Physical activity matters!

Movement logic for our more senior community and those cocooned…

The last 4-5 weeks have literally swept Ireland and the world off its feet, so to speak. We have gone from days overflowing with movement and packed with getting things done to a time where we must stay indoors and keep a limited distance from one another on essential outings.

These limitations and restrictions during lockdown can create feelings, which, I believe bring on the fight-or-flight stress on the body. An accumulation of this stress brings a whole new wave of tension that weaves through the body and can create new pockets of stiffness and tightness in areas as we all try to navigate these new anxious feelings.

When our body moves less it has a knock on effect on each of our systems; the muscles, the skeletal system and it can also take its toll on mental health. Physical activity matters!

The World Health Organization (WHO) states the following:

  1. insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.
  2. Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
  3. Physical activity has significant health benefits and contributes to prevent NCDs.
  4. Globally, 1 in 4 adults are not active enough.
  5. More than 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.

Let’s think about number 4 above – “1 in 4 adults are not active enough” – this was before our current pandemic. Those numbers have increased now, especially, for those in high dependency living situations and those who were reliant on others to bring them to weekly exercise classes.

A number of national media outlets have also recently highlighted the need for exercise for the eldery including Miriam O’Callaghan on the Late Late show, the Afternoon Show with Maura & Dathí last week and Mícheál Ó’Muircheartaigh on RTE.  They are all asking what steps can be taken – how can we support our elderly and cocooning neighbours and friends?

Chair yoga classes are focused on developing strength, greater mobility and stability. The aim is for this to be an inclusive practice, offering variations and using props. Belts, balls and blankets can be used to provide assistance, resistance or just plain comfort! These classes have been developed for people in our community who may be less abled or older people who want to regain confidence in their bodies again. Our advice is to start out slowly and just join in the parts you feel comfortable with by beginning with our fully seated class working on stretching and coordination. With time and practice you can build to a more challenging balance and meditation class.

This practice is not just an exercise class, it has the added benefit of mindfulness and an awareness for gratitude which can only have a positive impact on mental health. The mindfulness aspect creates calm thereby reducing stress associated hormones.

For the past number of years we have been working weekly with our elderly community both in our studio and through our voluntary care home projects. Through interactions with the care workers and participants I have realised the vast majority, when they begin, have less mobility and strength, some never having had the confidence to even attempt exercise. Over the years and as the classes progress we have seen friendships develop and aches and pains fade from focus. These classes and programmes have been mainly run by Lisa Phillips and Melissa Curtis and their positive feedback and outcomes have directly inspired our chair yoga teacher training programme.  

In our nursing and care home projects we teach residents a fully seated class to facilitate those unable to stand. In our studio chair yoga classes we mix seated and standing poses, a full standing class would be too much but we find the mix builds both balance and confidence.

Yoga has been known to help lower cortisol by working to decrease fear and anxiety. These feelings can negatively impact our cortisol levels, and yoga combats this by increasing our self-confidence, and teaching us how to react and understand our emotions. With the added benefits of mindfulness, through yoga we can manage cortisol levels by using just our body and breath, in a safe and healing way.

What has emerged from the last few years of these beautiful interactions is an overwhelming and infectious sense of gratitude. The gratitude works both ways between students and teachers, each have learned so much from each other.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful practices we have available to us. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and help us sleep better. Gratitude drastically reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, and substance dependency. It works by allowing us to celebrate the present and actively participate in our own lives. At times like this, it’s even more important to celebrate and feel good with the small things. Older people always shine through on this one 🙂

Starting a gratitude practice is relatively easy. It can be as simple as reflecting before bed, or at a moment during the day, on just three things that today has brought you. If you are having a bad day, maybe a small affirmation – something as simple as: this body, this breath, this life, reminds us to be thankful for simply existing. You can choose to write it down or just think it!

We have all had our own apprehensions and stresses to Covid-19, but being over-stressed can cause our experience of life now to alter even more drastically. Staying physically active for older people and, in fact, everyone, will allow us to feel a sense of freedom in the body and mind. Learning how to effectively manage our stress levels, through movement and mindfulness will ultimately keep us physically healthier, bring us more joy, laughter, and feelings of connection to the present situation.

Every body is different and needs the chance to keep moving. We would love for you to get that chance through the use of our online chair yoga resource, which is completely free.

You can try classes at your own level and choose when you wish to practice – have fun figuring out what works best for you!

I believe that chair yoga is an all-round beneficial form of physical exercise supporting the movement and stimulation needed while these restrictions are in place. This practice provides full body conditioning, targeting strength and mobility of the joints while encouraging mindfulness and self care.

To find out more and for full details on how to get moving, stay mobile and connect click on the following link:

Much love Jo & J xxx


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