What is “Chair Yoga?”

Chair yoga is enjoying yoga while using a chair as a supportive prop. Any “asana” or yoga pose can be adapted to a chair. The instructor understands the intention of the pose, and recreates that same intention and muscle use while participants are sitting or standing next to a chair while doing their yoga.

Why “Chair Yoga?”

Whether recovering from surgery, an injury, or experiencing challenges due to advancing age, using the chair to adapt poses allows the practitioner an opportunity to heal the body, breathe, and find strength and length in every muscle and joint. Chair yoga makes yoga accessible to everyone.

Why should I consider teaching chair yoga?

As a yoga teacher, it is essential to know how to adapt any pose for any student in your class. Often, the use of a chair is an appropriate prop, whether the person is recovering from an illness, surgery, or has debilitating challenges preventing them from getting up and down off of the floor. Once counseled on the appropriate level class, no one should be left out of your asana practice, and offering the chair might be the perfect solution for one or more of your students. Equally important, is considering offering classes for students who would never have considered yoga as an option, especially those suffering from dementia.

What is dementia?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.

Is Alzheimer’s disease a form of dementia?

Yes, Alzheimer's disease accounts for approximately 70 percent of all cases of dementia while vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. Those suffering from moderate to severe dementia exhibit behaviors such as agitation, anxiety, aggression, and loss of memory. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive disease typically over the course of about 20 years. Nearing the end of the disease, the person suffers from dramatic physical debilitation undermining one’s ability to purposefully and effortlessly move in a way that makes them feel good and joyful. Eventually the disease advances to a point where the person is unable to care for activities of daily living until finally the need for total care becomes imminent until death.

How do you know if someone has dementia?

Not all memory loss is dementia. Beginning around age 30 we begin to experience mild memory problems such as where you placed your keys, or what you did last weekend for fun. Severe memory loss exhibits behaviors such as an inability to understand the use of keys or becoming disoriented in a previously familiar environment. Follow this link to see the difference between normal memory loss and serious memory loss.

What is the prevalence of dementia?

The problem of dementia is astounding, with an estimated 5 million people living in the United States with some form of dementia (alz.org). The numbers of this challenging disorder are expected to increase three fold as baby boomers age.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease.  About a third of people aged 85 and older have AD. Prevalence rates overall are increasing worldwide, but more so in low- and middle-income countries. Women bear the greatest burden of this disease having the highest prevalence of dementia; two-thirds of those who suffer from AD are women and there are more women acting as caregivers than men. In the United States, African American and Hispanics have higher rates than whites.  

How do people with dementia benefit from yoga?

There is growing evidence that therapeutic yoga has a number of benefits with specific applications that may be used to enhance the quality of life for those suffering with dementia. The word dementia comes from the Latin (de) meaning “apart” and (mentis) meaning “mind.” Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” “yoke, join, or union,” and is perfectly designed to help bridge the mind and body together by using the breath. Could there be a more perfect antidote to encourage a reunion of the person closer to themselves. The practice of yoga includes breath-work (pranayama), physical movement (asana), and meditation. In a study that looked at 47 different trials and was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2014, it was determined that mindfulness meditation may ease depression, anxiety, and pain (Goyal, et al, 2013).  Regular yoga practice promotes strength, endurance, and flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being (Woodyard, 2011).

One of the many benefits of yoga is that it helps to decrease anxiety and reduce stress. Yoga encourages the practitioner to slow down the breath, which works to calm the nervous system. By slowing the breath and focusing on the present moment, there is a shift in the balance from the sympathetic nervous systems and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response. This result produces calm, a lowering of the breath rate, blood pressure, and pulse while decreasing the cortisol levels and creating a sense of well-being, improved self-confidence, self-efficacy, increased attentiveness, lowered irritability and optimism. Yogic practices also help to inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness and rage, sometimes seen in dementia patients. Yoga can also raise serotonin levels which helps to decrease depression (Woodyard, 2011).

With a regular yoga practice the body makes a chemical called GABA which elevates the production of alpha waves, allowing a sense of relaxation without drowsiness and boosting mental alertness. GABA lowers beta waves that contribute to nervousness, racing thoughts, and hyperactivity. Studies show that yoga practitioners had a 27 percent increase in GABA levels after yoga sessions compared with a control group (Streeter, 2007).

The practice of yoga offers a holistic non-pharmacological approach to soften the difficulties associated with dementia, or at the very least, offers an adjunct to medication and other forms of treatment used to enhance the quality of life.

What about the caregiver?

Being a caregiver is rewarding in many ways, however the continual nature of offering daily care takes its toll. The Mayo Clinic states that 60% of caregivers experience high levels of stress leading to fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety and tension. A consistent yoga practice can provide some much needed respite and restoration to the person who is always giving. 

How many people with AD are actually cared for in the home?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 70 to 80 percent of people suffering from AD are cared for in the home, creating an enormous burden on the caregiver.  In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion

Where do I start?

Sign up for one of my workshops.  Feel free to contact me for additional information 

Do I need to earn a special certification? 

Attending my workshop—Adaptive Yoga for Dementia and their Caregiver gets you started on the right track. Adapting traditional poses to a therapeutic modality requires a strong foundation in teaching yoga. Earning a certificate through a Yoga Alliance approved teacher training program --  Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT200) --  is strongly recommended. Having a certification in chair yoga and therapeutic yoga can be helpful as well. Consider Lakshmi Volker Chair Yoga Training.