Yoga’s growth continues unchecked. Once limited to a core demographic of hippies and middle-aged moms, it’s near impossible now to turn around without the famous and infamous spouting off about its benefits. Professional athletes like Lebron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Aaron Rodgers have all touted the competitive boost they’ve gained from the practice. Ageless celebrity wonders from Jennifer Aniston to Madonna have long supported its beauty-preserving edge. Hell, even world leaders like Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and former first lady Michelle Obama have supported its destressing abilities. Who else is left who could potentially benefit from yoga? Lynn Lehmkuhl believes the aging community is the next big market and chair yoga in particular is their entryway. WellWell spoke to the author of Chair Yoga for Seniors: Stretches and Poses that You Can Do Sitting Down at Home about all the benefits the senior community can gain from its practice.
How did you first discover chair yoga?
I had been a registered yoga teacher for about 18 years, doing it on the side while working in advertising. But as I was slowly becoming more and more disconnected with advertising, I was introduced to an emerging segment of the yoga market called chair yoga. It fascinated me so I started researching it on a whole variety of news sources and realized it definitely aligned with the aging population, another field of interest for me. Then it just all fell into place.
What is chair yoga?
I mean, it’s what it sounds like. Yoga in chair. It’s useful for anyone but especially valuable to people who are older because their balance becomes more fragile and they are typically very afraid. Members of the senior community can have a pervasive fear of falling. But the fear is based on valid information that a lot of older people lose balance or have a lesser sense of balance and therefore fall. When senior citizens fall, it can often have serious long-term damage. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who never return to their former level of well-being after a fall. There’s a lot of broken hips and hospitalizations, so older people are understandably afraid to fall. What chair yoga provides right off the bat is safety. Sitting on a chair, you feel secure. Then we can do literally a full yoga practice while sitting in that chair free of concern.
Beyond reclaiming their balance, what are some of the specific yoga benefits seniors can gain from chair yoga?
Yoga, whether it’s in the chair or classical standing yoga promotes healthier flexibility and mobility, two pillars of wellness. Typically, the older you get the less you exercise and the less you exercise, specifically if you’re not doing any flexibility or stretching work, muscles become tighter and shorter then range of motion becomes really diminished. So, what chair yoga does is allows your body to regain levels of flexibility and then ultimately mobility to be able to really enjoy a much greater level of health and wellness and by virtue of being stronger and more mobile. It just translates into quality of life on a lot of different levels.
Seems to offer of a lot of yoga’s benefits by making it more accessible.
Of course, chair yoga can boost energy levels and increase confidence, while offering some of yoga’s general advantages of lowering blood pressure, heart and cholesterol. Three things we can know can help ward off or manage a slew of serious conditions.
As you mentioned, it can be easier for seniors to feel their days of exercising are over and have a dismissive attitude towards it. What are the mental benefits of produced from the knowledge that you can still exercise?
Yes, there is and it’s pretty a significant benefit. I’ve been a yogi for over 25 years, I personally buy into the power of yoga to deliver serenity and equanimity. It truly can make you feel calmer and more positive, like you can take on anything in the world by virtue of practice. So much of that is just though the mindful breathing, which easily translates to chair yoga. And I think that’s the biggest difference between just working out and doing yoga, it changes your energy and mindset.
Similarly, I assume chair yoga has this ability to mimic standard yoga’s stress and anxiety management, which is especially important now with all the related stress from the coronavirus pandemic. But is chair yoga only for seniors?
Of course not. Anyone of any age or fitness level could benefit from it. With so many people still stuck at home possibly sitting around, it could be a perfect option for many. It can fight feelings of sluggishness, fight weight gain and keep you alert. Overall, it can increase physical and mental wellness for anyone who tries it. Anecdotally I’ve had so many seniors tell me how much chair yoga has helped them through this time. I love how much it’s helped them, and I’d love to provide that experience to the masses.
About Lynn Lehmkuhl
Lynn Lehmkuhl is a registered yoga teacher with additional specialized training in chair yoga and therapeutic yoga. She is the author of Chair Yoga for Seniors: Stretches and Poses that You Can Do Sitting Down at Home and founder of ElderChair Yoga, which offers seated low-impact yoga workouts in-home and on-site at senior centers and places of work.