What is your first response to seeing an article about chair yoga?
If you are under 55, I’m a bit surprised you are reading this article.
See, chair yoga is generally regarded as a class for seniors or those with limited mobility, but it can appeal to everyone—particularly newbies.
The vinyasa yoga classes I teach at corporate jobs generally attract the more athletically fit student or employee. Therefore, when I was asked to teach a chair yoga class at one of my corporate gigs, it became an opportunity to reach more students. I knew my regulars would attend, in addition to newer students who were looking for a gentler class.
In preparing for the class, I found ways to use the chair as a prop and offer different options, making the class truly all-inclusive. Additionally, folks could take these moves from class to real life—all while sitting on a chair.
For someone who has generally taught strong vinyasa classes, the request to teach chair yoga classes was a little daunting. The curriculum on chair yoga in my teacher training was limited, to say the least. I looked online for chair yoga classes in Cleveland. Cleveland is a big yoga town, with a studio on almost every corner. I only found classes for chair yoga at senior centers. Of course, I also researched it by reading texts and viewing videos I found online. I had such positive response to the class I taught, and had such a fun time teaching it, that I ended up teaching the class all week at all of my corporate contracts. It was a big hit and one of my corporations asked that I teach it on a regular basis. The average age of that class was probably 35.
No matter what your age, a large part of the day is often spent sitting and looking at a computer or phone—with rounded shoulders and neck tilted forward. It has been referred to as “text neck,” as of late. Stories have been written about how sitting is the new smoking. Instead of taking a smoke break, take a chair break!
Side angle, crescent warrior and warriors one and two can be done with the chair—either standing behind the chair with hands on the back of the chair for support—or placing the front thigh on the seat of a chair with the body facing the side. Mountain, cactus and cat poses can be done while seated, which will loosen and strengthen the spine and open the chest. Twists, while seated, can result in a more flexible spine and they massage internal organs. A simple neck roll may do wonders.
Chair yoga classes are appropriate for all levels. In my chair yoga class, we do a warrior series holding onto the back of the chair with an option to step forward, bringing the knee up to the level of the back of the chair, before returning to warrior. It is simple, but not easy! Yoga using a chair can offer something for everyone.
The best comment I received after a chair yoga class was from an employee who told me that she sat at her desk and did angel breath. Angel breath involves sitting at the edge of your chair with both feet firmly on the ground lined up under the knees. Inhale and lift the arms up above the head—an exhale takes the palms down toward the floor. The next inhale takes the arms up with a twist toward one side—an exhale takes the arms down. Then, an inhale sweeps the arms up to the other side with a twist.
This can be considered a version of the sun salutation. It feels great for the spine, the shoulders and it calms the mind. This comment was from a student who has been doing vinyasa classes with me for three years, who has no limitations as far as mobility. In other words, this series appealed to someone who generally does standard sun salutations, but found a way to transfer a move from class into her everyday life. Excellent!
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is body awareness. When we become aware of our bodies on the mat (and on our chairs), we start to become aware of our bodies on a regular basis.
Taking even five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon to do some stretches can make a real difference. Whether you are a new yogi or more experienced—try mixing it up!
Take some time to move your body on your chair—check out a chair yoga class.
It is not necessarily your grandma’s yoga!
Author: Mary Wilburn
Apprentice Editor: Angeline Leow/Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Kyle Pearce