Written by Blair Koster
You don’t need to pretend you’re playing Twister to start experiencing the health benefits of this 8,000-year-old exercise.
Whether you want to relieve stress, improve your physical fitness and flexibility or simply try a new kind of exercise, try something old with a modern twist. Yoga, which has its roots in ancient India, is an 8,000-year-old practice, and people are still reaping its benefits.
You don’t have to assume Twister-like positions to reap the exercise’s physical rewards. For yoga newbies, yoga instructors Clarissa C. Adkins, Olivette Baugh Robinson and Barbara Leaf Stewart have written a book, Chair Yoga for You: A Practical Guide, which illustrates and guides the reader through numerous yoga poses. All three women are longtime residents of Chesterfield County and are all actively teaching yoga in the area.
Chair yoga is beneficial to everyone, whether you’re an office worker with back problems; if you are struggling with balance, arthritis or your weight; or if you are recovering from illness or surgery. The chair makes it easier to balance and practice some poses that might not be possible on the mat. Chair yoga is hatha yoga, or yoga of the body, with poses and an emphasis on breathing, relaxation and meditation to achieve unity.
Chair yoga’s many surprising benefits include reduced pain, improved breathing and better balance to name a few, the book’s authors say. Yoga students quickly realize the benefits. When Stewart asked her students why they kept coming to class, their responses floored her: “It’s fun; I like being with friends; I like the calm; my balance is improving; my pain is less; I can move more easily, and I feel better after class”—all goals Stewart had for her students, she says.
Practicing chair yoga can also be a wonderful supplement to physical therapy. One of Adkins’ students, Tim Scott, enrolled in class after chemotherapy and radiation, and now wholly believes in yoga’s benefits. “Since I was weak and had very poor balance, chair yoga seemed like a good idea. So I gave it a shot, and I have to credit it with a great deal of my success. I am doing yoga now (even some power yoga), and they can’t find any active cancer in me,” Scott says in a testimonial on the authors’ website. A woman with lymphoma says chair yoga has helped her feel better, and some people with arthritis have reported improved mobility and decreased pain after regular chair practice.
Best of all, chair yoga is not just for a limited age group or population. “People can benefit from it if they are traveling, working in an office or even spending time on a long car ride,” says Adkins. People can still obtain the benefits of a traditional yoga practice, which includes flexibility, peace of mind and balance. Office workers might especially benefit from some of Adkins’ favorite poses: the seated forward fold—because of its release on the lower back—and twists that emphasize spinal flexibility. In chair yoga, says Adkins, almost any pose is highly adaptable to the chair.
This option makes yoga especially accessible to seniors, keeping them moving. Yoga teacher and author Robinson, 86, enjoys seeing the positive results. “It is rewarding to watch a group of seniors doing balancing postures with confidence,” she says. Robinson believes she is saving some seniors from broken hips or other fractures that can result from falls.
And teaching yoga has made a huge difference in Robinson’s own life. In 2007, she had surgery to remove a large brain tumor, and she returned to yoga in two months. Her surgeon gives credit to yoga for her quick recovery, Robinson says, and Robinson herself quotes an old yogic saying: “The body is as young as the spine is flexible.”
Moreover, for anyone who thinks chair yoga is not fun, these yoga instructors encourage their students to remember each other’s names, fostering friendships, and vary sequences regularly to introduce new postures and keep classes exciting. The book provides readers with six different sequences they can practice to meet different goals and keep their practice fresh. “In the classroom setting,” says Adkins, “we may use props, music, read a passage from a book or do guided meditation to create a theme or focus for the class.”
Who knew that practicing chair yoga can enrich people’s lives so completely? As fiction author Martha Grimes has said, “We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.”
To order the book Chair Yoga for You: A Practical Guide ($11.95), visit the authors’ website at chairyogaforyou.com.