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How chair yoga can help to expand your teaching skills

Chair Yoga is yoga, using a chair (standing and seated, or both), as a prop for support. It can be useful to adapt yoga poses when injured, ill, pre/post surgery at your desk (‘office yoga’), if in a wheelchair or if you have limited mobility. It also can be useful when traveling (practice on planes, park benches or anywhere).

Chair Yoga can help make yoga accessible for everyone and is a well needed prop for many so that they can practice yoga poses (asanas) safely. Yoga teachers will benefit greatly by learning Chair Yoga as well so that all of their students can have safe and effective options to practice yoga.

Injury or illness, age or other so-called “limitations” (including working all day at a desk), may prevent people from getting on the floor do practice poses or even stand on a mat for upright postures as we may know the poses. However, with some creativity and modifications anyone, in any circumstance, can always practice Yoga.

Renowned yogi Sri T. Krishnamacharya famously said, “If you can breathe you can do Yoga.

For people who cannot easily stand what suggestions might you have for improving balance?

There are many poses and practices to help balance including many seated.

Being aware of the feet in the poses (mindfulness and weight distribution), leg strengthening poses (like leg lifts we did on the webinar), focus practices (yogic breathing, mantras and concentration exercises can bring a sense of mental and emotional balance) and physical seated poses like Warrior I, II and III, as I show in my SunLight Chair Yoga books, can help.

I often use the Warrior poses seated and standing, so you can strengthen the legs and feel stable. Using these poses seated as well as standing give the option to teach mixed abilities all in one class. 

In terms of diet, another aspect of yoga, our energy level and nervous system feels more balanced when following the yogic diet, which is plant-based vegan or vegetarian.

All of these options can help to improve balance. 

Read About The 8 Limbs of Yoga

How to approach a situation when there are different abilities in your class? ex. people who are in chairs with others on the mat.

This is a situation which takes practice, and teaching and sometimes even continued education to get more comfortable, because yes there is some multitasking in cues and demonstrating involved and it can be challenging (at first), especially if some are on the mat and some in the chairs.

Stacie suggests new teachers practice with just two students (could be family or friends). Begin with teaching the pose adaptations, while someone is following the same direction with the mat version. Even before beginning to teach to full classes, you must learn the basic ways to adapt asanas (poses). Your students will then see where the verbal cues or demonstrations may or not be as clear as though when new to teaching

As you gain confidence you can increase the class size or practice classes while you learn.

Stacie covers this in detail in her training online, and goes over it monthly also in the live zoom classes for the trainees and graduates.

Adding Mantras to your classes.

Adding a mantra depends to who you may be teaching. Stacie teaches a wide variety of groups and in some settings like companies, seniors chair yoga at a church, support groups, hospitals etc., it is not always appropriate for the group setting. There is no set rule but feel out each situation to see what is the best way to share the teachings. 

13 Yoga Mantras to Bring Good Vibes Only

Benefits of bringing office yoga to employees

There are quite a few benefits beyond the outward physical benefits. 

  • Team building
  • Fun and safe for all employees
  • Boosts immune system
  • Calms the mind
  • Eases insomnia
  • Improves clarity & focus
  • Ease back and computer related pain
  • Improves energy, strength, flexibility & balance
  • Keeps the mind centered in stressful times
  • A healthy break from online work

Also from an Human Resource stand point, bringing office yoga into companies can increase moral and can create an incentive for employees to join the team. 

See the Aetna Wellness at work research study Stacie mentions in the webinar here.

Does the type of chair they use matter?

Stacie does not base her chair yoga classes or trainings on the chair. However it is important to understand how to approach using one chair, two chairs and the modifications for poses in chairs with or without chair backs and various chairs.

If you are in a studio and have mats you can put them under the chairs if that feels more stable. I don’t because I just focus on the student and the chair as support. But nothing is wrong with a mat under the chair if it is helpful to prevent slipping.

5 Minute Flow!

Order of Poses

  1. Upward Hand Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)
  2. Forward Bend (uttanasana, High Lunge Pose or Warrior 1
  3. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  4. High Lunge or Warrior (2nd Side)
  5. Standing Cobra (Bhujangasana)
  6. Mountain Pose (tadasana) with Palms in Prayer Pose

There are videos of short videos on Stacie's website sunlightyoga.com and her YouTube channel to practice with, and longer ones with full classes on my online courses.

Watch More beYogi Practices

Adaptive yoga for kyphosis and autoimmune diseases

Stacie had lyme disease chronic as she mentioned on the webinar. "I really learned how with autoimmune or chronic illness, each day is different and energy level or pain or side effects of meds or herbs and other factors vary from day to day."

While some may need meditation and restorative yoga, and not active poses, other may need both and some will vary day to day. There is not one pose or sequence for autoimmune diseases, as it depends on their symptoms, other injuries or ailments if others, their mobility and ability (if they need a chair or not) and other factors (what they eat can exacerbate symptoms too) and also how we eat and sleep effects our body and practice needs.

Generally, knowing chair yoga and gentle yoga adaptations for most poses you teach, will then allow you as a yoga teacher to offer ideas when a student has a flare up or needs a modifications.

Fatigue is common from many chronic illnesses and autoimmune issues or medications side effects, so often yoga teachers teach restorative restful yoga only, but in truth for some they may benefit from physical activity as well to decrease pain, depression and anxiety, and improve mood, circulation and energy as well. Sun salutes can give you energy too and active poses.

Remember to teach to the student, not the dis-ease.

Other than not rounding the spine too much because of bone loss concerns, what other movements are potentially harmful for seniors?

It’s not just seniors, but generally everyone needs to be careful in yoga not to overdue the stretches or push beyond a healthy joint mobility and range of motion.

Stacie likes to challenge the muscles to build strength and flexibility within safe limits, but never go to where there is pain in the asana (pose).

For seniors in particular, as the American Bone Health Org advises, osteoporosis can be developing in seniors before they know about it. Remembering to always teach safe alignment and not rounding the back, but lengthening the spine for example, hinging from the hips etc., and supporting the body when needed (props, chair or a wall sometimes or using your own body), never over twisting or forward bending (same for all ages though on that) and some others. 

Gentle and chair yoga modifications allow all ages and abilities to practice safely.

About Stacie Dooreck

Stacie Dooreck. She is the founder of Sunlight Yoga offering a variety of online classes, trainings, and courses with an expertise in chair yoga. She became a Certified Yoga Instructor in 1995 and is the author of multiple Yoga for Everyone! & Sunlight Chair Yoga books.

Check our Stacie's YouTube Channel where she offers free classes & teaching tips all about chair yoga.