Chair yoga: can it help you?

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You may think that you can’t practice yoga because you are unsteady on your feet, have chronic pain, lose your balance, or have a hard time getting up and down, but you may be wrong. Chair yoga can be a safer alternative for people with disabilities, chronic pain, or people who don’t feel stable enough to practice on their own.

The stress-relieving practice of gently stretching breathing can alleviate some of the anxiety related to chronic pain and disability. If we can alleviate some of the stress, we could change the perception of pain. The Circle of Pain: Chronic pain, and the mental anguish that accompanies it, never allows your body or brain to rest. By bringing awareness and relieving some of the mental stress we are holding on to, we can erase some of the stress and maybe even alleviate some of the pain.

As we get older, we sometimes feel less sure of ourselves. We are afraid of falling and may not feel strong enough to move through a series of poses. In chair yoga we use the chair as a base for standing poses or we can even transform standing poses into sitting poses. When we feel safe and secure, we worry less about injury and focus more on the body we’re trying to make feel better.

When I teach any yoga class, I want my students to keep all stretches safe. Adjusting the pose to fit your body rather than forcing yourself into a pose is a general mantra (a mantra is a saying or catchphrase) of mine. Chair yoga works on the same idea.

Practicing chair yoga can bring the same benefits as a full yoga practice. The idea is that the practice of breathing and awareness is the same; we are simply adjusting the poses so that we feel more comfortable in them. You can’t really pay attention to your body and connect with the muscles that are stretching if you’re unsteady and afraid of falling or if you’re in chronic pain and that’s all you can think about.

Of course, you should check with your doctor before trying this or any other new form of exercise. Many doctors will encourage you to move your sedentary muscles. Breathing practice is also often encouraged by doctors because it increases lung capacity and releases toxins from the lungs.

If you simply practice mindfulness and breathing, you can reap tremendous benefits from your practice. Add some gentle stretching, and you can feel the stress leave your body. We don’t realize how we contract our muscles when we hold on to stress, be it mental or physical. If we can let go, even a little, we can be rewarded with less stress, a lighter body, more confidence, and maybe a little less pain.

Bringing you into the present moment allows you to feel your body.

Try this: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your spine as long as it can comfortably, rest your shoulders down. Close your eyes and just breathe. Try to forget about anything else you have to do or anywhere you have to go. Take two minutes for yourself right now. Let your breath travel over and into your muscles. Just be aware of how your body feels right now.

Notice how your body feels, but don’t judge it or get mad at it; just keep in mind which parts feel good and which parts maybe not so great. Now inhale and let the fresh breath fill your upper body with air like a balloon. And exhale all that air from your lungs. Take three deep breaths like this. Relax and breathe normally and notice how your body feels with each relaxed breath.

You have just practiced mindfulness. It’s as simple as that. When you start to move into gentle stretches, you just breathe into them. The safety of the chair allows you to relax and enjoy the sensations of your movements. Focusing allows you to be aware of how your muscles feel in any given stretch so you can adjust accordingly.

Chair yoga offers all the benefits of a complete yoga practice without the worries. Chair yoga can be found at many senior or community centers and some yoga studios. Many nursing homes offer chair yoga classes, as do adult day care centers that serve people with severe disabilities. If it helps these people, maybe it can help you too.

Make sure you are working with a qualified instructor who is certified in CPR. Let your instructor know if you have any problems so he or she can guide you through some of the poses for safe modifications.

Practicing chair yoga can give you confidence, relieve stress, and build strength and vitality. Let someone give you those gifts. You deserve it! Check with your doctor and find a chair yoga class near you.

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