Chair yoga for seniors

How instructor Marci Rubin stumbled into teaching older adults


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  • Rubin wants to “help this population move their spines and bodies in all the ways [they are] capable of moving.”


    (Photo courtesy of Marci Rubin)


The newest population of yogis Marci Rubin teaches at the Upper West Side Y? Seventy - and 80-year olds.

With the help of a chair and yoga instructor Rubin, about 30 seniors stretch, bend, and twist every Monday and Friday during the hour-long chair yoga sessions.

Rubin, 36, stumbled into teaching chair yoga after the Y needed a quick replacement instructor. “I knew nothing about it,” Rubin said of her initial hesitance about shifting from teaching alignment-based vinyasa to chair yoga. “Vinyasa requires a lot of up and down and for older people, that's just not feasible. I had to get creative with how to adapt a yoga practice for older adults using a chair for stability.”

Chair yoga is a practice that modifies yoga poses for older adults. Aside from seated work in the chair, much of the session consists of utilizing the chair for support as students complete a sequence of side and shoulder stretches, standing twists, and resistance training with therabands.

“It's all about how I can help this population move their spines and bodies in all of the ways [they are] capable of moving,” Rubin said. “The chair is simply a tool to do that.” After noticing the high numbers of older women attending her classes, Rubin began researching osteoporosis, a bone condition that primarily affects post-menopausal women.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, increasing susceptibility to fracture. Rubin emphasizes spinal health in her sessions to eliminate pressures on the spine, which often increase fracture risks.

“On a physical level, it's a lot about strength and balance, combined with maintaining a healthy range of motion,” Rubin explained of her osteoporosis-tailored sessions. “But the completely natural piece that comes along with yoga and keeps people coming back is the mindfulness. You feel more calm, relaxed and clear.”

In addition to her bi-weekly group classes at the West Side Y, Rubin teaches one-on-one sessions. Rubin describes these at-home sessions as “individualized” and “specialized.” Each private class is tailored to the client to maximize the benefits of specific yoga postures for that individual's condition.

“It's fun for me to work with older people because I have to be so creative and problem-solve in my sequencing and thinking, which really lends itself to growing more in my work life,” Rubin said.

Check local yoga studios and senior programs for chair yoga classes nearby.

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