Why chair yoga?

I teach a Saturday morning 10am chair yoga class. This class is intended for people with special needs of one sort or another, who may not feel comfortable

in a traditional yoga class. Even a restorative, gentle, or "Yin" class can be difficult for a person who can't get up and down off the floor very easily, or who has a particular injury that requires individualized attention and modifications.

I got the idea to teach this class from two places. First off, my mother was sick a few years ago. She worked with a physical therapist for a while after her release from the hospital, and I wanted to find a way to work with her myself, but it was difficult for me to find a regular time in my schedule.

Secondly, I substitute a yoga class at my local gym. I frequently have new students come to class, whose doctor had told them they should be doing yoga. It's fantastic that docs are recommending yoga, but patients who have never tried yoga before may not understand that there are a thousand different "flavors" (restorative, Yin, Power, Hatha, Vinyasa, etc.) In an open, gym-based class, you may end up with two students who are capable of standing on their heads, two students who are not able to get up from the floor, and ten people who are somewhere in the middle.

Teaching that class ends up feeling a lot like directing traffic. I used to have two teacher stations set up for myself--one with a chair and a mat, the other with just a mat. I would have to show the chair way to do something, and then the traditional way. And that presents its own challenges, because the folks who would be best served by the chair modification sometimes follow you to the traditional one, because they are visual learners and it's what the instructor is doing. Then they end up in an uncomfortable position, and they decide never to return to yoga. So they miss out on all of yoga's wonderful benefits, just because their individual needs couldn't be met appropriately in that forum.

Just a few examples of people who might benefit from chair yoga:

  • My mom had colon cancer a few years ago. She has a colostomy, and now has a very difficult scar. She has to be careful of any twisting and bending.

  • My sister fell and hurt her knee a while back. She did not require surgery, but for some time, she wasn't able to sustain an all-fours position.

  • Women in their third trimester of pregnancy should now lie flat on their backs, and should also avoid twisting postures.

  • Generally healthy athletes who are in good shape but feel very inflexible might benefit from the added support of a chair and non-competitive atmosphere of a chair class.

  • Office workers might benefit from suggestions of exercises they can do right at their desks to fight back pain and stress.

The difficulty level of my chair class completely depends on who shows up on a given day. I am able to vary the options to challenge anyone, while still offering safe alternatives for my recovering clients.

As you might guess from the class name, we spend a lot of time actually sitting in the chair. We do not get on the floor at all. I do use several standing postures, balance poses and even the ballet barre (handrail). I also provide some options for the resistance bands and with small, hand-held weights.

We focus on breath work, and I do a guided meditation, a sitting Savasana, at the end of each class.

This is not a class where we will ever be putting our feet behind our heads or doing handstands, but it is relaxing, it can improve flexibility, core strength, balance and the performance of day-to-day activities. So I hope that you might join us some time, or send someone our way who would benefit.

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