Chair yoga is an incredible experience for both students and teachers. Students who don’t believe they can exercise or improve their overall heath find accessible, rewarding techniques; and teachers find incredibly devoted, grateful students who cannot make it to traditional classes.
The journey for myself began by wanting to share yoga with my grandparents who were in their nineties, and I needed to come up with ways to adapt the techniques to suit them. At the time I had never heard of “chair yoga”, but it seemed like a natural way to adapt yoga for people in their early 90’s. After a chance meeting led me to taking over a class at a senior’s residence, my student base grew from these initial two! We started with a monthly class and the residents kept protesting until it was offered weekly. Their devotion to the practice and its results was second to none, and it had nothing to do with being family.
Over time I’ve realized that chair yoga is just yoga, as we don’t call other yoga “mat yoga”. Yoga is yoga and you can practice it anywhere and anytime. The body can be used as a tool to focus and relax the mind and whether the practice is on a mat, in a chair or even lying in a bed the techniques are the same. Important side effects are a healthier body, less pain and more mobility, but the main goal which can be achieved is a calm and focussed mind.
My principle work in chair yoga is with seniors, though they’re not the only population who stand to benefit from it. Often getting older comes with fear: the reality of approaching death, the body’s loss of physical performance, and some or a lot of a person’s independence. If this fear is nourished, it grows. The opposite of fear is understanding and love, and by working to calm the mind, fear can be analyzed and converted to understanding. In practicing self-care, a sense of pure love is nourished.
After years of working with seniors, I’m confident and fulfilled in my work. Stories of how leg pain is helped by toe exercises, frustrations alleviated by some deep breathing and sleep aided with pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) before bed are continuous. Seniors seem to be very open to learning the philosophy, chanting and meditation along with the physical aspects of the practice – our feelings that this group of people may be more conservative toward the esoteric aspects of yoga is simply wrong. They’re more open than younger adults!
Chair yoga need not apply only to seniors, all these techniques are perfect to alleviate tensions both physical and mental that come from working at a desk. A five minute yoga break every hour can improve the quality of life at the office.
Other people I work with in chairs are those living with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinson’s, Stroke, recovering from injury, those who need to use a wheelchair, as well people living with various forms of dementia and more. In all these cases, students learn to move what they can, stimulating the brain by imagining moving parts that are no longer mobile and develop a sense of presence and wellbeing through the practice.
I like to joke that every single one of my students is aging, in fact the entire population of the planet is aging! As a yoga teacher it is important to have tools to be able to work with every Body and as a larger percentage of the population will be much older, (in Canada, we’ve got a lot of baby boomers) working with them to help them remain physically and mentally fit will be a boon to them and to society as a whole. Chair yoga is a wonderful tool to add to your kit.
Michael Hutkins practices and teaches a traditional and holistic approach to yoga, reaching all parts of the body and mind to release deep seeded tension and allow for proper relaxation. Training at several Sivananda ashrams in Canada and India has allowed Michael to live with his teacher and be fully immersed in the yoga experience. His training covers a wide scope of yoga, from philosophy and Bhagavad Gita courses to chanting and devotion ceremonies to the physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. He looks forward to helping you discover and deepen your understanding of this lovely experience.
Curious about doing a Chair Yoga Training? Michael is offering a Chair Yoga Training in Ottawa this autumn at PranaShanti for yoga teachers interested in expanding their student base and helping under-served yoga populations.