Free Online Chair Yoga: Participants Find Many Reasons to Keep Coming Back

Posted 09/01/22
Female watching online chair yoga

If a friend told you she found a way to ease nagging aches, manage stairs, stay on top of stress, and even lower blood pressure—mostly while sitting in a chair—what would you think? Too good to be true, right? Wrong.

Participants from across Maine are discovering these benefits and more from Chair Yoga, a free class offered twice a week by Martin’s Point Health Care. Formerly held in person at the Martin’s Point Scarborough Community Center, classes are now conveniently offered online via Zoom. That means minimal interruption to your day, no driving, freedom to wear whatever you want—all with personal instruction and group support.

Packed with benefits for mind, body and soul
Yoga is sometimes misperceived as appropriate for limber people only. Far from it. A practice with ancient roots, yoga is popular in the U.S. as a way to link breath and movement, and has long been associated with an impressive array of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. Research has shown yoga can lower heart rate, foster digestion, boost the immune system, and encourage sounder sleep. Practicing regularly can also improve the range of motion in your joints—key to maintaining posture and staying injury-free. Yoga also improves balance and reduces stress.

“Folks have mentioned mobility improving—for example, getting into a kayak—as well as feeling fewer aches and pains,” says Anne Esguerra, C-IAYT yoga therapist, who has taught this class since 2018. Others say they now remember to focus on breathing when they get overwhelmed. Some who have been taking blood pressure medication for years have seen their numbers improve.

There’s even more. “I see the smiles as participants get to know each other, checking in, sharing their joys, and even their challenges,” reports Anne. “It comes from knowing others who can relate to their own experience are there to witness and support them.”

What is chair yoga like? 
In the course of 60 minutes, Anne leads the class of 60, 70, and 80-year-olds through a flowing series of gentle poses. If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ll recognize cat, cow, sun salutations, pigeon, child’s pose and more—all modified to perform seated or standing and using the back of the chair for support. Class begins and ends seated, and Anne gives clear guidance, visual examples, and breath cues throughout. (Watch this video for a sample.)

Unlike a video where there’s no feedback, Anne is constantly accommodating and checking in with the group. “She is a thoughtful, gifted instructor,” says class participant Ellie M. “I look forward to Thursday morning.”

“Anne makes everyone feel comfortable, helps you adapt to the place you are that day and gets you in tune with your body,” adds Gerri S., 79, a participant since 2017 when Martin’s Point first offered Chair Yoga with instructor Kristen Moustouphis. “When I had shoulder surgery last year and was in a sling for six weeks, I still kept it up with one arm. It’s different every single time and you never feel out of place. It’s really life affirming.”

Register for free classes
Why not give it a try? "It’s natural to question something new, especially when it is unfamiliar," says Anne, who has worked with older adults for more than 20 years and brings a deep level of respect for her elders instilled in her by her parents. “Remember your experience will tell you what you need or what feels like the right thing to bring into your life. You can't know that unless you try it.”

Classes are held via Zoom, Tuesdays from 9-10 a.m. with Meagan Leach and Thursdays from 9 to 10 a.m. with Anne. Register here.

Sometimes just saying “yes” to something new is the hardest part. And once you take that step, you can count on Anne and the Chair Yoga community for support. “We’ll be with you every step of the way.”