chair yoga class

You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel or balance upside-down on one hand to reap the benefits of yoga, says yoga therapist and meditation instructor Dawn Miller, MA. Using a chair or other prop for support makes practicing yoga especially accessible to senior citizens or other folks with physical limitations.

“Chair yoga doesn’t necessarily mean that the participant is sitting the entire time, but the chair is there to provide additional support,” Miller says. “For example, you can place your fingertips or hands lightly on the back of a chair. It provides security and enhances confidence when working with balance.”

The ancient practice of yoga, which combines physical movement with conscientious breathing, began in India more than 5,000 years ago. Individuals who practice yoga may experience:

  • An energy surge
  • Better circulation
  • Lower stress levels
  • Weight loss
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved balance
  • A feeling of belonging to a community, especially when practiced in a class

“With some adaptations, just about anyone can practice yoga,” Miller says. “One of the most important things is the conscientious regulation of breathing as you’re moving through poses. That translates across any format of yoga.”

Miller points out several conditions that can benefit from the practice of chair yoga:

  1. Limited mobility and poor posture. It’s difficult for many older folks to sit on the floor, especially if your hips are tight or your back tends to round. Getting down on your hands and knees for a traditional cat-cow pose may be out of the question.
    “But if you’re seated, you can do the same flexion and extension movements of the spine as you would kneeling on the floor,” Miller says.
  2. Low bone density. Yoga includes weight-bearing exercises, such as planks and pushups, which promote healthy bones and help stave off or slow down the progression of osteoporosis and osteopenia. Miller recommends securing a chair against a wall, so it won’t slide, and holding the side of the seat before stepping your feet back until your body is in a plank pose. Pushups can be done against a wall.
    “I like to joke that this is not your grandmother’s chair yoga,” Miller says. "Chair yoga, as with any yoga class, can have varying levels of physical challenge. Especially with a plank pose, you can get quite a workout.”
  3. Arthritis. Chair yoga helps increase the strength, flexibility and range of motion of joints – from shoulders and knees to wrists and even fingers.
  4. Hip and knee replacement. “People with joint replacements are often not able to do traditional yoga poses, but with the support of a chair, they can work on their core strength and fitness,” Miller says. “That helps them recover more quickly and have a better outcome with their physical therapy and rehab.”
  5. Frequent falls. The improved balance associated with chair yoga may help the body right itself before a potential fall. Miller suggests slowly lifting and lowering your heels in conjunction with moving your arms; lightly place the fingers of one hand on the back of a chair for support, then switch. You can also use a chair for support when practicing poses that involve standing on one foot, such as warrior pose.

Miller recommends receiving instruction from a certified yoga teacher if you’re new to the practice. Also, tell your instructor if you have:

  • A joint replacement, so she can help you modify poses
  • High or low blood pressure not controlled by medication, because you may experience dizziness if you come up too quickly
  • Diabetic neuropathy, because you may need to wear shoes
  • Other health conditions

Dawn Miller, MA is a certified yoga therapist, registered Viniyoga yoga teacher, Stress Management & Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T™) instructor and meditation instructor at University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. You can request an appointment with Miller or any other health care provider online.

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