Not quite ready to “hit the mat” or simply need a mid-day stretch at the office to get you through? Then chair yoga may be for you! The great news about chair yoga is that you can do this modified yoga practice if you are struggling with limited mobility, balance issues, or stubborn stiffness… without ever leaving your seat! Let’s take a look at what a chair yoga practice is, how you can benefit from a chair yoga practice, what areas of the body you can target with this practice, and a few simple moves and stretches to get you started.
What is Chair Yoga?
Chair yoga is exactly what the name implies. It’s a gentle practice in which postures are performed while seated and/or with the aid of a chair. Sounds too good to be a good workout, right? Think again. Studies show that having an active lifestyle offers many benefits. Getting that activity in, however, can be frustrating when age, illness, or injury make it more of a challenge. But doing any level of activity — even a gentler exercise like chair yoga — does pay off! One particular study found that adults who remained active for 10+ years reported less bodily pain and better social functioning than adults who became inactive.
So if you’ve been hesitant to get your body moving beyond a walk around the block, chair yoga offers you a safe and effective way to ease into activity while still being gentle with your body. It’s also never too late to add activity, exercise, or movement back into your life.
Who Can Do Chair Yoga?
These modifications make yoga accessible to people who have various physical limitations or those who find other types of yoga classes too challenging. Everyone can enjoy these modified versions of twists, hip stretches, forward bends, and mild backbends, all while seated comfortably in a chair. But don’t be fooled into thinking that chair yoga only offers you a good stretch. Take a look at some of the amazing health benefits that chair yoga can bring your body.
6 Health Benefits of Chair Yoga
#1: Increased Flexibility.
The ability to bend, twist, stretch, and move freely is important for more than doing yoga. These movements allow you to live confidently and engage in the activities that you enjoy every day. As we get older, doing simple things like reaching into a cabinet or getting up and down can become challenging. Sadly, many people accept that a loss of flexibility is just an inevitable part of aging, but that mindset is far from accurate. Consistently working on your flexibility and mobility reminds your joints and muscles that you must continue to use them or you’ll lose them. Movement is medicine, and chair yoga will help you increase your flexibility and improve your mobility.
#2: Improved Strength.
Building your muscle strength, particularly with yoga, will ultimately lead to better balance. This will help reduce your risk of falling and improve your body’s ability to withstand injury. Chair yoga can also help strengthen your back muscles, core, and legs. That’s why pairing a chair yoga practice with your chiropractic care can be tremendously fruitful.
#3: Improved Proprioception.
Transitioning from one yoga pose to the next with ease will improve your proprioception. Proprioception is a fancy way of describing what yogis call body awareness. It is your body’s ability to accurately sense where your body is in space. This leads to improved coordination and, again, reduces your risk of falling.
#4: Reduced Stress.
Life is hard, and we’re all carrying around stress, typically in our muscles. Focusing on your breath and how your body reacts to exercise creates an awareness that promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and can bring you clarity.
#5: Reduced Pain.
Study after study shows that exercise reduces pain. The reason behind this is that exercise encourages your body to release natural painkillers called endorphins. Yoga, in particular, not only assists in reducing physical pain but mental pain and fogginess.
#6: Improved Pain Management Skills.
So often we jump to medicine for pain relief. While modern medicine certainly has its place, finding natural ways of managing your pain is beneficial. The exercises in chair yoga help you find ways to cope with pain and discomfort through mindful breathing and meditation. By building strength, releasing muscle tension, improving flexibility, and bolstering joints and bones, yoga can bring the body into balance, thereby alleviating pain. Yoga also offers many therapeutic benefits both mentally and physically.
What Areas of the Body Does Chair Yoga Target?
The short answer is chair yoga can target all areas of the body. However, chair yoga tends to place an emphasis on spinal health, so you’re going to feel it strengthen and lengthen your back muscles most. Balancing is an important part of aging gracefully and avoiding injuries or falls. Chair yoga will also help with balance as you strengthen your calves, hamstrings and thighs help to support you and your spine while engaging in any activity. By strengthening and conditioning your body in this way, you will optimize your body’s ability to support you and increase your longevity and quality of life. If you’re looking to yoga to help you in other areas, check out these articles on how it helps with headaches, low back pain, blood pressure, and stress.
Three Simple Stretches to Begin Chair Yoga
To begin adding chair yoga to your exercise routines, start by incorporating these easy-to-do stretches throughout your day. You can do these sitting at a desk in an office, when you wake up and feel a little stiff, or just need a quick stretch after doing one of your favorite activities. The only prop you’ll need is a chair.
Remember to breathe! Make sure you sit up nice and tall in your chair. Don’t let your back rest against the back of the chair for this practice. Close your eyes and imagine your spine lengthening with every breath. On each inhale, fill your belly like a balloon, and then on the exhale, draw your navel to your spine. Take at least 5 rounds of breath
#1: The Side Stretch
To do a side stretch, sit up nice and tall in your chair with your feet planted flat on the floor. Extend your right arm over your head. On the inhale, extend your right fingertips towards the sky. On the exhale, gently lean over to the left and breath. Allow the right side of your body to open and lengthen. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat on the other side. You can easily perform this stretch a handful of times for optimal stretching.
Cat/Cow performed in a chair is such a wonderful way to wake up the spine and incorporate mobility in your practice. Sit up tall. Place your palms on your knees. As you inhale: Slide your hands back towards your thighs, send your chest forward, and slightly arch your back. Shift your gaze slightly up. As you exhale: Slide the hands back to the front of the knees and round your back like a cat. Gently tuck your chin towards your chest. Do at least 4 rounds of Cat/Cow, but you can always add in more if it feels good.
#3: Gentle Twist
Sitting up nice and tall, place your right hand towards the back of your seat and your left hand on your right knee. Gaze gently over your right shoulder and breath for 3 rounds. As you inhale, think of lengthening your spine. As you exhale, see if you can twist just a little more. Repeat on the left side.
Simple Exercise Can Reap Big Rewards
Yoga is yoga whether you’re practicing on a mat or in a chair. Finding feel-good movements that open you up and get you moving will get you on the right path to living your life to the fullest.