CHAIR YOGA TIPS FOR SENIORS
I am 70 years old and I attend 6 yoga classes a week, 3 in the chair and 2 on the mat and 1 private, at home. Habitually late to my classes, I always sit in the back of the room in chair yoga, giving me a complete view of my fellow students. There is usually a handful of men in attendance, but the majority of the class is elderly women from 55-ish through 80-ish, in varying degrees of fitness- alignment, strength, flexibility, balance and coordination.
Yoga addresses all about of these points. Each one must be considered in every pose. Actually, each one must be addressed or you are not actually doing the pose and are at risk for injury.
YOGA HELPS THE ACHES AND PAINS OF AGING
My physical therapist used to say, “The everything is connected to the everything.” This is especially true as our bodies get older. Those connections have been in place for a long time and are either put together correctly, building strength, or a bit out of whack building what we think of as the aches and pains of aging. Our muscles have had longer to adapt to our bad posture, making it difficult to stand and sit erectly. We are tilted from standing and sitting in uneven postures. Watching All the President’s Men reminded me of the hours I spent holding my phone clenched between my ear and my shoulder, yammering to my gal pals. It didn’t hurt then, but it does now!
From my vantage point at the back of the room, I can clearly view my fellow students. The classes are large and there is little opportunity for individual correction so here’s what I want most fervently and frequently to tell my classmates as they assume/attempt every pose.
YOGA TIPS FOR SENIORS
00. Do it! Commit yourself to an increasing amount of time every day, every week and do it!!!!!!!!
0. Get an ok from your doctor before starting any exercise program. An assessment by a physical therapist is never a bad idea. It also sets a baseline for strength and range of motion.
1. Introduce yourself to your teacher after you have attended a couple of classes. Thank her for her work, and let her know what your goals are for your practice.
2. Eat at least 2 hours before your practice. You want that food out of your belly.
3. Stay hydrated. Sip water throughout the class and all day.
4. Dress to stay warm. The classrooms are freezing. I wear a long-sleeve t-shirt and ankle-length Danskin leggings and bring a sweatshirt just in case.
5. When seated in the chair, make sure that your feet touch flat on the floor. If your legs are too short to accomplish this, you can use Styrofoam yoga blocks, or a book or 2. You want to be able to keep on those sit bones and be able to press down on the floor with your feet. No dangling!
6. Position your chair so that you can look at the teacher without turning your head to one side or the other. You want to create good alignment, not become less aligned.
7. Keep your chin tilted parallel with the floor. In ballet, I was trained to move my head to follow my arms and since ballet is all about defying gravity, my little nose tends to point upward, tensing my mouth, curving my neck, throwing my head forward, caving my chest, twisting my arms in my shoulder sockets, loosening my core, pushing out my belly and my behind and pronating my feet. This is why I’m writing this post. Because everything is connected to the everything and it all wants to be aligned.
8. Lift your heart. Open your chest. This will allow you to bre-e-e-athe deeply. Engage your core. Suck that tummy in. I am a habitual slumper. I have to remind myself to sit erect every minute of every day. I’m doing it now!
9. Notice what the teacher is doing. There are times when she will use a flat back when she is bending. She’ll keep her head up and maybe tell you to lead with your heart. This is #8 in action. This is not a pose in which you bend your spine. This is a pose for elongating that spine.
10. Then you start relaxing. When a body part is not involved in a pose, relax it. Relax your face. Relax your neck. Relax your shoulders- yes, even when your arms are up, keep those shoulders down and relaxed. Keep breathing.
Yoga is not for sissies. It is hard work. When done correctly, it is even harder, but this is where my last but most important tips come in:
11. If a pose is a bit uncomfortable, just hold it for a short time. Try it again, maybe holding it a bit longer. Yoga is not a contest- not with others, not with yourself. It is a lesson. In each lesson you are re-training your body to work properly by applying the 10 steps above. It’s not about just doing the poses. It’s about doing the 10 steps in each pose. Each lesson is built upon the last. A lesson poorly learned will take you backward, not forward.
12. If it hurts- STOP. Don’t do it. Just sit and check your body for the 10 steps while simply sitting and breathing. Don’t try it again until you have talked with your teacher about it. It may be that you aren’t doing the pose correctly, or it may be beyond your skill or strength level.
“I honor the age, wisdom and experience within you, because it is also within me.”