Health & Wellness

Chair Yoga is for Everyone!

By Stacie Dooreck
Have you heard yourself or others say, “I can’t do yoga until I have more energy, or am in less pain?” This is understandable. But while it may appear that pain, fatigue, or other symptoms will prevent you, you will see that you can always practice yoga and receive its numerous benefits. In fact, a study from Rutgers University in 2014 found that “women with moderate symptoms of multiple sclerosis experienced improvements in balance, walking, coordination, and quality of life after eight weeks of practicing yoga.”
 
One of the more frustrating experiences that can occur for those with MS and chronic illness is feeling too tired or in too much pain to exercise or practice yoga. After learning that yoga is helpful for increasing energy and improving quality of life, not being able to practice it may feel defeating, and depressing. The good news is that if you are unable to get up out of a chair, wheelchair, or out of bed, you can practice from wherever you are. When sometimes merely walking across a room or getting to a yoga class feels impossible, chair yoga offers short and simple practices that you can adapt to meet your current needs.
 
For example, much of my late twenties and thirties, I was managing chronic Lyme disease. I had to stop my prior yoga practice, because the postures and exercises I tried made my symptoms (fatigue, dizziness,
exhaustion, muscle weakness, and joint pain) worsen. The first time I tried chair yoga for 10 minutes, however, I felt some of the healing energy I used to feel during a full yoga practice before I got sick. I started to learn that some yoga is better for me than no yoga. A few minutes of practice began to have lasting results that improved my daily functioning.
 
The duration, intensity, and type of practice can vary, not only for each practitioner, but also from day to day, or even minute to minute. When practicing yoga in a safe and supported way, it promotes healing and creates a tool in life that doesn’t require anything external.
 
Often our idea of yoga is that it requires you to do certain yoga poses that can be quite challenging, where you need a certain amount of flexibility, strength, or balance. The truth is that everyone can practice yoga. You will most likely gain those qualities from your practice, but do not have to be in any certain physical condition to begin. I have been teaching yoga and chair yoga for more than 23 years and watch students, who start at all ages and conditions, experience greater freedom in both their body and mind – including first timers who are more than 95 years old!
 
Chair yoga is simply yoga done in a chair or wheelchair, seated or standing, using the chair as a prop for support and stability. The main difference between yoga and chair yoga is that while the traditional yoga postures are done sitting on the floor, lying down, or standing, here we are using the chair or wheelchair as support. Being creative makes yoga accessible for all. There are various techniques and practices for specific results. One does not need to search far and wide to practice, for it is all within, starting with one slow, deep breath.
 
If you want to try it, just inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and repeat. Congratulations! You just did yoga. Yoga can be as simple being aware of the breath, or slowing the breath down with awareness.
 
I’ve seen great shifts in posture and energy from my students practicing weekly. I’ve been teaching chair yoga at assisted living facilities, support groups, hospitals, libraries, and companies for many years. I know firsthand that it can ease pain and give the same benefits that any other yoga practice offers.
 
Try a gentle chair yoga warm up and posture from SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga for Everyone! Do not do any movements or postures that create pain or discomfort. Stop and rest as needed.
 
Joint Warm Ups: Wrist Rotation
 
1. Rotate your hands around your wrists three to six times.
 
2. Make circles in the air with your fingers.
 
3. Make circles with closed fists or open hands.
 
4. Reverse directions and repeat. 
 
Benefits: Improves the range of motion in the wrist joints. Increases the ability to adapt to changes when getting up from chairs, out of bed, etc. Eases wrist strain from computer use.  
 

Point and Flex Foot Movements
 
1. Lift both feet a few inches off the ground.
 
2. Slowly point your toes towards the floor, then gently pull your toes back towards you.
 
3. Repeat five to eight times.
 
Benefits: Improves the range of motion in the ankles. This can be done at your desk, on airplanes, on the couch, or in a wheelchair.


Seated Cobra Variation
 
1. Sitting in a chair, place your hands on your hips or lower back.
 
2. As you lift the heart area, gently move the elbows towards each other.
 
3. If able, interlock the fingers behind you as you lift the heart area and gently stretch the hands towards the earth.
 
4. Take three to five slow, deep breaths. Release and relax.
 
Benefits: Releases general tension in the upper back and improves posture. This pose counteracts the slouching position from sitting for long periods in a chair, in a wheelchair or at your desk and can increase general feelings of vitality and joy.
 
For a more dynamic flow of poses to try a chair yoga sun salute, or seated spinal twist. To learn these go to the videos page on www.sunlightchairyoga.com.
 
Enjoy your practice and remember that yoga is for everyone!