There have been many scientific studies over recent years that highlight the possible benefits of yoga practice on one’s mind and body. (Read more about this popular physical activity and the possible benefits of yoga practice on one’s mind and body.) But there are almost as many reasons a person might not regularly roll out a mat and go through the poses. If you’re new to yoga, you may feel self-conscious in a room full of what appear to be super-bendy people.
Yoga generally requires a mat and stretchy clothing, which you may not have. Classes are often 90 minutes long, and a studio with a qualified instructor may not be nearby or affordable. But perhaps the biggest obstacle, if you have physical limitations, may be getting down onto the floor to perform exercises.
But there is one type of yoga with a much lower barrier to entry. It’s called chair yoga and, as the name implies, you may get many of the relaxation and fitness benefits of yoga, all while sitting down in a chair. (As with any physical activity, be sure to check with your care team before beginning or adjusting an exercise routine.)
With chair yoga there’s no need for a class, a mat, or gymnast-like flexibility or strength. It’s also possible to fit in poses or stretches while performing everyday activities like talking on the phone, watching TV, or even sitting in a waiting room.
Florida-based yoga instructor Kristine Lee created one form of chair yoga, called Sit N Fit Chair Yoga, for people who have difficulty getting up and down off the floor, or have difficulty doing standing exercises.
“I included all the elements of a traditional hatha yoga class,” says Lee. “We go through breathing techniques, warm-up poses, traditional yoga poses, tense and relax exercise, guided total body relaxation and visualizations.” Lee says she found that her students’ physical abilities, body awareness and sense of well-being improved as they continued practicing.
“Many chose to add chair yoga to their personal routine at home. Chair yoga can be just as powerful as a regular yoga class,” Lee says. “As a teacher, seeing these students progress is very rewarding.”
The basics of chair yoga
Chair yoga isn’t a vigorous activity, but it does boast many of the potential rewards of mind-body techniques. According to one study from Australia, 15 minutes of chair yoga was found to be as relaxing as the same amount of time spent meditating. (Good news for anyone who gets antsy from sitting still for too long!) For older adults, chair yoga may decrease fear of falling and make it easier to get from sitting to standing, according to another study. It may also decrease feelings of stiffness and improve overall movement.
If you’re curious about chair yoga poses, and you’ve talked to your diabetes care team about including it as part of your physical activity routine, here are six chair yoga poses to try from Lee’s Sit N Fit Chair Yoga program:
1. Mountain Pose
Sit tall with a straight spine. Keep your heels under your knees, your knees in line with your hips, your rib cage lifted and the center of your head reaching up. Roll your shoulders up, then relax them back and down. Hold for several breaths.
2. Stick Pose
From Mountain Pose, extend your right knee, lifting your right calf so it’s parallel to the ground. Flex your right foot and press through the heel, tightening your quadriceps. Hold for one or two breaths, then switch sides. Do three times to each side.
3. Spinal Lubricator
From Mountain Pose, place your hands on your hips, then move your torso in a circle, slowly leaning forward, to the right, back, to the left and forward. Do three circles, then reverse direction.
4. Half-Moon Pose
From Mountain Pose, place your left hand on your left hip and lift your right arm up by your ear, keeping your shoulders down. Tilt toward the left, feeling a stretch down your right side. Hold for one breath, then switch sides. Do two times to each side.
5. Spinal Twist
From Mountain Pose, place your right hand on the right side of the chair or the chair back. Slowly twist your torso to the right, allowing your hips to move a little in that direction. Let your head naturally follow the spine. For a deeper twist, place your left hand to the outside of your right knee or thigh. Hold for several breaths. Gently untwist, then repeat to the left.
6. Half Inversion
From Mountain Pose, start to lean forward, reaching your hands toward the floor. When you are folded forward as much as you can, allow your head to hang. Hold for several breaths. To return to Mountain Pose, draw your abs in and roll up through your spine, letting your head be the last thing to come up.
Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based Pilates and yoga teacher, and blogs at thehappyandhealthyblog.com. Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience