Easy At-Home Chair Yoga Practice for Seniors
Yoga is a benefit-rich fitness and wellness activity. Anyone can practice, regardless of ability or body type. And chair yoga provides additional modifications to poses for those with more limited mobility. It’s important to remember to start simply and grow your practice slowly. Your doctor may be able to provide insight into what poses to avoid based on your personal range of motion.
The Benefits of Chair Yoga
Yoga is a smart exercise for seniors because it helps strengthen and elongate muscles, increase flexibility, reduce swelling in joints and improve balance. These benefits can help reverse or delay some of the natural effects of aging, including loss of muscle mass and diminished flexibility. In addition to the physical benefits, a regular yoga practice also improves focus and concentration, encourages mindfulness, and reduces stress and anxiety.
Chair yoga is a great way to experience the body-mind connection with added support. If you’re new to chair yoga, here are some simple moves and poses for beginners.
Warming Up and Setting an Intention
Sit straight in a chair. Try not to slouch or lean. Draw your navel back toward your spine to support your lower back muscles. From your seated position, set an intention for your practice. What are you hoping to find from your yoga practice today? Are you seeking a deeper connection to your body? Do you want to feel movement more joyfully? Are you hoping to find a little peace? If you’re not sure about the “why” — that’s okay. You may become more aware of your intentions as you become more familiar with yoga.
Inhale deeply. Gently lower your chin to your chest as you exhale completely. Inhale again and roll your left ear to your left shoulder. Exhale, moving your chin back to the center of your chest. Repeat on the right, syncing the motion with the breath. Take these half neck rolls slowly, stopping when you feel satisfied.
Raise your arms out in front of you and gently roll your wrists clockwise, then counterclockwise, then in a figure-eight motion. Lift your feet a few inches off the ground and roll your ankles right and left. Point and flex your feet. This lubricates your joints by loosening the synovial fluid, which reduces pain and swelling.
Breath Control — Pranayama
Pranayama means breath control in Sanskrit. Deep and controlled breathing cultivates mindfulness and calms the nervous system. Try one breathing technique called “square breathing.” Imagine drawing a square in your mind. As you draw one side of the square, inhale through your nose for four counts. Mentally draw the next side of the square while you hold your breath for four counts. Exhale through your nose for four counts while you draw the third line. Finish the square while you hold your breath for four counts again. Repeat several times. Try to keep your breathing steady. This exercise becomes easier with repetition. As you get better at it, you can raise the count to five or six per side of the square.
Cat-Cow with Cactus Arms
The cat-cow stretch is great for the spine. Cat-cows encourage better alignment, improve flexibility and posture, and relieve tension. Raise your arms on either side of you in the shape of a football goal post. For cow pose, draw your shoulder blades down your back and in toward each other. Inhale, push your belly out, gently tilt your tailbone backward and lift your chin. Your back should make a gentle arc. Simultaneously, widen your goal post arms to stretch your chest muscles. Moving from your center, transition to cat pose. With your exhale, bring your forearms together as though you’re closing the goal post. Tilt your tailbone forward and round through your spine like you’re hunching over. Bring your chin to your chest. Flowing with your breath, move through cat-cows several times.
Inhale and sweep your arms out and over 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 press your left hand softly against your right leg. In this position, inhale to sit up taller and lengthen the spine, then exhale to deepen your twist. Inhale and raise your arms above your head as you carefully untwist, then do the same movements to the left.
Inhale and sweep your arms out and over your head. You can touch your palms together or get as close as you can. Exhale and drop your left hand down, grabbing onto the chair. Lean to the left and stretch your right hand up and overhead in an arc. You should feel the stretch in your right side. Inhale and center yourself on the chair again. Raise both arms, then exhale and do the same stretch on the other side.
Sit straight in the chair. Inhale and lift your right leg to hip-height (or close as you can). Flex your toes toward the ceiling to stretch your quadricep and hold for a few rounds of breath. As you exhale, set your right foot down. Extend your left leg straight, so your heel is resting on the ground.
Inhale as you raise your arms overhead and lengthen through your spine. Exhale as you fold over your left leg, keeping your back as flat as possible. Let your hands rest on your leg — wherever they naturally reach. Imagine a line of energy running from your tailbone to the crown of your head. To come out of the stretch, inhale and engage your core muscles to roll yourself back into a seated position. Then repeat the sequence on the other side.
Shift slightly to the left side of the chair. Your right leg should be situated in the center of the chair while your left leg hangs off the side. Stretch your left leg behind you, so you feel a stretch through the top of your left thigh. Repeat on the right side.
Resituate yourself in the center of the chair. Sit straight. With your inhale, widen your knees apart until you feel a stretch through your inner thighs. Contract your glute muscles to get a deeper stretch and protect your lower back. Work to point your hip bones up toward the ceiling, so your spine reaches a more neutral position. Pull your belly button in toward your back to engage the abs. You can rest your hands on the inside of your knees or bring them in prayer position at your heart center to challenge your balance.
If possible, rise up from the chair and use the backrest for support. With the back of the chair on your left side, grab the back of the chair with your left hand. Stand firmly on the sole of your left foot. Try not to clench through the toes — spread your weight evenly across the base of the foot. With a directed gaze, or drishti, concentrate on a focal point in front of you. Slowly raise your right foot off the ground, hold your right leg at a 90-degree angle for several rounds of breath. Lower the leg back down with control, then switch to the other side.
Chair yoga is a great exercise for seniors who are new to the practice or have mobility limitations. At Lake Seminole Square, we know that physical health is an important part of your overall wellbeing. That’s why we provide a variety of senior-friendly exercise options to help you enjoy your workout. If you’d like to find out more about our holistic approach to wellness or our fitness opportunities, contact us. We’d be happy to tell you more.