“Chair Yoga? Isn’t that a practice for senior citizens?” As a Chair Yoga teacher, I often get this statement directed towards me, and my heart is always slightly bummed. I mean, I’m not a Senior, yet I practice in this format, and I really enjoy the benefits of having it be part of my wellness. Another statement I hear often, “Chair Yoga? Oh, my Mom would love that practice!” This brings me to my second observation. I believe the challenge and personal growth that’s possible with this supportive practice is way too often overlooked.
While neither one of these statements are false. In my opinion, they’re a bit limiting in thought. Chair Yoga simply stated is the adaptation of a yoga practice onto a supportive chair. Having support doesn’t negate any of yoga’s benefits. It’s quite the opposite. In my opinion having the support can make the practice more mindful without taking away the opportunity for growth, or challenge within one’s personal practice goals. In fact, there are 3 specific ways the practice can be beneficial at any age. A chair yoga practice is supported, it’s modified, and it’s mobile. Chair Yoga can literally be practiced anywhere you’re seated. Well, anywhere you have the courage to strike a pose, that decision is completely up to you!
There is something beautiful about having support. Just think about that for a moment. When has there been a time in your life when having a little, reassuring support made all the difference in a personal situation? It doesn’t even have to be a challenging situation, yet having support makes specific actions more possible, while creating more ability to focus on the details. For example, there are times in our household when the chore of laundry becomes an everyman for himself type situation. There are some family members that will place clean, dried laundry into a pile on top of the dryer, leaving it to wrinkle. There are other family members that will fold clean, dried laundry and leave it in a tidy stack on top of the dryer so it may be put away quickly. Both options are more than viable, but the second outcome brings about a sense of ease that allows one to continue moving forward with their task for the day.
So, how does this tale of my family, laundry woes relay to yoga that’s seated? Well, it’s all about the ease of having support within the task of the practice. Us humans come with many factors in our bodies. Some are obvious, while others do a better job at remaining hidden to the naked eye. I have many students that have physical issues with their joints, their backs, their weight, and their flexibility. Direct a highly, inflexible person to touch their toes and witness how quickly they lose intention, feel defeated, while deciding instantly that a yoga practice isn’t really their jam. Direct the exact same student to perform the exact same posture with the support of a chair. While providing three variations they can select from, and you’ll quickly witness a curiosity that transforms their thoughts into maybe yoga is my jam! I’ve witnessed this transformation firsthand with several of my students, and I think of it as creating ease within a challenging task for them, solely created by being introduced to the possibilities of adding a chair to their practice. In my opinion, that’s just brilliant!
Another way a student can be supported by a chair yoga practice comes in a less obvious form, not easily noticed within the first glance of things. This person is usually more than capable in body, yet they may be a bit overly determined in process. When inviting a physically capable person to use a chair to support their practice, they’re more than likely to give a sideways looking face right back. This able-bodied person wants to do everything, and they want to do it perfectly! They aren’t yet aware of the notion that the chair creates ease by allowing them to surrender, so they may feel a sense of support in their practice.
Slowing down gives them permission to enjoy the journey, which is a practice in and of itself. When the invitation of support is on the occasion accepted, it creates such a sense of freedom for the student. That freedom is recognizable in their breath, in their posture and in their demeanor that begins to soften over time. They learn that the don’t need to be perfect in every waking moment. As a teacher those are the moments where I feel yoga is really being taught. It’s not about the perfect posture, it’s more about the surrender in the journey allowing the true self to come forward without apology. That’s the magic of practice and that’s the healing essence of yoga. In this instance, the support of the chair helps to make this process tangible.
I don’t know what it is about the word modified, but when it’s uttered people automatically assume it’s going to easy. The thought that Chair Yoga is too easy will lead one astray. Let’s not allow this to happen, because way too much good stuff will be missed! Especially if one has issues with the joints in the ankles and wrist, issues with feet and hands, knees, back, and what I lovingly like to refer to as the cute, tummy pooch. This all sounds promising, but you may also be thinking, aren’t all yoga practices able to be modified? Yes, but NONE of them bring the floor up to a student’s level like chair yoga. That’s right, this practice literally changes the plane, and keeps the plane elevated for the entire practice, and when needed during a class.
For example, Child’s Pose is readily known posture among yoga teachers and students alike. It’s presented as a place to begin a practice, or it can be resting place during, and after a practice. This pose requires, foot and ankle extension, knee flexion (bending) with body weight compression, torso to thigh connection, shoulder and neck extension completes the posture. I personally enjoy this pose when I practice, but it’s not a pose for all bodies. As a teacher I have seen the struggles it can bring to a student’s resting place. It’s most often unattainable due to feet, knee, larger bellies, and lack of flexibility issues. These issues can be supported with various yoga props such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks. Yet, the chair requires nothing extra except imagination to recreate the benefits of the pose while modifying to the student’s physical needs. I have never had a student not enjoy child’s pose while seated upon a chair during practice.
Modifications make yoga more accessible to more bodies and fitness levels, so more people can enjoy the benefits of the practice. It’s not about ease, it’s about access to greater wellness for anyone that chooses to seek it out for themselves. That is empowering for students and it’s truly amazing to witness as a teacher of the practice.
Modifying balancing postures is another marvelous way a chair can assist a student in finding awareness, breathe and focus in their practice. If ever you try to balance on the same leg, three days in a row, you’ll find that your balance will feel different everyday even though it’s the exact same action. So many factors can impede our balance, and that’s why a chair is so useful for this practice.
It teaches a student to slow down, to feel their way through a posture, to notice what happens when the right muscles are engaged and all thoughts are surrendered, to physically notice their efforts compared from the right side and then the left side. To slow down, to focus, to know what it feels like to be in a moment. A chair allows all students to experience this on good balance days, and on bad balance days. The chair is the support. It omits the distraction of the wiggles, so the student can feel the practice, while building the courage to someday stand, so they can be able to practice their tree pose alongside the chair with less support. The chair modifies the inconceivable posture, so that it can one day be practiced with less and less support. Modifications are a place to be supported. Modifications are a place to grow in one’s yoga practice.
As stated, earlier Chair Yoga is simple the adaptation of yoga poses onto a supportive, stable chair. So, practices like sun salutes, warrior sequences, as well as the well-known tree pose can be created while seated. If you have the courage you can recreate these postures anywhere. If you’re lacking a bit in the courage department, or simple don’t like to bring unneeded attention to yourself you can do Chair Yoga in a more subtle way. No one needs to know that you’re taking your selfcare out into the world and making it a daily ritual for your well-being.
Just like a mat practice, simply begin with awareness of self, and how you’re feeling in each moment. Next, practice various breathing techniques depending on your mood, or needs. Do you need to calm down, focus, or get your energy up? There is a breath for that, and practice makes it more useful, just like all things in life.
However, if the workday turns into stagnation due to being seated at a desk, in a car, or on a plane, chair yoga can make all the difference in how your body will feel at the end of the day. Simple things like heel lifts, ankle rotations, knee extension, hip shifts, spinal movements, hand and wrist exercises, capped off with shoulder and neck awareness can make a tremendous difference in how you greet the end of a workday. Honestly, who can’t afford NOT to benefit from feeling good at the end of a long day? Chair Yoga in its ease and simplicity creates an accessible path towards wellness for anyone that’s willing to give it a try, consistently. Are you willing and ready to pull up a chair? YES! Click on my video library of 10-minute practices and start feeling better in your body today!
Photo by: Bridget Wray https://www.instagram.com/bridget.wray/