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Yoga is designed to increase flexibility, balance, strength and range of movement.

Add a chair and some modifications to poses and the discipline is opened to those with mobility issues, says Arlene Santiago, a trainer and health coach who specializes in busy moms and older adults.

Dr. Vijay Gupta, of Midwest Interventional Spine Specialists with locations in Munster, Dyer, Chesterton and Hobart, is a proponent of using chair yoga to reduce pain that might otherwise require medications. He uses easy chair yoga positions to reduce pain in patients, especially for those with medical restrictions.

“When a person experiences pain, there is an increase in epinephrine levels, which increases the heart rate and blood pressure and decreases blood supply to the muscles,” he says. “This in turn increases muscle spasms and causes more pain. Certain yoga exercises, even when done for just a few minutes, have been demonstrated to decrease the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and increase oxygenation. This improves blood supply to the muscles. Most people then report a decrease in pain scores.”

Gupta, who offers easy chair yoga two Wednesdays a month at his Munster office, says anyone who can sit in a chair or wheelchair can benefit from it. 

“These exercises help to increase the mobility and strength of the body's musculoskeletal systems so even people with physical limitations and pulmonary issues can participate,” he said.

“Many older adults want to keep their independence, so a lot of what I work on is related to what they do in life,” said Santiago, who also holds classes at the public libraries in Park Forest, Illinois, and Homewood, Illinois, at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District. She also does one-on-one training in homes and online, describing her approach as more strength-based.

“We will practice getting in and out of a chair, for example. Another example would be to hold a squat position so they can go to a public restroom. We work on a lot of leg exercises, so they go up the stairs. I concentrate on exercises that work on their muscles so they can maintain posture and prevent falls as well ... and overall feel better and confident in themselves and their abilities.”

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Saying it's similar to traditional yoga, Bridgette Kelly, who teaches at Indiana University Northwest’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, said the chair provides stability for people with disabilities.

“They are actually sitting on the chair, and you can modify the yoga poses, which help flexibility and strengthen the musculoskeletal system,” she said. “The activities are good for the body. Ninety percent of the exercises are done sitting in the chair. The only time we get up is if I have a population of seniors who are able to do so. Sometimes I have people in class who can only use a chair and can’t stand up. I work with everyone according to their abilities.”

Mike Zolfo, the founder of Samapatti Yoga who has practiced more than 34 years, said his business, The Yoga Room in Crown Point, offers a gentle yoga class that’s partially chair based.

“We also offer another class for older people who can’t easily get up or down,” he said. “We get a lot of people in transition, women who have developed lymphedema because of breast cancer treatments or people who had knee or hip surgery. We get people who are in their 70s and 80s who really enjoy it."

Jennifer Connelly, a certified Samapatti Yoga instructor, teaches chair yoga twice a month at Wittenberg Village retirement community in Crown Point, as well as a session for Parkinson’s patients every Thursday at Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus in Merrillville, a free class sponsored by the nonprofit NWI Parkinsons of Highland. She also offers private, three-session yoga packages for individuals.

Lynda Schoberth, a certified yoga instructor at Bleu Lotus Yoga in Chesterton, teaches one-on-one chair yoga. 

“She’s 83 and loves it,” Schoberth says of her mother, who has done chair yoga weekly for years. “There are so many benefits she enjoys about the class, such as the breathing lessons, balancing, stretching and strengthening. Chair yoga is for anyone who has trouble getting up or down from a yoga mat, which is most elderly."

Chair yoga classes are also available at the Cancer Resource Centre in Munster and the Valparaiso Health Center of St. Mary Medical Center.

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