In the second of this two-part series Nerelie Teese, certified laughter yoga leader and qualified chair yoga instructor, outlines some of the benefits and practicalities of chair yoga for aged care residents.
The first and possibly most important consideration for participants of all ages is that there is absolutely no on-floor work at all.
This means no-one – participants, carers or staff – need to worry about getting down onto the floor or – possibly even more concerning – getting back up again.
While chair yoga is a fast-growing and popular approach to physical and mental fitness for seniors and older people across the world, it is not a new adaption to the benefits that yoga itself offers.
Almost forty years ago in 1982, Lakshmi Voelker-Binder invented chair yoga to help one of her students who could not take part in floor exercises because of arthritis. Since then, chair yoga has spread all over the world and is now one of the most practiced forms of yoga by seniors, baby boomers and aged care residents.
Chair yoga is an accessible and inclusive approach to improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of aged care residents. Its adaptive fitness and exercise program benefits those who aren’t able to take part in many physical activities because of their age or health conditions.
As we age and lifestyles become more sedentary, many people are limited in the ways they can keep their bodies and minds active and healthy. Older people with disabilities, weight, balance or coordination problems and muscular or skeletal inflexibility often benefit from regular chair yoga sessions.
A fall or falling is one of the most feared events that many older people have as these are the leading cause of serious injuries for this age group. By improving flexibility, balance, coordination and strength, chair yoga can help in avoiding and preventing falls.
Because of its nature, chair yoga is inclusive. Seniors and aged care residents in wheelchairs and those who use walking frames are easily able to participate in the sessions.
Research shows that some of the main benefits of chair yoga for aged care residents include improved strength, flexibility and concentration, reduced joint strain and improved sleep.
Improved strength is one of the most important benefits from chair yoga. Increasing physical strength enables older people to better continue with their daily activities and hobbies more independently. Their increased strength also means that if there is a fall their stronger body could withstand it better and possibly sustain fewer injuries.
Improved or a greater range of flexibility can result in helping people with mobility and balance issues regain some of the daily activities they might have lost, such as reaching down and pulling on socks or shoes or just bending over and picking things up.
Chair yoga also leads to improved proprioception – the skill of knowing where the body is in space and being able to accurately coordinate whole body movement accordingly. This is very important for older people and also assists with fall prevention. Having greater control over body movements, balance and coordination can also benefit people with disabilities and some health conditions.
Improving mental clarity and wellbeing while decreasing stress levels are other important chair yoga benefits. The exercise that comes from chair yoga programs and the guided relaxation or meditation at the end of each session introduces feelings of calmness and serenity, which leads to improved moods and increased happiness and wellbeing. This benefits not only the participants but also carers and residential staff.
Chair yoga’s controlled breath work also improves individual stress levels and can assist with pain relief. When participants focus on their breathing through the guided relaxation and meditation session, their bodies and minds are better able to cope with some of the physical pain they may be living with.
Importantly, chair yoga provides an important social opportunity for many aged care residents.
Once their general practitioner has discussed and approved their participation in chair yoga sessions this regular activity will become an important part of their routine. The benefits of the exercise, the meditation and increased social interaction will be apparent almost immediately.
So, what does a chair yoga session look like?
A passerby or onlooker would see and hear a group of people being guided to slowly and gently, almost rhythmically, move their upper bodies, legs and feet while remaining seated and supported.
At first there is noticeable concentration on the faces of most participants but then, as they become used to the exercise routine, they can almost move automatically from one pose to the next. It is at this stage where more postures can be introduced or the routine can be varied to keep the mind and concentration on task as well as increasing the range of movements.
By catering for the restrictions of ageing bodies and minds, chair yoga provides an ideal opportunity for improving physical and mental health and wellbeing through a gentle exercise program that also offers the benefits of a regular social activity.
In today’s world of up-sizing and combo deals, a program of weekly laughter yoga and chair yoga sessions is the ideal combination for stimulating and improving the daily routine and lives of aged care residents.
Nerelie Teese is a certified laughter yoga leader and qualified chair yoga instructor.
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