Who Benefits from Chair Yoga
Those of you with disabilities, weight challenges, inflexibility, or who just cannot get on the floor for whatever reason (such as age or being in a crowded work environment) can benefit from a daily practice of yoga on a chair in the comfort of your home or office. The chair replaces the yoga mat and becomes an extension of your body allowing you to take full advantage of yoga’s amazing fitness and health potential. Even if you are in a wheelchair, you can receive the many benefits of chair yoga–the integration of body, mind, and spirit that keeps the yoga practitioner at the top of their game.
The chart below delineates the many groups (and their multitude of challenges)
that are often not able to gain mat yoga’s advantages.
Who benefits from chair yoga?
What challenges does chair yoga address?
→ Office workers
→ Frequent Flyers
→ Couch Potatoes
→ Wheelchair bound
→ Chronically ill
→ Chronic Pain
→ Limited Mobility
→ Restricted Activities
Chair Yoga Benefits for Specific Challenges
GROWING ELDERLY POPULATION:
The US is facing an increasing challenge in caring for the aged as the population bubble of the “baby boomers” passes 60. Yours is a generation that has become health conscious. Yet, as you age and become more sedentary, you find fewer and fewer ways to keep your bodies, minds, and spirits healthy and vital.
Falls are not only the leading cause of injury-related deaths in older adults, but they’re also a significant cause of morbidity and disability, including head trauma, soft tissue injuries, fractures, and dislocations.
The series of balance poses including the tree, the stick, the dancer, and the eagle all build muscle strength and confidence. Each of the balancing asanas has its own benefit on the body/mind connection. The tree brings in length, extension, and fullness of being. The stick creates an expanded chest, poise, and strength in the leg muscles. The dancer creates grace and poise. The eagle opens the shoulders and deepens the breath.
You baby boomers are always looking for something “cool” to do to keep healthy. Doing yoga on a chair is not only fun but is challenging which is what you love. Chair yoga is not for sissies! The warrior and balance series are examples of asanas that demand strength and breath. You will feel as though you “worked out!”
You learn to enjoy being on a chair for you now practice yoga poses, deep breathing techniques, and meditations. You crave your daily chair yoga practice. (Some chair yoga students and teachers have decorated their chairs with paint, fabric, and pictures. Try it to make your practice more fun!)
According to Yoga Alliance, in 2006, preoccupation with weight control is reaching new heights as the obesity crisis is approaching epidemic proportions. The prevalence of adults who are officially considered to be overweight is at an all-time high. Approximately 65% of American adults are overweight, and around 30% are officially obese. The danger in being overweight comes from the complications of carrying excess weight, which include increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. People often look toward fad diets or quick solutions in order to lose weight, but it is usually long-term lifestyle changes involving sensible dietary changes and exercise that help to support lifelong weight management.
For many with weight problems, normal exercise, even regular mat yoga, is too much until there is substantial weight loss. For these folks, chair yoga is a great exercise alternative. It gives the exercise so needed as a part of a long-term weight loss program. Chair yoga increases muscle tissue which helps to raise your metabolic rate. Chair yoga is a stress-reliever which reduces comfort-eating, a major weight loss benefit. Also, it balances the glands and organs which allow you can control your weight more easily.
OSTEOPOROSIS & OSTEOPENIA:
Many of you are in life situations which reduce your physical exercise. This situation, especially as we get older, can lead to osteopenia (low bone mass) which can turn into osteoporosis (a disease of bones that makes them more fragile). Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga as proven effective in slowing and, at times, in reversing these conditions.
If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, you want to become mindful of any of the forward bending or trunk contracting poses. Opening the chest with gentle back bending postures assures extension of the front spine thus allowing full inhalations and exhalations. You are better able to release excess carbon dioxide which eliminates fatigue.
Here are some osteoporosis facts (from FORE, the Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education):
• Osteoporosis affects 44 million Americans (California’s population is around 34 million) at a cost of $17 billion dollars annually.
• One out of two women and one out of eight men will be affected by osteoporosis in their lifetime.
• Having osteoporosis puts people at higher risk for fractures that are painful, can be disfiguring, and reduce their ability to lead active lives.
• In a recent study, one half of all women over 50 years old had osteoporosis or low bone mass and did not know it.
• Only 35% of American adults consume the recommended daily allowance of calcium.
• An estimated 14 million men in the United States currently have low bone mass or osteoporosis.
• Osteoporosis is treatable and may be preventable.
• People need to know their risk for osteoporosis and talk to their doctors about diagnosis, prevention, and treatment strategies.
Arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and sometimes swelling in or around joints. This can make it hard to do the movements you rely on every day for work or taking care of your family.
Strength in the body and confidence in the mind are increased for those with arthritis who take a weekly chair yoga classes. You do not have to get up and down off the yoga mat. You can receive all the benefits of yoga on the chair leading to reductions in pain and stiffness.
There are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 7% of the population, who have diabetes. While an estimated 14.6 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, unfortunately, 6.2 million people (or nearly one-third) are unaware that they have the disease.
A decrease in fasting blood sugar levels is seen by practicing chair yoga for 40 minutes daily. Lung capacity improves 10 percent and over time, type 11 diabetics can achieve better blood sugar control and pulmonary functions when they follow a daily chair yoga regimen. (Dash, Telles, 2001)
Heart disease and strokes are common cardiovascular diseases. They are the third and first top causes of death for both genders. (Cancer is in-between the two.) Forty percent of all deaths, in America, are related to a cardiovascular disease mainly heart attack or stroke. About 910,000 people die of cardiovascular diseases each year in America. That is about one death every 35 seconds. It used to be that it was mainly around 65 years or older. Nevertheless, heart disease and strokes for people around 15-34 have increased. 70 million people actually live with a cardiovascular disease.
One hour of chair yoga daily for 3 months can decrease the blood pressure as well as blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Researchers at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., found that just four weeks of regular yoga sessions significantly reduced the frequency and severity of chronic pain.
Yet, for many with back pain, regular yoga is not possible. Chair yoga is their only way to gain the benefits cited in this study
My experience matches this study in that much chronic pain is improved or at least maintained after only a month on the chair.
Shallow breathing accounts in a good measure for the fact that one third of all deaths result from diseases of the lungs. Some use only the upper part of their lungs; others breathe with only the diaphragm (lower part). Very few people breathe fully. In those parts of the lung that are not used, secretions accumulate and the tissues become devitalized.
Breathing problems can be corrected by yoga through yoga’s science of the breath–Pranayama. Pranayama has various techniques designed to maximize the capacity of your lungs. Pranayama also helps in regulating the temperature of the breath flow which solves many of problems related to the lungs.
Additionally, relaxing the neck muscles and improving the posture while on the chair will relieve lung problems with just 30 minutes of chair yoga.
About 18 percent (51.2 million people) of Americans in 2002 said they had a disability and 12 percent (32.5 million) had a severed disability, four million were children ages 6-14 or 11 percent, according to information released by the U.S. census bureau.
Exercise is vital for those with disabilities. It increases your self-esteem and spurs you to strive for perfection in your own way within your disability (according to NCSD the National Council for Support of Disability Issues).
Disabled people who are wheelchair bound begin to enjoy life and become more playful with weekly chair yoga classes. This is especially true for children. Turning your yoga practice into fun breathing and moving games on the wheelchair has proved successful. Your confidence begins to build and as times goes on you will want to lead the weekly classes.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms can include numbness and/or tingling in the extremities, weakness, lack of coordination and/or balance, gait difficulties, slurring of speech, blurred or double vision, bowel and bladder dysfunction, vertigo, and heat intolerance.
Despite yoga’s popularity, there has been only one quality study of yoga and people with MS. The study from the Oregon Health Science University* (see below for study information) looked at the effect of yoga and aerobic exercise on cognitive function, fatigue, and mood in 69 participants assigned to conventional exercise, yoga, or nothing. After six months, both those who did yoga and conventional exercise showed decreased fatigue as measured in two fatigue measurement tests.
Yoga is an example of “mind-body-spirit” medicine. It involves the combination of movement, breathing, and mental focus to influence health.
In scientific terms, yoga positively influences the brain, which positively influences the immune system, hormones, and involuntary functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.
Yoga is also a form of exercise. Exercise in general is known to provide numerous health benefits for people with (or without) MS. Exercise improves muscle tone and cardiovascular heart health, and, of special interest to people with MS, increases the production of proteins in the brain (“growth factors”) that stimulate nerve growth.
Despite this limited evidence from research, people with MS who practice yoga have been enthusiastic about its benefits. Surveys suggest that people with MS have used yoga most frequently to treat stiffness, to help relax, and to improve balance.
Contraindication: Avoid vigorous styles of yoga and difficult postures if you have fatigue, heat sensitivity, or impaired balance; a serious lung, heart, or bone condition; significant spine problems, such as herniated discs; if you have had surgery recently; or are pregnant.
From Healthy Living with MS, Recreational Resources:
Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD, neurologist, and Tom Stewart, JD, PA-C, certified physician assistant, are both at the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Englewood, Colorado, which hosts the MS-CAM program. For more information about CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine, go to www.ms-cam.org.
Copyright © National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2006
For those whose MS has made mainstream exercise prohibitive, chair yoga is a good answer. It will strengthen your physiology, especially your nervous system, and improve your mental alertness, coordination, circulation, energy, flexibility, and general mobility.
Scoliosis is a condition that involves complex lateral and rotational curvature and deformity of the spine. Scoliosis affects 2-3% of the population, or an estimated 6 million people in the United States, and there is no cure. Scoliosis impacts infants, adolescents, and adults. Females are eight times more likely to progress to a curve magnitude that requires treatment.
Left untreated, this unhealthy curve can worsen and cause disfigurement, respiratory and digestive problems, and debilitating pain. Most scoliosis patients are diagnosed between ages 12 and 16, although there are many adults who suffer from the disease as well.
Scoliosis can impact the quality of life by limiting activity, increasing pain, and reducing respiratory function, all leading to the diminishing self-esteem. Scoliosis is a multi-modality disorder, which requires multidisciplinary treatment.
One such treatment is chair yoga. Since the back and buttocks are supported by the chair, you can gently enter and exit the properly indicated poses with safety and ease.
We know that exercise has positive effects on the brain. Researchers at Duke University demonstrated several years ago that exercise can be an effective antidepressant. Other research has shown that exercise can improve the brain functioning of the elderly, and may even protect against dementia.
Recent studies have found that exercise boosts activity in the brain’s frontal lobes and the hippocampus. This is associated with elevated mood much as antidepressant medications like Prozac.
Exercise has also been found to increase levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). This substance is thought to improve mood, and it may play a role in the beneficial effects of exercise.
The bottom line is that most of us feel good after exercise. Physical exercise is good for our mental health and for our brains. Someday we will understand it all better—but we can start exercising today.
If you have mental illness that limits your ability to partake in usual forms of exercise, , chair yoga is a way to exercise and to move you gradually into a state of inner peace by using the breathing techniques and the deep meditation and restorative relaxation poses. Your mind is made stronger and less vulnerable to outside impressions. In the case of mental illness, chair yoga has often proven a more manageable mode of exercise and fitness.
CHAIR YOGA AT WORK:
It is common to spend hours upon hours on your chair at your desk doing your job, especially with the popularity of the computer. The time just slips by as your body fills with stress and fatigue. Only when you finally get up to get something to eat, to go to the bathroom, or to attend a meeting, do you realize that your body has become a tight rubber band and your mind is dull. If, every few hours, you do the spinal movements and focus on our inhaling and exhaling breathe for just a few minutes, your body/mind stays alert and flexible.
While in the office you can incorporate chair yoga poses throughout the day without anyone even noticing. A few simple spinal movements, a lower back circle, facial and eye movements, wrist and ankle rotations, deep breathing techniques–replacing things like coffee and sugar. Production goes up, self-esteem goes up, and weight goes down. (Chair yoga at the office has positive effects on carpal-tunnel syndrome.) All this benefits you and makes your employer smile.
A contraindication is a factor that increases the risk involved in engaging in a particular activity. So, as always, check with healthcare professionals before you embark on chair yoga if you have any serious physical or mental condition.
Over the years, I have accumulated many contraindications for many ailments as they relate to chair yoga. Please contact me for further information on contraindications.
Remember, though, that yoga on a chair constitutes an overall better environment if you have balance or other physical issues. This builds confidence leading to improved inner and outer strength.