Yoga is a form of exercise that has been shown to improve core strength and balance, increase flexibility, promote mobility, improve mental health, increase oxygen intake, reduce stress, and help control weight. However, age and injury can often pose a problem for the aspiring yoga student, who may have trouble getting up and down from the floor repeatedly.
Fortunately, there is an effective form of yoga that encourages healthy movement, healing, strength, and joint mobility — regardless of age and fitness level: chair yoga.
Chair yoga allows individuals to experience all the benefits of traditional yoga with the added stability of a chair. In chair yoga, all exercises are performed from a seated position. Chair yoga is a beneficial for people of any fitness level, from active seniors to those recovering from an injury. It integrates the best of flexibility and balance training, with the added benefit of being easy on the joints. Chair yoga also brings the additional benefits of providing movement and stretching to help with chronic pain and symptoms of arthritis, depression, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and a variety of autoimmune conditions.
Before participating in chair yoga, be sure to check with your primary care physician — especially if you have been living a sedentary lifestyle. Let your doctor know you would like to begin chair yoga and explain what it will entail, namely breath work, seated sun salutations lifting your arms and legs, movements to keep your joints lubricated, standing behind your chair for a few poses at the end, and then relaxation.
Once you gain approval from your doctor, check out your local programs. Exhale offers weekly chair yoga classes. You can also check your Silver Sneakers program for other locations, find televised yoga classes on channels such as PBS, or buy a DVD. You could also begin with a private chair yoga class if you have anxiety about being with others. There are added health benefits to participating in group activities and socializing with others but begin wherever you feel comfortable.
Though chair yoga is a low-risk and low-impact form of exercise, you should make sure you have the right equipment to prevent injuries and to get the most out of your workout. Essential chair yoga equipment includes an armless, stable chair (no wobbling!); a flat, level surface for your chair with a yoga mat underneath so it doesn’t slip; flexible, comfortable clothing that isn’t too tight or baggy; space to fully extend your limbs; and an experienced instructor or friend for safety. It’s also best to not eat a heavy meal two hours before yoga.
Once you’re set up and safe, you can begin by trying this overhead stretch:
Begin in a seated position with your feet planted on the floor, facing forward with your arms down by your sides. Take a long, deep breath in and slowly stretch your arms up toward the ceiling. Hold this position for a moment and bring your arms back down with a long exhale. Throughout this exercise, make sure your core is engaged and your back is as straight as possible. Nice slow deep breath in, slow exhale. Notice how your body feels before and then afterward.
The most important thing when beginning any exercise program is to listen to your body. You may find a little soreness or discomfort when you first begin, but never move towards pain. Let go of the idea of “no pain no gain.” You can make big changes listening to your body and finding joy moving your body with your breath. It’s never too late to reap the benefits of taking care of your health and your body. The first step is to begin.
Renee Brown is the owner of Exhale, which offers a variety of yoga classes, including chair, low back care, restorative, yin, slow flow, mindful flow, meditation and power yoga. Exhale also offers Thai Bodywork, Reiki, and Reflexology. The studio is located at 921 Harmony Road, Suite C, Eatonton (next to Southern Laser Salon & Spa) and can be reached at 706-818-1725. Visit www.exhalelakeoconee.com to find a schedule, workshops, and upcoming yoga teacher training.