Photo courtesy Kiela Bird
Christine Means demonstrates "cactus arms" as used in "chair pose."

Well For Culture: Elder Fitness! Chair Yoga Poses for Everybody

Chelsey Luger

You don’t have to be the most limber person in the world to try a yoga pose. In fact, yoga can be modified to suit those with very limited mobility or muscular conditioning. We love our elders in Native country, and that’s why we love what Christine Means is doing with Elder Chair Yoga.

Christine Means (Arikara, Yankton, Dakota, Navajo) is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). She teaches yoga to elders throughout tribes in the Southwest as well as other fitness classes to a variety of age groups.

Here’s what she has to say about the benefits of yoga practice:

“When we focus our energies internally we discover our strength to heal ourselves. Our ancestors lived in a way of balance, in the Navajo culture this is Hozho. “Hozho” is a Navajo belief, shared by other Indigenous beliefs, of a natural balance in the Universe of all things. It is each person's right and responsibility to create a balance in life so that we can contribute to our communities and build stronger families. When we learn how to cope with the stresses of life this helps us to make healthy choices for ourselves.”

Now that you understand the benefits of yoga for all, give it a shot! The following are instructions and guidelines for yoga poses that anybody can do. Don’t forget to invite your elders!

What You Need:

A sturdy chair that will not slip, and comfortable clothes.

1. Breathing, Breathe, Breath

Sit up tall in your chair by reaching the crown of your head upward so that you feel yourself grow taller. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears. Place your hands on top of your thighs with your palms facing upward. Place your feet firmly on the ground. Your feet and knees should be hip width distance apart. Start to breathe in and out of your nose. As you go, make each inhale a little louder and each exhale a little slower. Take 5 breaths (in and out equals 1) focusing on expanding your lungs. Try to envision sending your breath to different places in your body. Focus on sending the breath to your toes, then inhaling up to the back of your neck, then exhaling down to your lower belly, then inhaling up to your heart. When you connect your mind to your breathing you can feel the energy you create and send that energy to the tight spaces in your body and mind. Throughout your yoga practice keep this focus on your breath going.

What it does: Breathing techniques involve consciously regulating airflow through the body. When we breathe through the nasal sinuses, air passes through the pharynx into the trachea on to the lungs, oxygenating the blood. Focused breathing is an excellent method for bringing calm to your mind and your body. It allows you to focus on the moment while getting oxygen to the body.

2. Figure 8 Roll Out

Bring your hands together by interlacing your fingers with your palms facing towards your face. Extend your clasped hands out in front of your chest. Drop your chin down, bringing your eye gaze down to the floor. Reach your hands out in front of you slowly starting to roll your upper body in a figure 8 motion. Stop in the middle. Roll your body in the opposite direction. Keep your eye gaze down so that your relax the back of your neck and shoulders. If your shoulders are tight this will feel really good. Whose shoulders do not feel tight?! Take it slow and try to use your spine to help you move.

What it does: Increases your spinal flexibility and range of motion. Helps to expand your shoulders and chest. Relieves lower, mid and upper back tensions. Strengthens your abdominal muscles.

3. Chair Pose

Sitting back in your chair inhale your hands up over head. Turn your hands so that your palms face each other and space your hands as wide apart as you need to. You can also try “cactus arms” by bending the elbows and keeping the palms facing forward. Extend your arms as straight as you can. Bring your eye gaze up towards your thumbs. Breathe in and out your nose here. Reach your finger tips up. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears.

Sitting back in your chair. Grab your thumbs together (see pic). Extend your fingers, hands and arms out in front of your chest. Inhale your hands up over head. Bring your eye gaze up to your thumbs. Take 5 breaths holding here. Keep your thumbs connected. Fold forward at your waist. Reach your fingertips forward in front of you. Bring your eye gaze to the floor. Take 5 breaths holding here.

What it does: Lengthens through your entire spine. Stretches your shoulders and chest. Tones your back and arm muscles. Relieves tension and shoulder stiffness. Stimulates abdominal organs, blood circulation and heart.

4. Chair Pose Twist

From your seated chair position bring your ankles and knees together. Press your feet firmly into the floor. Press your palms together at the center of your chest. Take your right elbow across to your left thigh or to the outside of your knee. Keep pressing your palms together, bring your eye gaze to your thumbs. Breathe here 5 times. With each exhale try to twist a little further. Return to your start seated position. Take your left elbow across to your right thigh or to the outside of your knee. Press your palms together, lift through your chest, eye gaze to your thumbs. Breathe here for 5 breaths trying to twist a little further with each exhale.

What it does: Spinal twists help relieve tension in the back. They help stretch the spine and can open up your shoulders, neck and hips.

5. Eagle Arm

Bring your right arm underneath the left, crossing the arms at the elbows and wrists. Press the forearms together. Keep the shoulders relaxed and lift the elbows. Switch the arm position. Bring the left arm underneath the right.

What it does: Eagle arm gets deep into the shoulder muscles, the back of the neck and the whole arm. Improves range of motion in your upper body and arms.

6. Warrior 2

From seated position widen your stance by placing your right foot out at the side of your chair (your legs will be in a “L” shape). Your knees should be directly over your ankles. Press both feet firmly down. Bring your arms up and straighten them out, reaching your fingers in opposite directions, coming into a T shape with your upper body. Your eye gaze comes to your right fingers. Breathe here five times. Switch positions to the left side. Place your left foot out at the side of your chair. Press both feet firmly down to the floor. Bring your arms up and straighten them out, reach your fingers in opposite directions, open up across the chest. Your eye gaze comes to your left fingers.Take five breaths.

What it does: Warrior 2 creates core stability, strengthens the legs and arms, aligns the spine, stimulates internal organs, and stretches the groins, shoulders, chest and lungs.

Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: [email protected].

Christine Means contributed to this report.

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