By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Over the last few decades, the popularity of Yoga has grown by leaps and bounds. Experts now estimate that the number of individuals who practice Yoga regularly is in the millions in the United States, not to mention the rest of the world. As Yoga classes continue to become more and more mainstreamed, new people will continue to discover the life-enhancing benefits of a regular practice of Yoga postures, pranayama exercises and relaxation techniques. Being able to truly relax is one of the most profoundly important skills for maintaining good physical and mental health.
In our task-driven world, which is often fueled by seemingly endless to-do lists, many of us are unable to unwind and truly relax, even for ten or fifteen minutes a day! This inability to relax is a serious impediment to maintaining a strong immune system and good mental health. A well-rounded practice of Yoga poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques helps to improve strength, coordination, balance, flexibility, and improves one’s ability to relax deeply. For those of us who are relatively physically fit, practicing a traditional format of Yoga poses is not a problem.
However, there are many specialized groups of Yoga students who need the support of props and modified postures, in order to engage in a full practice of Yoga poses safely and effectively. Some groups of students who may need specialized instructions, modified postures and an assortment of props, are elderly students, students who are living with chronic health conditions, or students who are healing from an injury that has negatively impacted their balance and coordination. All of these groups of students can benefit greatly from a regular practice of Yoga, by utilizing a chair as a supportive prop during class.
Teaching Chair Yoga classes that are fun, safe and engaging is an art in and of itself. Chair classes improve student safety by offering students who are prone to fall or whose balance and coordination is impaired in some way, the opportunity to engage in a full Yoga practice with the safety and solidity of a chair to stabilize their balance. There are wide assortments of Yoga postures that can be modified to be practiced with the assistance of a chair, without substantially diminishing the effectiveness of the postures.
For instance, the upper body movements of many challenging standing Yoga poses can be safely and effectively practiced with the use of a chair. A flowing series of standing asanas, such as the Warrior series, Standing Forward Fold and Eagle Pose, all can be modified to be practiced with the support of a chair. Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, is traditionally practiced standing on one foot. This challenging posture improves balance, coordination and strength throughout the legs. It also releases tension throughout the arms, upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles, while promoting the laser-like, focused gaze of an eagle.
By teaching this posture in a modified version while seated in a chair, your Yoga students will still gain the release of tension throughout arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back muscles, in addition to strengthening their ability to focus on a singular point on the horizon. Simply have your students sit comfortably on their chairs with their feet flat on the floor and lead them through the arm movements of Eagle Pose with their breath. As they inhale, instruct them to raise their arms to shoulder height with their palms facing away from their bodies.
With an exhale, have your students wrap their right upper arm underneath their left upper arm and press their palms together, while they keep their upper arms in a straight line with their shoulders. Remind your Yoga students to keep their gaze on a singular point on the horizon, while they hold Modified Eagle Pose for three to five breaths. With their next exhale, instruct your students to release the posture and pause for a moment to feel the expansive energy generated by this pose throughout the upper back, neck, shoulders, and arms. When they are ready, repeat Modified Eagle Pose on the left hand side.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.