Chair Yoga

Chair Yoga

A gentle, relaxing way to reap all the benefits of yoga with the support of a chair

How can chair yoga nourish your soul?

Chair yoga is suitable for everyone and makes traditional yoga more accessible for people restricted by injury, ageing or disability; as well as allowing anyone confined to a seat to benefit from the practice. 

This variation of yoga was said to have been created by yoga therapist Lakshmi Voelker-Binder in 1982, in response to one of her students being unable to do regular floor yoga poses because of arthritis. According to the International Chair Yoga Association, though, the origins of chair yoga poses date back 5000 years, as every chair yoga pose is an adaptation of the original pose. 

Just like all forms of yoga, chair yoga focuses on breath, movement and flow, with the aim of slowing down, concentrating on each pose and attuning to your body to enhance flexibility and strength, reduce stress and promote relaxation.  

Most of the poses are based on Hatha yoga, with the chair used as a support throughout.  

Chair yoga has become increasingly popular in the past decade or more, particularly for seniors, as well as in office environments.  

Benefits of chair yoga

The beauty of chair yoga is that almost anyone can practice it and reap most of the key physical and mental health benefits of traditional yoga. 

For the elderly in particular, it enables them to move their bodies in a gentle way while feeling supported by the chair.  

One study showed chair yoga reduced pain and improved the quality of life for people with osteoarthritis while another pilot study of the impact of chair yoga on people in their 80s and 90s suggested that yoga may be beneficial in improving mobility and reducing fear of falling.  

Physically, chair yoga improves strength, mobility, stability and balance while mentally it helps with self-esteem, a sense of self-empowerment and decreases levels of stress and anxiety. It can also assist with energy levels, mental clarity and productivity. 

Chair yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
  • Asthma
  • Back pain
  • Balance, stability and coordination
  • Brain fog and clarity
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME)
  • Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
  • Concentration, focus and problem solving
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Energy and vitality
  • Flexibility, endurance and strength
  • Hypertension
  • Immunity issues
  • Mobility and movement
  • Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
  • Nervous system and neurological conditions
  • Posture and spine issues
  • Respiratory and breathing issues
  • Sadness
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Stress and tension
  • Stroke
  • Weight control and obesity

What to expect from a chair yoga session

Your instructor will check on any unique injuries before commencing. A session usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and you will be guided through a series of asanas (poses). 

Most poses can be adapted to suit the chair - for example, with the chair version of mountain pose, you will sit with your feet flat on the floor and the knees at a 90-degree angle. The arms are raised to the sky with the palms facing each other and the gaze is between the palms. 

Depending on the level and the age group, you may remain seated for the entire class however more advanced level classes may require some standing and using the chair for support or balance. 

You will also be guided through some breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques as part of a class, finishing with relaxation. 

As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing chair yoga. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your instructor, who will be happy to address these and explore the option of tailoring the session to your individual requirements. 

References

Lakshmi Voelker | Yoga International

Chair Yoga | International Chair Yoga Association

Hatha Yoga | SoulAdvisor

Yoga | SoulAdvisor

First study to show chair yoga as effective alternative treatment for osteoarthritis | Science Daily

Safety and Feasibility of Modified Chair Yoga | National Library of Medicine

What is Chair Yoga? | Yogipedia