Chair Yoga is a relatively new approach to the ancient practice of Yoga. Chair Yoga is accessible to all levels of health, age and mobility and is ideal for anyone that wishes to gain the benefits of a Yoga practice without getting up and down from the floor. You will find many elements of a traditional Yoga class in a chair class, the emphasis is always on going at your own pace and working within your own physical limitations, making this style ideal for anyone that may have a long term health issue or disability, seniors, or anyone just wishing to work at a more gentle pace.
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What is Chair Yoga?
Chair Yoga is a style of Hatha Yoga that can be performed seated in a chair, you will find many of the traditional yoga poses and flows modified to take place in a seated position. There may be a standing sequence using the chair for support. Expect a class that focuses on the individual’s health issues and limitations and can be modified for each class participant. There is no set sequence so you will learn a variety of different postures and flows. Chair Yoga works to improve strength, balance, coordination and mobility and to relieve stress, lower the heart rate and blood pressure. You will often find instructed breath work (pranayama), a series of postures (asanas) and a relaxation at the end of the class. Depending on the interests of the instructor you may also learn some elements of yoga philosophy and mudras (hand positions) which can be very beneficial to anyone with arthritis or declining mobility in the hands.
The Central Components of a Chair Yoga Class are
- A focus on breathing, especially on taking longer, slower and smoother breaths to calm the nervous system.
- Learning how to modify the seated and standing poses to bring the most benefit to each individual attending the class.
- Learning some flows in which the postures are linked together, improving coordination and stimulating the brain.
Chair Yoga is all about modification and inclusion, you will not be expected to attempt advanced poses or to do anything which may put you at risk of injury. The focus of Chair Yoga is to gain the benefits of a regular Hatha Yoga class without putting a lot of strain on the joints or skeletal system. You will be encouraged to be mindful of the way that you feel as you are moving and breathing, promoting a mind-body connection and lowered stress levels.
What to expect from a Chair Yoga Session
A Chair Yoga class will often begin with a short mindfulness exercise, including a focus on the breath and how you are feeling, once this mindful attention has been established you will move on to a warm up to mobilise the body head to toe, this might include gentle movements such as shoulder rolls, spinal stretches, ankle circles or heel raises. Following this you will be carefully instructed in a series of postures and breathing exercises, all rounded off with a relaxation to end the session.
There is no set sequence for a chair yoga class so you will have a chance to experience a variety of postures and flows enabling you to become familiar with the movements but also keeping things fresh and interesting. Each instructor will lead their session slightly differently so you may wish to try a few different teachers to help you find a class that you love!
You do not need any specialist equipment for your class but you may wish to experiment with using a yoga block, cushion or strap to modify some of the poses or to relieve any strain when holding a stretch. Often your instructor will suggest the use of a prop if needed or even include props as part of the session. Some teachers will use resistance bands, balls or scarves as part of a class, you may also hear gentle music to encourage relaxation.
Comfort is best when it comes to dressing for your class, wear something loose that you can move freely in and layer up so that you can keep yourself at a good temperature during relaxation. You may wish to wear soft shoes or to go barefoot, a large portion of the class will focus on mobilising the feet so it's great if they are able to move in all directions. You may also wish to bring some water to keep yourself hydrated during the class.
Chair Yoga is different to other “fixed” forms of Yoga such as Ashtanga or Bikram yoga so no two classes will be the same. However you are likely to find the following postures of flows popping up during your class
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
this pose focuses on improving posture and weight distribution throughout the body, encouraging you to stand tall, lengthen the spine and engage the body’s core muscles
- Seated Cat/Cow Stretch
these two postures are often linked together with the breath to move your spine, shoulders and pelvis through flexion and extension, mobilising the back and stretching out through any aches or pains.
- Tree pose
this pose challenges the balance and stretches the hip flexor, this pose will be modified to be performed seated or standing
- Seated twist
this pose improves the mobility of the spine in rotation as well as moving through the neck and shoulders.
The aim of a Chair Yoga class is to improve the health and mobility of its participants without competitiveness, strain or judgement. There is an inclusive, friendly and relaxed atmosphere so you wont need to worry about a lack of ability or flexibility. The teacher will be very clear in their instructions and offer modifications so that everyone can join in during the session. Don’t worry about taking a break if you need to during a session as this is often encouraged as part of the class.
Everyone from total beginners to seasoned Yogis can feel the benefits of a chair based Yoga class. The emphasis on inclusion and modifications mean that you can always work at your own pace and choose to challenge yourself or to take it easy depending on your levels of health or energy.
Effects and Benefits of Chair Yoga
Yoga is widely considered to be one of the best ways to reduce stress and to improve our mind-body connection, Chair Yoga is no exception. A regular practice can improve balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, mobility and lower your stress hormone levels, blood pressure and heart rate leading to a more peaceful experience of life. The focus on accessibility makes this the perfect yoga style for anyone experiencing health challenges or looking for a gentler exercise option.
Some of the top benefits of Chair Yoga include:
- Developing a Yoga practice that is accessible to all levels of age, ability, mobility and fitness.
- Improvements in posture and core strength that will translate into more comfortable movement as you perform everyday tasks.
- Improved strength and balance from holding standing postures and strength based exercises from your chair.
- A safer approach to improving balance using your chair as a support.
- Lowered stress levels through mindfulness, breathing and relaxation to bring your blood pressure and heart rate down.
- Improved flexibility, mobility and coordination from moving through a flow of postures.
- A better awareness and understanding of how your body feels and operates through a mindful approach to movement.