We're all moving less. Restrictions mean that our trips to the gym or to the beach for a run are pretty much off limits.
For people in their 70s, who have had to stay entirely within their homes and gardens, the challenges were even greater. The news that they are to be allowed out for brief periods of exercise and fresh air will make life a lot more bearable and the option of going for a walk will improve health and wellbeing. Experts agree that it is important for the over-70s to prioritise movement and exercise. This will allow them to re-emerge into society afterwards feeling strong and healthy, and not out of condition or weak.
In her yoga practice in Clonmany, Co Donegal, yoga teacher and therapist Elma Toland works with lots of older people. She says the danger is that older people will lose confidence and find they don't have the same dynamic level of movement in their bodies afterwards. But, she says, doing some simple yoga exercises could be hugely beneficial in allowing them to snap back to normality more easily. While she says older people may not be as supple as younger people, that doesn't mean they can't do yoga, and all exercises can be modified to fit the person.
With this population in mind, Elma has put some simple exercises on YouTube. While she says some older people may be wary of trying poses on the floor, many poses can be done while sitting on a chair.
Elma, who is in her 60s and runs her classes for people of all ages and abilities in Clonmany's Market House, believes the perception that yoga is about making fancy shapes is off-putting. The reality is that you adapt the postures to suit the body, she says, adding that something as simple as a chair is underrated as a prop.
"It's not rocket science - if you're sitting in a chair, think about good posture. Start with your neck and bow, then look at the ceiling and then move your head side to side.
"It's really about doing simple movements and bringing them into a practice. Simple arm movements like raising your arm or holding your arm out to the side of your body can also be done while sitting.
"The chair yoga will give you benefits - you don't have to be on your eyelashes to reap the benefits."
Connecting the movement with the breath, something that is at the heart of yoga, is also hugely beneficial, according to Elma.
"The value of conscious relaxation is huge at this time," she says. "We are all holding more tension in our muscles. Just lying on the floor is hugely beneficial to release tension. Training your breath is really good: taking the time to notice what's going on, being aware is the first thing to do. Just start by sitting in a chair and become aware of your breath."
The 'Mountain' pose, for example, is the foundation of so many poses and one that can be modified to sitting on a chair, according to Elma. You begin by sitting on your seat and anchoring the back of your ribcage to the back of the chair, as well as anchoring your feet to the ground. "Grow your spine tall and allow your chest to open. It's the best pose to build good posture," she says.
Moving on from this pose, people can try the 'Tree of Light' pose, which begins in the same way, by sitting with a straight back on your chair. "Extend your arms out and up, breathing in as you raise them over your head. Bring your hands into prayer position in front of you as you exhale. That action of moving the arms with the breath is not only bringing mobility into the shoulders, it's opening the chest and increasing the breath's capacity," says Elma.
Freelance yoga teacher Lisa Phillips works with private clients and also runs chair yoga classes with Hot Yoga Dublin based at Northern Cross on the Malahide Road. The studio had just begun to offer classes in Care Choice nursing home nearby before lockdown. They have sent in their video classes to care staff in the home who can continue screening them for residents in their rooms to help them keep up their practice.
They've also extended their chair yoga classes to offer them free online to anyone who wants to give it a try.
In her own practice, Lisa, who lives in Ringsend, runs SoleMovement. As a dancer and choreographer, she's been practising yoga for 20 years and teaching for 10. Her love of movement stemmed from her background as a dancer - she specialised in contemporary dance.
More recently she developed a chair yoga teacher training programme.
"Originally, I aimed it at yoga teachers but I've expanded it to healthcare workers as the last training had a physiotherapist and psychotherapist on it, and we've already had a couple of doctors enquire about October's course, which is great," says Lisa.
She believes that chair yoga makes yoga more accessible for older people and can give them a sense of autonomy over their own wellbeing. Older people and their wellbeing is something she's passionate about - her grandmother Maureen Sharvin is still going strong at 102. Lisa describes her as an amazing woman with a fierce determination and a passion for life who had a huge influence on her.
Lisa's chair yoga class on a Monday morning is her favourite session of the week because of the care her older clients take of one another, and how they look out for each other. Not only are they dedicated to their practice - before the pandemic they rarely missed class and texted or called if they couldn't make it - but they're also very sociable and firm friendships have blossomed in the chair yoga group.
"It's great to see them forming friendships in their 70s or 80s. Before lockdown, they had started to attend other things together as well. One lady who used to come on her own had been meeting up with others for aqua aerobics and rain, hail or shine, they came to class," says Lisa.
Sometimes she will use props like resistance bands or Pilates balls in class and move from the chair to the floor, but she says there are some simple exercises that can be done on a chair at home with no need for extra equipment.
Lisa says that a lot of the time when people come to class they're looking for reassurance and they need to build up their confidence in their ability to balance and move around. The chair offers a perfect way to build this confidence, she says.
"I always start with a few breathing exercises. I'll take that in a seated position, then move to doing a few gentle stretching exercises just sitting on the chair. When we've done a warm-up, we will build up into some strengthening exercises," says Lisa.
One of her favourite exercises is a simple side bend (pictured). "Start by sitting on your seat and put your left hand at the edge of your chair. Inhale as you raise your right hand over your head and lean over to the left slightly. Then come back to centre and repeat the movement on the other side. This is a simple lateral stretch which helps to ease tension in the hips".
She advises that the stretch doesn't have to see you leaning very much, just enough that you feel a stretch.
Twisting is another good chair yoga exercise that she uses in her class. "Sit up tall in your seat. Imagine the crown of your head growing taller towards the ceiling. Cross your arms and bring your hands to your shoulders. As you exhale twist to the left and inhale back to centre, then repeat the exercise on the other side," says Lisa.
A good leg-strengthening exercise she recommends is where you sit on your chair, holding on to your seat. You lift one foot up off the ground straight in front of you and circle the foot five times in each direction. The exercise is then repeated on the other side.
"Movement is medication for a lot of people. It gets you unstuck and gets you out of your head and into your body. For that period you're moving, you're not worrying or thinking about things," says Lisa.
For more information see yogawithelma.ie See also myhotyogadublin for the free chair yoga classes and check out Lisa Phillips at www.solemovement.ie
Health & Living