Stretch for health: Chair yoga to aid mobility and strength

Chair yoga enables those with mobility issues to take part in the discipline and is delivering important physical and mental benefits, says Margaret Jennings

If you have difficulty with mobility — or you just haven’t exercised much — then trying out yoga as a new year resolution might seem like a bit of a stretch, especially as we associate it with twisting and turning in a variety of poses.

But chair yoga is changing all that — allowing people with movement difficulties, or those who don’t have the confidence to stretch on their own, to get in on the action, so to speak.

Sisters Jo-Ann and Jane Nolan who run a community-based studio called Hot Yoga Dublin on the Malahide Road in Dublin, have been offering chair yoga classes for the past two years.

Our chair yoga classes promote full-body strengthening using a chair as a prop to help open your hips and shoulders, articulate your spine, and give you tools for relieving stress

- Jane tells Feelgood

“Increased flexibility is so important as we age and a key function of movements if we want to keep agile, include twisting, bending and turning. A gentle form of exercise is all you need to keep in motion and chair yoga is perfect for this.

“So we started a chair yoga class with this in mind — to attract the older age group to come and regain their confidence. Chair yoga gives them the option to test the waters. Some stay with it and others actually move from the chair to their mats and into other studio classes, which is amazing to see.”

The class is great for senior yogis, people recovering from surgery, those with physical limitations, and anyone who wants to ease into yoga with a gentle practice. And nobody needs to be excluded from yoga, emphasises Jane: “One of the most frequent things I hear from “older” students who come to the studio is — and I’m not kidding you — ‘I am really old, do you think I will be able’ or ‘I don’t think that is for me’.”

Meanwhile, west Cork-based yoga teacher Claire Osborne who has designed and delivered her own chair yoga programmes around Cork county as well as abroad, says: “I love sharing yoga in ways that make it accessible to anyone who might be able to benefit. The work I do with chair yoga was inspired by teaching active retirement groups for some years, as well as a weekly class I give in Skibbereen, and with refugees in Jordan.

“In fact, I designed and delivered my first chair yoga training in Amman in spring last year so that local yoga teachers, who wanted to take over from me, could teach it in the refugee community once I came home again.”

Claire also does training for healthcare professionals and yoga teachers, which prepares them to bring chair yoga into their community.

“What I find though, from my work with active retirement groups, is that the appeal of chair yoga is its accessibility. Dignity can be important for people, so if they are saved the ungainly experience of getting up and down from the floor, some would prefer that. Although in some classes, or one-to-one work, I do work towards people being able to get up and down from the ground to improve their strength and mobility as an important part of their daily life.”

Jane says that they also volunteer their services in nursing homes, with weekly chair yoga. “One of our classes runs at Carechoice nursing home beside our studio and the age group here is usually a lot older — running into their 80s and it’s incredible the impact these sessions have had from the feedback we have received, including people with dementia reporting feeling good after the class.”

With staying socially connected also being a highly recognised aspect of ageing well, as we all live longer, classes such as this can provide some link with others, says Jane. “There can be a degree of isolation in modern society as people may not be living in close proximity to family. We can find that neighbours might not even know each other and lives can be lived a lot more now behind closed doors, but a sense of community can be created by going to movement sessions like chair yoga.”

Some of the other benefits of chair yoga, she says, include an increased confidence in doing your everyday tasks due to improved flexibility; better focus — as you can tune into your breath and relax; increased strength and balance — so that you can lower the risk of falls and injury, and adaptability — as you can use a chair anywhere you go.

Being able to provide something accessible that benefits the body and mind can have a profoundly positive effect on our students

- she says

“In particular the chair yogis will tell you how they won’t miss their weekly class as they are feeling the positive effect on their sleep and their stress levels, they are experiencing fewer aches and a general wellbeing overall in their life.”

Check our Claire Osborne at www.yogaandmovement.com and Jane and Jo-Ann Nolan at www.hotyogadublin.com

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