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Chair yoga: the art of exercising while sitting on a chair
2072

Chair yoga: the art of exercising while sitting on a chair

Chair yoga offers a way for individuals facing disabilities, psychiatric challenges, or social isolation, to engage in physical activity.
A woman meditating sitting in a chair
Chair yoga | Representational Image | Shutterstock

In an era where sedentary lifestyles, injuries, disabilities, and various health conditions often hold back our ability to engage in fitness activities, adaptive yoga emerges as the stage for inclusivity. Chair yoga, a type of adaptive yoga, provides a bridge to the transformative power of yoga for individuals facing barriers.   

Rodrigo Souza, from Sweden, Europe,  has reshaped his life through the empowering practice of adaptive yoga. Souza was born and raised in Brazil in a spiritual family and studied arts (theatre) in London. Being a travel enthusiast, Souza utilised the money he saved by working as a bartender and disc jockey (DJ) to visit more than 40 nations. He had never in his wildest thoughts anticipated that he would undergo a broken back while engaging in his favourite activity.  

While hiking, Souza went down a cliff and broke his spine at the age of 33. He had a serious spinal cord injury (T-3 level) that severely damaged his spine and left him paralysed. His physicians told him that he would never be able to walk normally, which nearly drove him towards depression. 

During his rehabilitation, his physiotherapist demonstrated various stretching exercises that he could do while laying in bed. Those stretches reminded him of yoga, which he had already tried in his twenties. Later, Souza began to learn it from a yoga specialist from Salford, United Kingdom, who was also a paraplegic. Gradually, he incorporated adaptive yoga into his recovery process. 

“Before my accident, I practised yoga for the body, but after my accident, it was for the soul,” says Souza. Adaptive yoga has given him a great feeling of self-compassion, acceptance, and emotional intelligence, he adds.  

Souza began leading a regular life, even though in a wheelchair, by regaining a job, buying a car, relearning to drive it, and resuming travel. He currently teaches wheelchair skills to the disabled,  allowing them to exercise while in wheelchairs, and empowering them to live life to the fullest. 

Like Souza, there are many who can not only work on their physical fitness but also on their mental well-being.  

A part of Iyengar yoga 

Chair yoga is considered a component of Iyengar yoga, says Master Akash Kumar, a freelance yoga instructor from Delhi. B K S Iyengar’s style of yoga encourages the use of props such as blocks, blankets, ropes, and chairs to aid with strength during yoga practice, he further explains.  

 Several practitioners began introducing chair yoga into their courses to encourage yoga enthusiasts who encounter hurdles due to old age, injuries, mobility limitations, and psychological issues.  According to Anu Anand, founder of Anuyog yoga studio in Mumbai, Maharashtra, chair yoga may be employed in corporate offices to increase overall productivity and team development. 

While some experts recommend using a specially designed chair for this yoga, Anand suggests using a chair with a solid, straight, and supportive backrest, armrest, and a comfortable seat height where feet can rest on the ground to hold postures and avoid the risk of falling and injuries. 

It is for everyone 

This yoga is not just limited to the disabled, but everyone can participate in it because of its versatility, says Master Kumar.  There are three levels of chair yoga: beginner, intermediate, and advanced, he adds. It encompasses a variety of seated poses, gentle stretches, breathwork, and mindfulness practices. However, the practices may differ depending on the practitioners. 

Many benefits  

  • It is convenient since anybody can do it without any physical limitations. 
  • Improves flexibility by increasing range of motion and decreasing joint stiffness.  
  • Improves strength and balance by using exercises that target the body’s muscles, such as the core, arms, legs, and back. 
  • Promotes relaxation and reduces stress by using breathing exercises, mindfulness methods, and relaxation practices.  
  • Improves mind-body connection by improving self-awareness and establishing a deeper connection between the mind and body.  
  • Allows remote practice, which is especially useful for individuals who do not have access to transportation.  
  • One may practise it anywhere, including the workplace, hospitals, and even at home. 

Safety measures  

  • Although chair yoga appears to be simple and safe, it requires professional guidance to learn, understand and adapt.  
  • After learning from experts, one can begin on their own or through remote practice. 
  • It does not replace pharmaceuticals or medical treatment, but  can act as an additional recovery method.  
  • It is important to respect and embrace the body’s limitations.  
  • Being gentle and slow helps with this practice.  

Research findings  

  • In a 2023 study, women with knee osteoarthritis were given a 12-week chair yoga exercise regimen, which was found to be useful in increasing functional fitness and daily life activity scores. 
  • A home-based remotely-supervised online chair yoga programme was shown to be a feasible option for socially isolated older individuals with dementia who are unable to visit a facility, indicates a 2022 study. 
  • In their study, Japanese researchers saw that chair yoga for 20 minutes a day for 12 weeks lowers the risk of falls and untoward consequences in psychiatric conditions.  
  • Czech Republic researchers discovered that a four-week yoga-based intervention reduced the chance of falling and increased body composition and social status. 
  • In a  study conducted by the University of Western Sydney, researchers discovered that 15 minutes of chair-based yoga postures and guided meditation in the workplace can significantly alleviate many physiological and psychological stress indicators. 

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