On a recent morning, about 15 senior citizens gathered in the activity room at Susquehanna View Apartments in Camp Hill.
They were there to get some exercise, but, first, they had to sit down. It was the once-a-month gathering of a unique form of meditative exercise called “chair yoga.”
“Bring your chest in,” advised the group’s leader, 23-year-old Angela Conforti, a physical aide at Conforti Physical Therapy of Lemoyne.
She continued in a calm, soothing voice.
“Exhale,” she said. “Go at your own pace. Don’t worry about what your neighbors are doing.”
Participants, seated in a circle centered by four flameless candles and a small, lit tree, started with warm-up exercises that included rolling their shoulders in one direction, then another, then rolling their wrists in figure eights, all while remaining seated in their chairs. Strength exercises followed: raising arms forward one at a time, inhaling, exhaling, raising legs on at a time, and finally, raising an arm and leg on each side one at a time.
Nobody objected until it was time to cross ankles over knees.
“Oh, no,” a women in the group jokingly protested. “We don’t need to call 9-1-1 today.”
Conforti didn’t argue. Instead, she encouraged everyone to do only what felt comfortable. About one-third of the group followed through, setting an ankle over an opposite knee until told to relax.
When it was done, participants said they felt better than when they started.
Linda Cook, 73, who has “a little bit of arthritis everywhere,” said that Conforti’s “very restful voice” helped her to relax. Chair yoga, she added, is “very conducive to sleep.”
Robert Forsythe, 77, said chair yoga helps the pain in his hands.
“It’s very relaxing,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
Melvin Eichelberger, 72, was there because chair yoga helped his right hip and leg that “have really been hurting” for several years. The trouble began when he broke his leg at 5 years old, plus he believes that one of his legs is shorter than the other.
Susquehanna View Program Coordinator Michael Stewart said he introduced monthly chair yoga sessions to the senior apartment complex to enhance a twice-weekly traditional exercise program already in place.
“When you get older, your body starts falling apart,” he said. “If you don’t do exercise, your muscles start falling apart. Exercise also helps to lower your cholesterol.”
Stewart said he heard about chair yoga while taking a wellness program at Conforti Physical Therapy, where he was a patient. Angela’s father, Jeff Conforti, runs the business.
In general, yoga uses postures to focus concentration on specific body parts, as well as breathing techniques to integrate the body with mind and mind with soul. It is reputed to help with mood, lower blood pressure by reducing stress, improve strength and flexibility, and even provide better sleep.
“Our residents love yoga,” Stewart said. “It’s very relaxing and comforting.”
It’s hard to say who invented yoga as yogis practiced it before any written account existed, according to medicinenet.com. It’s believed that the earliest written record of yoga was by Patanjali, an Indian yogic sage who lived 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. Pantanjali wrote the “Yoga Sutras,” the guiding principles, philosophy and practices of yoga that still are followed today.
Conforti cited a Johns Hopkins University study noting that chair yoga has been found to decrease rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, biomechanical issues such as joint pain, and reduce depression and anxiety.
Conforti, who is pursuing a master’s degree in physical therapy through Marymount University, has been doing yoga for eight years and teaching chair and mat yoga for a year. She visits the senior residents at Susquehanna View Apartments once a month on a volunteer basis.
“I enjoy making people feel better,” she said. “Happier people make for a happier atmosphere.”
Chair yoga, she added, “empowers (participants) to find their own strength and power.”
The difference between young and senior yoga participants, Conforti continued, is that the young tend to “push themselves too hard.”
“There’s no place for ‘no pain, no gain’ in yoga,” she noted.
To develop appropriate exercises for seniors, Conforti uses “my expertise and what I know about anatomy and how they move. So, if they move good with a certain move, you’ll keep doing it.”
Susquehanna View resident Nancy Garman had a simpler explanation about Conforti’s techniques.
“She’s very good,” she said. “Her voice is very tranquil. I hope she comes back.”
Susquehanna View Apartments is located at 208 Senate Ave., Camp Hill. To learn more, call 717-763-1184.