You might think you can’t practice yoga because you are not steady on your feet, you have chronic pain, your balance is off kilter, or you have difficulty getting up and down, but you might be wrong. Chair Yoga can be a safer alternative to people with disabilities, chronic pain, or people who don’t feel steady enough to practice on their own.
The stress relieving practice of breathing into gentle stretches can ease some of the anxiety related to chronic pain and disability. If we can alleviate some of the stress, we might be able to change the perception of the pain. The circle of pain: chronic pain and the mental anguish that comes along with it, never allows your body or brain to rest. By bringing awareness and relief to some of the mental stress we hold onto, we can erase some of the stress and maybe even alleviate some of the pain.
As we age, sometimes we feel less sure of ourselves. We are afraid to fall and we might not feel strong enough to move through a series of poses. In chair yoga we use the chair as a base for standing poses or we can even transform standing poses into seated poses. When we feel safe and secure, we worry less about injury and focus more on the body we are trying to make feel better.
When teaching any yoga class, I want my students to keep every stretch safe. Adjusting the pose to fit your body instead of forcing into a pose is a general mantra (a mantra is a saying or slogan) of mine. Chair yoga works along the same idea.
Practicing chair yoga can bring the same benefits as a full yoga practice. The idea is that the breathing and awareness practice is the same; we are simply adjusting the poses so that we are more comfortable in them. You can’t really pay attention to your body and connect with your muscles stretching if you are unsteady and afraid to fall over or if you have chronic pain and that is all you can think about.
You should, of course, check with your doctor before trying this or any other new form of exercise. Many doctors will encourage you to move sedentary muscles. The breathing practice is also usually encouraged by doctors because it increases lung capacity and releases toxins from your lungs.
If you simply practice the mindfulness and breathing you can gain enormous benefits from your practice. Add in some gentle stretching and you can feel the stress leave your body. We don’t realize how we contract muscles when we hold onto stress, either mental or physical. If we can let go, even a little, we can be rewarded with less stress, a lighter body, more confidence and maybe a little less pain.
Bringing yourself into the present moment allows you to feel your body.
Try this: Sit in a chair and rest your feet on the ground. With your spine lengthened as much as you can comfortably, rest your shoulders down. Close your eyes and just breathe. Try to forget about anything else that you need to do or anywhere that you need to go. Take two minutes for yourself right now. Let your breath travel over and into your muscles. Simply be aware of how your body feels at this moment.
Notice how your body feels, but don’t judge it or be angry at it – simply be aware of which parts feel good and which parts maybe not so good. Now, inhale and let the fresh breath fill your upper body with air like a balloon. And exhale all that air out of your lungs. Take three deep breaths like that. Relax and breathe normally and notice how your body feels with each relaxed breath.
You just practiced mindfulness. It is as simple as that. When you start moving into gentle stretches you just breathe into them. The safety of the chair allows you to relax and enjoy the sensations of your movements. The focus lets you be aware of how your muscles feel in any stretch so that you can adjust it accordingly.
Chair yoga offers all of the benefits of a full yoga practice without the worry. Chair yoga can be found in many community or senior centers and in some yoga studios. Many nursing homes offer chair yoga classes as do adult day care facilities that care for people with severe disabilities. If it helps these people, maybe it can help you too.
Please make sure you are working with a qualified instructor who is CPR certified. Let your instructor know if anything ails you so that he or she can direct you during some of the poses to safe modifications.
Practicing chair yoga can give you confidence, stress relief, and build strength and vitality. Let someone give you those gifts. You deserve it! Check with your doctor and find a chair yoga class near you.
By Kathi Duquette
Certified Yoga Instructor
Certified Personal Trainer