Chair-based Yoga for Healthful Aging (1)
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
What are the barriers to practising yoga or joining a yoga programme as we age? One study (Perkins et al, 2020) flagged three main concerns:
Fear that the practice would be too difficult. Commonly I have heard people saying they cannot practice yoga because they are not flexible enough, possibly due to the image yoga carries on social media. Be reassured, yoga is more than flexibility! Yes there is asana (posture), but there is also pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation. The asana practice can be modified to enable inclusion and access, and this includes the option to practice seated on a chair.
Lack of motivation to try something new. It can be hard to step into something that is novel or different, which may involve a learning curve and even frustration. As yoga teachers we can be mindful to ensure new aspirants to yoga feel safe and welcome, and that the practice remains enjoyable and accessible for them.
Fear of injury. There are risks associated with any kind of movement practice, and yoga is by no means risk free, though compared to other activities and sports the risks are relatively low. Yoga can be made safer and more accessible through adaptation of the practice, and again this includes chair-based yoga. (Though please remember to speak to your medical practitioner before starting any new physical practice/exercise if you have health related concerns).
Why am I interested in chair-based yoga?
Research into yoga for healthy aging seem to reference the population from age 55+ and that was a surprise for me, as guess what, I am 55, so I am leaning into learning about what approaches may be of benefit to my age group and beyond; remembering that yoga includes asana, pranayama, meditation and philosophy (which can impact how we live our lives).
This month I leaned into an opportunity to learn more about chair-based yoga practices with Maria Jones when I purchased her book on her introductory offer (it's now available on amazon). This led me to her online training programme https://courses.yuvayoga.co.uk/p/training?referral_code=1Y5PUD (For yoga teachers - this is the link to her training programme and should offer 15% discount).
I had already seen some of Maria's presentations about teaching chair-based yoga through Yoga Alliance's online continued learning programme. The replays are freely available for members – you just need to log in and search the past ‘events’ for chair yoga and you will find five workshops presented by Maria, plus others. https://www.yogaalliance.org/Events/Upcoming_Events
While there are many studies into the impact of chair-based yoga, I discovered that finding freely available research papers can be challenging (searching via the IJOY, NIH and PubMed). Referenced below are the papers I have found and downloaded so far:
2022 review by Veneri and Gannotti into chair-based yoga for Seniors. This is an excellent review of the current research and concludes that chair yoga is appropriate and impactful for the older population.
Galantino et al (2012) look at the safety considerations of chair yoga for the elderly.
Park et al (2017) consider the value of chair-based yoga for managing pain and improving physical function in older adults with lower body osteoarthritis.
Park et al (2022) consider the place of online chair-based yoga for older adults with dementia.
If you know of others that are freely available in pdf format please let me know.
What are the benefits of yoga practice for healthy aging?
Here are some benefits cited by Madhivana et al. (2021):
Yoga supports senior to maintain physical mobility and independence. I love that yoga potentially supports our capacity to maintain our independence and autonomy as we age!
Yoga helps older females (aged 50 to 79 years in the study mentioned) to enjoy a greater range of motion and flexibility; including improved spinal mobility and improved core strength.
Yoga improved health related quality of life and mental well-being in older adults.
Regular practice of yoga is associated positively with areas of the brain typically associated with age-related cognitive decline (frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex and insula).
Seniors (age 65 to 75 in the study mentioned) saw significant reduction in anxiety scores following yoga practice.
A comprehensive review found yoga practice reduced symptoms associated with depression as well.
One study found reduced inflammation in the body (inflammation has been associated with premature aging).
Older women practising yoga for 8 years showed better brain connectivity, compared with the young-naïve control group.
In another study, positive changes were noted in biomarkers for cellular aging.
It all sounds very encouraging!
How often to practice chair-based yoga?
A typical chair-based yoga intervention could be just 45 minutes once weekly, over 8 to 12 weeks to start. Those new to yoga are advised to start with lower-intensity, and build up the intensity and duration of practice. It may be that shorter more frequent practices also reap benefit. For example, three 15-minute sessions spread across the week could feel more 'accessible' to some adults, as well as help to build the practice habit and confidence.
Reminder: If you are an older adult seeking to start a yoga practice, speak first with your medical practitioner, and be sure to choose a class that meets your personal needs, preferably with qualified yoga teacher or yoga therapist.
More to come on the topic of chair based yoga, as my reading and practice deepens.
Galantino, M.l., Green, L., DeCesan, J.A., MacKain, N.A., Rinaldi, S.M., Stevens, M.E. Wurst, V.R., Marsico, R., Nell, M. and Mao, J.J. (2012) Safety and feasibility of modified chair-yoga on functional outcome among elderly at risk of falls. International Journal of Yoga: Vol. 5
Jones, M. (2022) The Chair Yoga Handbook for Yoga Teachers. Teach Chair Based Yoga with Ease. Yuva Yoga.
Madhivanan, P., Krupp, K., Waechter, R., & Shidhaye, R. (2021) Yoga for Healthy Aging: Science or Hype? Adv Geriatr Med Res. 2021; 3(3) Open access / creative commons
Park, J., McCaffrey, r., Newman, D., Liehr, P., and Ouslander, J.G. (2017) A pilot randomised controlled trial of the effects of chair yoga on pain and physical function among community dwelling older adults with lower extremity osteoarthritis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 March: 65 (3): 592-597
Park, J., Heilman, K.J., Sullivan, M., Surage, J., Levine, H., Hung, L., Ortega, M., Wiese, L.A.K., and Ahn, H. (2022) Remotely supervised home-based online chair yoga intervention for older adults with dementia: feasibility study.
Perkins, R., Dassel, K., Felsted, K.F., Towsley, G., & Edelman, L. (2020) Yoga for Seniors: Understanding Their Beliefs About and Barriers to Participation. Educ Gerontol 46 (7): 382-92 (in Madhivanan et al, 2021).
Veneri, D. and Gannotti, M. (2022) Take a seat for Yoga with Seniors: A scoping Review. OBM Geriatrics Vol 6 Issue 2.