Many people are eager to begin exercise in order to improve their fitness, but unfortunately some of us have a very difficult time finding something that will help us at our level of limitation. This includes many people suffering from osteoarthritis, one of the most common types of arthritis in older people. Osteoarthritis is the degradation of the cartilage in large joints, typically the hips and knees, and also leads to pain, swelling and stiffness. Unfortunately, the most common treatment for this disease is pharmaceutical drugs to relieve pain and inflammation, which do not always address the root cause and are frequently toxic. They also do not address the negative effects on strength, flexibility and balance which may contribute to falling in older people.
Yoga is one of the most accepted natural alternatives to these drugs, which may improve pain and joint functioning. But not everyone is able to, or feels comfortable with, regular forms of yoga which require standing. This is where chair yoga comes in. Chair yoga uses modified poses to accommodate the participant's need to either sit or stand while holding the chair, thus preventing falling or the fear of doing so.
What about the research? A recently published study aimed to test the effect of chair yoga on 131 older adults with lower-extremity osteoarthritis, comparing it to a health education program. Both of these interventions ran twice weekly for 8 weeks. Chair yoga significantly reduced pain, walking speed and fatigue compared to the health education program, but the effects wore off once people stopped practicing it. Scores on the WOMAC Physical Function test and balance also improved. For example, balance scores improved from just over 31 to almost 35 on the Berg balance score within 4 weeks, then rose by a tiny amount to 35 and stabilised. These results were almost seen as statistically significant (an over 95% chance of being caused by the treatment). Pain scores improved more rapidly at first and then stabilised, while changes to fatigue scores varied in speed over time. Teachers of chair yoga describe it as making the health benefits of yoga accessible to everyone, and some students can progress towards less dependence on using the chair for seating or balance support. Overall, if you suffer from a chronic illness that prevents you from doing traditional yoga, but you are able to perform it with the help of a chair, it's worth trying.