Why Would I Do Chair Yoga?
Chair Yoga is bomb, but I didn't always think that.
Do you get a bit weird when you're offered a prop in class? Read on.
A few years ago I was asked to cover a chair yoga class. I had never practiced and taught chair yoga before, but I was keen for experience and jumped at the opportunity. I did loads of research online, made up my own sequence and showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed for our 10am class on a Wednesday morning.
We had a group of around 10 people, ages spanning from late twenties to early seventies. Some of the class were dealing with or rehabbing injuries and some where there because they just like chair yoga. It wasn't until this point that I realised that I'd already assumed that I'd be leading and nursing home group through some gentle movement. Wow, what a jerk. The feed back I got from that class was beautiful, but several students mentioned they wanted it be be harder and that they wanted to feel challenged.
Harder? Isn't chair yoga meant to be easy? Oops. There it was again. My assumption. My ableist bias. My patronising opinion that chair = simple. Damn, yoga teachers are not immune to being jerks. I was being a condescending jerk. So, I kept this in mind and covered the same class a few times. Knowing that yes, chair yoga is an accessible way for people working with injuries or certain conditions to join in on a class. Also knowing that this fact does not mean that this way of practicing is a cop out. I bought on challenges and I was shown time and time again that a knee arthroscopy, hip replacement, a stroke or a baby might change the way you interact with your yoga practice, but it doesn't make you fragile and it does not mean you need to be coddled by your yoga teacher.
It was around this time that I began practicing Iyengar yoga more regularly. This lineage of yoga loves props. Bolsters, straps, blocks, trestles, ropes, blankets, wedges, canes and yeah- chairs. In my first class I yelled out
"it feels like I've been doing yoga without a seatbelt this whole time!"
It was true! I had spent the first years of my practice with a mat and not much else. When a teacher offered a block I'd politely refuse, a smug sense of satisfaction as I struggled on with whatever I was doing. Well, that may have been fine in another setting but there's no getting away with your ego with Iyengar. Chances are my awesome teacher (Irma, from The Yoga Co) saw a hyperextended knee, an over extended lumbar or winged shoulder blade and propped accordingly. It took a little while, and a little ego taming, but eventually props became a staple in my practice. So much so that I occasionally have to remind myself that I can in fact, practice with nothing at all.
I could now see chair is not a crutch, or a sign of weakness. It's just a chair. The person doing the yoga isn't old, or weak, or broken, or different. They're just a person, doing their practice. Tell yourself that next time you refuse a block, or assume someone's ability when you see them with a chair.
Finally I can see props and chair yoga for exactly what it is. Yoga.
Keen to check it out? I have a chair yoga playlist on my YouTube channel.