Yoga for All Ages

The chair builds confidence, as demonstrated by our managing editor, Bill Chaisson

Chair yoga is an invented approach to learning to move and breathe that accommodates people who have difficulty getting up and down from the floor and those who have problems with balance. These are the limitations of both the old and the young. Senior citizens can lose mobility due to the effects of aging or poor health, while the very young have not yet developed full mobility and balance.

Caryn Sheckler teaches chair yoga at Lifelong where the focus is on senior citizens. “I am certified in Kundalini yoga, so that is the path I take,” said Sheckler. “I focus on movement with breath, and I want them to keep the mobility that they have.” She said that senior citizens can be intimidated by the idea of doing yoga on a mat, but doing it in a sitting position or holding onto the chair for balance allows them to benefit from learning the poses and to focus on their breath.

Sheckler has a very laissez-faire approach. Anyone can join her class at any time. “It’s all very easy stuff,” she said. “We start with mantra meditation. Then we begin with moving the feet and work our way up, hitting all the joints in order to keep the joints limber.” Anyone who cannot stand does not have to.

Sheckler, who is 53 years old, has been teaching chair yoga for three years and was certified for Kundalini in India in 2004. She said the seniors appreciate having a middle-aged teacher. “I’m someone who suffers from pain sometimes, so I can identify with them,” she said, “as opposed to a younger, bouncier person.”

Diane Hamilton, who is 36 years old, teaches a chair yoga class called “Family Yoga” at Fine Spirit Studio. It is a place where children and their parents and grandparents can do yoga together. She finds very young kids take to yoga readily and she teaches “baby yoga” and “toddler yoga” to kids as soon as their parents as willing to let them try it. By age 2 kids can manage a decent “downward facing dog,” which requires you to stand on your hands and feet with your head hanging loose between your shoulders.

Her 45-minute family yoga sessions include children from 3 to 10 years of age. She adjusts the tone of the class according to the age group present.

“For the very young we tell silly stories and do a lot silly poses,” Hamilton said. “If they are with a grandparent, then I make sure they interact with the child. With older kids we have more advanced stories and more advanced poses.” Children take to the poses in part because many are named after animals.

“They can do so many poses before we think they can do them,” said Hamilton. “I love to see them absorb the philosophy and language of yoga.”

Melissa Weiner teaches chair yoga at Island Health & Fitness and at Nate’s Floral Estates. “Every population should do yoga,” Weiner said, “no matter what physical condition they are in.” People with limited mobility can still benefit from the “breath work” and from any movement that heats up their bodies. She is also mindful of the limits that some chronic illnesses put on some of her yogis. “Someone with high blood pressure,” she said, “shouldn’t do any pose that puts their head below their heart.”

Weiner sees clear health benefits for the people who take her classes. As their balance and strength improves they feel more confident about beginning an exercise routine. They feel more flexible, so their posture is better, which makes walking easier.

Weiner enjoys teaching chair yoga because she is required to get to know the participants to take into account their individual limitations. “I plan the lessons more carefully,” she said, “and change poses to suit them.” Weiner recommends that people attend classes at least twice a week in order to see the benefits of yoga.

“We are pretty attached to chairs as a culture,” said Hamilton, “which is, internationally, an anomaly. In school kids are always at their chairs, so chair yoga is a good way from them to learn how to move while they are sitting.” •

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