UA College of Nursing Professor Uses Chair Yoga to Help Older Adults Increase Mobility

Oct. 31, 2017

For people having trouble with their bodies cooperating with their desire to engage in regular, low-impact exercise like yoga, chair yoga may be a wise solution. A gentle form of yoga, chair yoga is ideal for people unable to engage in traditional yoga classes due to the effects of aging or disabilities. For that reason, it was one of the first integrative health modalities to be launched at The Hacienda at the River, the latest senior residential community initiated by the Watermark Retirement group.

“It’s a truly adaptable health therapy,” says Dr. Leah StauberUniversity of Arizona College of Nursing faculty member, who teaches The Hacienda’s weekly chair yoga class. “You don’t need to be in any particular space, you don’t need any props or even an instructor once you’ve had some practice. Since many of the guests at The Hacienda rely on a cane or a wheelchair to be mobile, the beauty is it’s accessibility because it cane be performed anywhere, anyplace, anytime.” Among several benefits, evidence indicates positive effects on breathing, range of motion and mood/mental state.

Leah S. Stauber, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor

Dr. Stauber, with her more than 10 years of experience in teaching chair yoga, has also taught traditional yoga to high school students, social workers, expectant and new mothers, nurses, memory care patients and professional athletes. On a recent Thursday morning, six Hacienda residents gathered in a peaceful, inviting sunlit living room, surrounded by leather-bound books, plants and comfortable furniture.  to participate in Dr. Stauber’s class. Following Dr. Stauber’s class, residents commented on appreciating the opportunity for exercise as well as the social pleasure of engaging with a group.

With a focus on independent living, assisted living and memory care communities, The Hacienda residents are helped to advance their personal wellbeing in ways that are physical, spiritual and emotional. For example, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupressure and acupuncture have been woven into care, but the special value of chair yoga is that it is active and helps residents accustomed to a sedentary existence to become more mobile. Dr. Stauber points to the fact that The Hacienda’s caregivers also have attended her class to learn stretches and therapeutic movements they can then do one-on-one with their family or loved one.

The integrative health and well-being is a focus for the special partnership between The Hacienda and the UA College of Nursing, with its integrative health focus and one-of-a-kind Integrative Nursing Faculty Fellowship (INFF). “The College of Nursing Integrative nursing faculty fellows are advancing best practices for educating nurses and nurse educators in the art and science of integrative health and well-being,” says Dr. Stauber. “The goal is to teach them to implement various modalities as well as the principles of integrative nursing itself, and bring them together in a sustainable way. It’s a teach-the-teacher model.”

“Yoga helps return us to the ways in which our bodies worked at healthier points in our lives,” Stauber says. “The movements bring our bodies back into a fuller range of motion, one closer to when we were young. Most importantly, it helps remind us of the ways in which we breathed, before we started sitting at desks, for example, before everything got compressed in the chest, and our breath became really shallow. Shallow breathing is known to have many adverse effects on our bodies, including on blood flow, various hormones and the central nervous system.”