I was first introduced to Chair Yoga on February 10, 2007. I remember, because I was in excruciating pain, and I had no choice; I had to sit down. Well, I didn’t exactly sit; I fell. And, it wasn’t exactly a chair; it was a stack of Mexican blankets. Let me explain.
I had been under an incredible amount of stress that year, for lots of reasons: I had two young children, a husband with cancer, financial woes, migraines, and back pain. (I could go on, but you get the picture. You’ve all been there, in some way, shape, or form.) It was a Saturday, and I had just taught a few Hatha classes, back to back, and although exhausted, I had the bright idea to go around and pick up the extra blankets, scattered about the room, while my students rested comfortably in Savasana. In retrospect, it actually would have been the perfect time for a little meditation on the teacher podium and a few pelvic rocks, but no, I had to keep moving. I had a pile of about five blankets, as I recall. I arched my back to heave the blankets onto the stack, and at the same time, I did a little mini-twist, to get them even with the existing pile. (FYI, it’s not a great idea to combine a strong backbend with a twist.) Long story short, I herniated a disc, right there in the big room at Yoga Yoga Northwest. Pow!
I managed to muffle a gasp, and I fell onto the stack of blankets, stiff legged and paralyzed. I had six minutes to breathe my way through the spasms, hoist myself up, and hobble back to the podium. I called my students out of Savasana, stayed seated to answer a few after-class questions, and when the last student left, I made it out to my car, just in time for an emotional breakdown.
Fortunately, I had just met a wonderful Viniyoga teacher, Sadani, who let me start sitting in a chair in her classes. I watched as her students did more than I could. My low back was bruised, and so was my ego. Sadani just passed me a box of tissues and let me cry. That’s when I learned to appreciate a chair. That’s when I began to let go of my ego. And, that’s when I started to deepen my practice and heal.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali gives us two primary tools for experiencing the state of Yoga: non-attachment and persistent practice. I will admit, I was very attached to my standing Hatha practice, at the time of my injury. But, something told me I needed to evolve. I needed to let go of what I was used to and keep practicing. It was a turning point for me, and I am forever grateful.
I have taught Hatha Yoga for over 13 years now, and I have the great honor this year to teach a Chair Yoga class. When people ask me what kind of yoga I teach, and I say, “Chair Yoga,” I inevitably get the same reply: “Oh, Chair Yoga… for the elderly. Right?” “Well, yes and no,” I respond.
I was forty-two when I collapsed onto that stack of Mexican blankets, and if there had been a Chair Yoga class back then, I’d have been a regular as I healed. Chair Yoga is not just for the elderly. Chair Yoga is for EVERYONE. Chair Yoga is for people with injuries, like herniated discs, sprained ankles, or frozen shoulders. Chair Yoga is for people with chronic conditions, like arthritis, cancer, or high blood pressure. It is for people with limited mobility or weight issues, people who need a break from their standing practice, for whatever reason, and yes, it is also for the elderly.
So, what do we do in Chair Yoga? The same thing we do in any other yoga class. We move the spine in all directions, we breathe, we meditate, and we relax. We might stand for a few simple postures, depending on the day; we might do a little chanting or study yogic philosophy; and, we always take a nice long Savasana, on the floor, if possible. Chair Yoga is just Yoga. It is about finding good energy, focus, and balance. It is about letting go of our egos and being open to the possibilities of practice.
If you are curious about Chair Yoga, I invite you to give it a try. I invite you to include it in your overall practice, the way you might include a Restorative class, a Yin class, or a Stress Management class. When you experience an obstacle, I encourage you to stay in community and be open to new experiences. You never can tell how you might evolve.
Peace, love, and Chair Power!