June 21st and 22nd, 2013 I traveled to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s 28th Annual Convention to introduce Chair Yoga to individuals from all over the country living with Huntington’s Disease. We had lively yoga sessions including Gentle Yoga, Chair Yoga and Wheelchair Yoga. On day 2 I even pulled out some props. These yoga classes included adaptation for a range of mobility concerns, so I can not even begin to describe my awe at what these students new to yoga accomplished. I am grateful for the invitation by the convention organizers to bring yoga to those with HD and the assistance provided by the convention staff during classes. Special thanks go to yogi and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Genova for her interest and kind words about the classes. Although it can be helpful to label classes Chair Yoga or Adapted Yoga, for me it is all yoga and I am happy to share it.
When I began teaching yoga to cancer patients that were being treated with chemotherapy and radiation, everyone was doing well and many of my students were fit. But I had a nagging feeling that someone would come in that could not get up and down from the floor. This prompted me to learn Chair Yoga. I did my research, took classes, read up on it and finally put it on the calendar as a stand alone class. In the first class I had a woman who had suffered 7 strokes, a woman with dementia, two women who walked with canes and a few people with leg problems from diabetes. I realized this was going to be as challenging as the cancer classes and I loved it. I never looked back. I added another class. I found a certification program so I could lean more. And now I certify other yoga teachers to teach this very special type of yoga.
I have tried to make this process as easy as possible. To enroll in this certification you must have completed a Yoga Alliance Approved 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training and have a calling to learn how to teach yoga to people who cannot get up and down from the floor. This includes people of all ages. Younger people attend chair yoga classes if they have serious headaches or medications that make them dizzy. People with every type of disability, especially MS attend. People of all ages with knee and hip problems avoid floor yoga and move to chair yoga. Diabetics with neuropathy may feel safer doing yoga in a chair. Some people begin in chair yoga and after a few months transition to gentle yoga on the floor. This happens more than I expected. Of course anyone who sits at a desk can do yoga at work in their chair. Many yoga postures can be modified so everyone can experience the spirit of the yoga poses from a chair or with the chair as a prop. If you are interested in providing a transformational experience for these students, this certification is for you.
Research out of Australia, reported on in Yoga International, studies Chair Yoga at Work. These researchers found both chair yoga and guided meditation beneficial. In Lifespan Yoga® Chair classes we combine the 2, which is the norm in a yoga studio.
“Frazzled workers take heed — a short, intention-filled break can offer significant health benefits. Alarmed by the up to 50 percent higher risk for heart attack associated with chronic work stress, researchers in Australia assessed the impact of just 15 minutes of in-office yoga or meditation. While participants did either chair yoga, guided meditation, or went about work as usual, the researchers measured such health variables as perceived stress, blood pressure, respiration rate, and heart rate variability (HRV — a predictor of cardiac and overall health). Compared with those who took no break, the yoga and meditation groups showed significant improvements in each of these variables. Chair yoga and meditation produced similar improvements in HRV, respiration, and perceived stress, while meditation had a greater impact on blood pressure.”
This type of research is really interesting because it compares chair yoga and guided meditation. I think it is important for researchers to pull apart the 8 limbs in academic and clinical trials. If a study just says they compared yoga and a control group, we need to figure our what they mean by yoga.