Yoga is a wonderfully well-rounded fitness and wellness activity. It’s inclusive and accessible to all, regardless of ability, body or skill level. Chair yoga for seniors makes the practice even more accessible by providing additional modifications of each pose.
The Benefits of Chair Yoga for Seniors
As we age, our bodies become weaker and less flexible, which is just part of life. Yoga helps strengthen, tone and elongate muscles, reduce swelling in joints, increase flexibility, and improve balance. In addition to the physical benefits, it also improves focus and concentration, encourages mindfulness, and gives you the space to achieve inner peace.
Yoga doesn’t discriminate; people of all ages, capabilities, and other differentiating characteristics are equally capable of practicing yoga. And while it’s a very personal and individualized practice, it’s often practiced in a group, with a guide, which fosters community and learning. Chair yoga for seniors is a great way to keep your mind sharp and your body able. If you’re practicing at home, here’s your guide to a complete chair yoga practice for seniors.
Warming Up with Intention
Take a seat! Let’s get started. First, set an intention for your practice. Why did you arrive in your chair and choose to practice yoga today? Are you seeking solace? Peace? If you’re not sure, a great intention you can always come back to is practicing gratitude.
Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, gently lower your chin to your chest. Inhale and roll your right ear to your right shoulder. Exhale your chin back to center. Do the same on the left. Take these neck rolls slowly as you breathe, stopping wherever you feel needs some extra time and attention.
Hold your arms out in front of you and slowly roll your wrists in a clockwise direction, then counterclockwise, then in a figure 8 motion. Lift your feet just a couple of inches off the ground and roll your ankles left and right, flex and extend your feet. This loosens the synovial fluid around your joints, lubricating them, which reduces swelling and pain, and prepares you for your practice.
Pranayama – Breath Control
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for breath control. Deep and controlled breathing calms the nervous system and cultivates awareness. Try a breathing technique called “square breathing.” Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold at the top of your breath for four counts, exhale through your nose for four counts, and hold at the bottom of your breath for four counts. Repeat as many times as you want or need. As it becomes easier for you to hold your breath, increase the number of counts to five, six, etc. Try to keep your breathing steady and even.
Cats & Cows with Cactus Arms
Cat and cow pose, or cat-cows, are great for the spine. Cat-cows improve flexibility and posture, relieve tension and encourage alignment. Raise your arms on either side of you like a goalpost. For cow pose, on an inhale, tilt your tailbone up, gently push your belly out, draw your shoulder blades closer together, and lift your chin. Simultaneously, widen your goalpost arms to broaden your chest. For cat pose, on an exhale, bring your forearms together as though you’re closing the goalpost, tilt your tailbone down, round through your spine like you’re hunching over, bring your shoulders closer together in front of your chest, and bring your chin to your chest. Flow through cat-cows as you breathe in and out a few times. You can also hold onto the base of the chair for stability if that’s more comfortable.
It’s important to incorporate spinal twists into every yoga practice, to ensure you’ve moved your spine in all six directions. On an inhale, raise your arms out to the sides and above your head. On an exhale, lower them and simultaneously twist to the right. Use your right hand to grab hold of the chair behind you, and your left hand as leverage on your right leg. Stay in this position and inhale to sit taller and lengthen the spine, then exhale to deepen your twist. Inhale and raise your arms above your head as you untwist, then do the same exercise on the left side.
To complete all six spinal movements, you need to bend laterally left and right. Inhale and raise your arms out to the sides and above your head, connecting your palms above your head if possible. If that’s not possible, just reach as much as you can and find your fullest expression of the pose. In any pose, the energy of moving toward the pose is more important than reaching its fullest extent. Exhale and lower your right hand to your side, grab onto the chair. Lean to the right and use your left hand overhead to reach toward the right, feeling the stretch in your left side. Inhale and raise both arms, then exhale and do the same exercise on the left side.
Now we’ll do a few exercises to build strength and flexibility in the legs. Inhale and lift your right leg as high off the ground as you can. Flex your quadricep and hold for a few seconds. Set the sole of your right foot back on the ground, and extend your left leg straight, so just your heel is resting on the ground. On an inhale, raise your arms above your head and lengthen through your spine. As you exhale, fold over your left leg, keeping your back as flat as possible, which keeps your spine straight and lengthened. Anchor your hands as far down your left leg as your stretch reaches. Aim for a long line of energy from your tailbone through the crown of your head. To come out of the stretch, inhale and use your core to lift yourself back up to a seated position. Then repeat the exercise on the other side.
Hip-opening poses engage muscles we don’t often use in our day-to-day lives. Shift over to the right side of the chair, so your left leg is situated in the center of the chair. Let your right leg hang off the side, then stretch it back and behind you, so you feel a sensation in the top upper part of your thigh (your hip flexor). Do the same exercise on the left side. Resituate yourself in the center of your chair. Sit tall and on an inhale, widen (abduct) your knees apart until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Activate your glute muscles to encourage your knees to come further apart and to protect your lower back. Tilt your tailbone down so it’s in a more neutral position, and engage your core. You can bring your hands to the inside of your knees and use them as leverage, or bring them to your heart center for a bit of a balance challenge.
For this practice, the last pose you’ll do is a balancing challenge. If possible, get out of the chair and use it to support a standing balancing pose. If that’s not possible, don’t worry, you can still do your variation of this pose sitting down. Use your left hand to grab the chair for support. Stand firmly on the sole of your left foot. Choose a focal point in front of you to stare at; it’s easiest to start with a focal point low and in front of you and, if you want to, you can lift your gaze as you become more comfortable in the balance. Lift your right foot off the ground, turn your knee outward, and place the sole of your right foot somewhere on your left leg. It can be on your ankle like a kickstand, on your calf, or even as high as your inner thigh. Just don’t place it on your knee, so you’re protecting that joint. You can always hold onto the chair for support, but if you feel confident in this balance, bring your hands to your heart center, or raise them above your head and in a Y shape like you’ve grown branches. You’re in tree pose!
The use of a chair in yoga makes the practice accessible to all people. You can modify just about any pose to incorporate a chair. At Hamlet at Chagrin Falls, we offer chair yoga for seniors in our atrium, so you can practice with your friends in a beautiful setting. Now that you know some basics, you’re ready to begin your practice if you’ve never tried yoga before, deepen and expand your existing practice, or continue your practice as you age if you’ve loved yoga for many years.
Yoga is one of many fitness and wellness offerings at Hamlet at Chagrin Falls. From Wii™ bowling to chair volleyball and more, we have plenty of ways to keep you busy and healthy.