Chair Yoga Benefits All Levels

Chair Yoga demonstration

Yoga is booming! 2015 statistics show that there are 15 million people practicing yoga; 72.2 % are female, 40% are 35-54 years old with 18.4% of students over 55 years of age. That brings a wide range of students, with all shapes and sizes of bodies, coming to yoga classes looking for a way to stretch, strengthen, relax, internalize, and, for some, to sweat.

No one attends a yoga class expecting to be injured, but it is all to common these days. Often the body is expected to speed through poses, in extreme heat, pushing to keep up rather than the practitioner learning to be sensitive to what the body is actually willing or able to do in the moment.

I have been teaching yoga for 32 years and have worked with all ages and types of bodies. Most people today are broken, either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. They, you, come to yoga looking for relief from the stress of life and that is exactly what you should find. This can happen with a vinyasa flow style or restorative class, and for many students the use of a single prop, such as a folding chair, can make the difference between stable and supportive or stressful and dangerous.

The practice of Hatha Yoga is designed to engage the body-mind in an inquiry based on sensation, the language your body uses to communicate. To listen and understand what your body is asking in a pose requires time, awareness and an internal focus. In this way the ego-mind is subdued, calming the aggressive desire to push, pull, and demand from the physical body what can in time weaken, tear and injure.

The revered yoga guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, introduced the folding chair to his students as a means to bring stability to the body-mind, while allowing the body to properly align in a pose. There are numerous ways to use a folding chair, providing an opportunity to hold poses longer resulting in a deeper flexibility and strength. In the holding your body-mind can soften, shift and move deeper. In order to progress in yoga practice this sensitivity and time is essential to a safe and effective practice.

On the other hand, when you are moving too quickly through a sequence of poses precision of alignment is difficult to find. Your body has little time to adapt bone, muscle, tendon, sinew, and breath in the rush from one pose to the next. This is when the toes begin to grip the floor seeking a “toe hold” because there is not enough time to ground the feet properly. The mind becomes tense, the jaw locks in a grimace and the core of the body hardens. Bad habits form and when injury occurs yoga gets the blame.

The folding chair as yoga prop is a part of the Iyengar way of teaching yoga, however it is gaining in popularity in yoga studios, particularly with supporting the limited movement of senior citizens and those with physical injury. You might find these listed under a “Gentle Yoga Class”, or “Seniors Chair Yoga” and can be very easy or challenging in a good way. However, this important prop can also benefit intermediate and advanced students looking to take their practice to the next level.

I have been exploring a vinyasa flow using the folding chair to move slowly from one asana to another. Consider the use of a ballet barre in classical training. The first hour of a ballet class is spent working at the barre to ensure stability and better develop flexibility and muscle strength, while maintaining proper alignment. So why not use the folding chair in the same way?

I feel that the folding chair will fast become the number one yoga prop in yoga studios and, therefore, training is essential for instructors. Chair Yoga training can benefit certified yoga instructors, teachers-in-training, mental health counselors, physical therapists and experienced yoga students.

To support the safe and effective use of this prop The Ha-Tha Yoga Method ™ offers a 15-hour Certification in Chair Yoga. Taught by highly experienced yoga instructors, Delia Quigley and Denise Kay, the course is being offered in Blairstown, NJ or can be brought to your yoga studio for your students and instructors.

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