Written by Catherine Wagner, RYT
I’ve thought of myself as a bit of a yoga evangelist ever since I started practicing yoga in 2001. After three classes I saw the benefits in my body immediately and began to gently encourage my friends to attend class with me. Well the friend part didn’t work out but I continue on my quest for converts no matter their age or physical abilities.
My yoga zeal took on a new direction which just happened to coincide with a change in my employment status. I decided to enroll in yoga teacher training not only to learn to teach the physical poses but to gain a deeper understanding of the knowledge base. I found that it is true that yoga meets you where you are and being physically fit or very flexible in order to practice, are misconceptions.
For over two years, I’ve taught chair yoga at the Wayne Township Senior Center in West Chicago and I love these people. They are enthusiastic, like to crack jokes and correct me when I miscue anatomy. We have everything we need to practice; chairs, blocks and ties (instead of straps).
Depending on how you define this demographic, seniors can be as young as 55. At Wayne Township most walk in without help but may occasionally use a cane. The oldest yogi in the class is 95 years young!
Our first class was a gauge of abilities but also a trust builder for those few that attended. Most of these people exercise some but had never taken a yoga class. During that class we sat in the chairs, worked through a series of modified poses, and used our ties as props. Week two we moved on to a few standing and balancing poses. Now all classes begin with breath work, are a combination of sitting and standing, using ties and blocks, and ending with a short meditation.
One adaptation that everyone seems to enjoy is using two chairs for poses normally practiced sitting on the floor. This second chair brings the floor within reach so that we can expand our repertoire of poses. Now students can sit in dandasana without the up and down, which everyone agrees is their biggest challenge. Getting off the floor is a common complaint among these yogis.
Class size normally runs 20-30 but when it’s a smaller group we head to the wall. Each week we focus on hips, lower back, spine and shoulders, which are the key areas for keeping senior yogis mobile. Yoga not only increases flexibility but also improves functional mobility and strength. Where we started two years ago is not where we are today. We still don’t use a mat and probably never will, but the regular attendees are stronger, more confident and the class continues to grow.
As a woman of a certain age I am still practicing and teaching yoga while encouraging people to use it or lose it. People of all ages, abilities and disabilities can practice yoga in a modified form. If you have bad knees or new knees, original or aftermarket hips, it is possible for you to practice yoga using a chair.
~~~~~ Catherine Wagner has a BBA, MSIB, and is a Registered Yoga Teacher. She began the yoga journey with vinyasa flow/power classes at the gym and has been passionate about yoga ever since. Teacher training enlightened her to the fact that yoga is more than a class it’s a never ending practice. Always the business woman, Catherine is the founder of WagsWords, a social media, traditional and digital marketing company that specializes in small businesses including Prana Yoga Center, Pinecone Cottage Tea House and Yoga Among Friends.